To the collective horror of the internet, Facebook has announced that it has reached an agreement to acquire Oculus VR, the makers of the Oculus Rift. In case you don’t know what that is, let us jog your memory.
Oculus Rift: A False Dawn
Oculus Rift started off as a Kickstarter project where it wooed starry eyed tech enthusiasts and smashed past it’s $250k goal and ended up with more than $2.4 million. In the process of developing the Oculus Rift, Oculus VR established itself as a pioneer in an effort to usher in a virtual reality era. Attracting people like John Cormack and improving their prototypes significantly, the project had got people really pumped up about the Oculus Rift and VR as well. That is, until Facebook’s Oculus acquisition happened.
Why Oculus Acquisition Makes No Sense:
The reason that the Oculus acquisition doesn’t make any sense is simply that we don’t understand why Facebook would want a hardware company that makes virtual reality headsets. The Oculus Rift was supposed to be a great hacker friendly VR headset that expanded gaming horizons and brought VR to the forefront. Why would a social media company be interested? Excerpts from Mark Zuckerberg’s post announcing the Oculus acquisition aren’t much clearer.
“Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow,” said Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. “Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”
With all due respect to Mark, that is not what the project’s aim was and that is not what people paid millions of dollars for. People are already tired enough of Facebook and an ad-laden VR headset that requires you to login to Facebook before you can use it is not what any of us want. Facebook’s failed experiments with the Facebook phone and Facebook Home, not to mention the poor job the company does of providing a consistent cross platform experience doesn’t instill any confidence either. However communication evolves, people would rather Facebook be nowhere near it and that shows in the growing number abandoning Facebook.
Why Oculus Acquisition Makes Some Sense:
Facebook has reached a saturation point. Everyone and their grandmother have an account and now it’s more about retention than adding new users (as far as developed countries and some developing countries are concerned). Has Facebook realized that social is no longer going to be a major driving force? Google realized that search would have to the cornerstone of an array of services and as a result they have their hands in pretty much everything of note from Android to driverless cars to smart wearables. This could be a similar watershed moment for Facebook.
The company isn’t likeable right now, it’s viewed as something you have to put up with more than anything. The sheer brazenness of how they go about farming their users for data doesn’t help their case either. They also have a history of shaping everything to augment their social network instead of expanding new horizons. So there is no question in people’s minds that the consumer version of the Oculus Rift is going to be something that was far from what we expected from their Kickstarter project page. If Facebook manages to actually put out a decent product that people actually like, it could be very significant.
The deal makes sense for Oculus VR as well. Maybe this is an admission of inferiority and subsequent lack of competitive punch compared to the Sony Morpheus. Maybe the $2 billion offer for something that wasn’t even market tested was simply too good to pass up. Whatever it was, they’ll be laughing their way to the bank.
What Does The Future Hold?
Twitter, Facebook and Reddit are filled with seething people and a lot of anger that has bubbled up has to do with a fact that Oculus got a lot of money from enthusiastic people who really believed in the project and they sold out before delivering what they promised, an open hacker friendly VR headset built because of the community. Notch, Minecraft’s creator and tech royalty, was scathing in his assessment of the Oculus acquisition, saying:
I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition. – Notch, Creator of Minecraft
And therein lies the heart of the problem. Consumer trust has been shaken to the core because of this deal. There is no reason this should be a bad thing, mind you. Facebook has a lot of resources and if it leaves Oculus alone and lets it grow without muddling in, it could turn out to be a killer product. Regardless of it’s fate though, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. This deal’s ramifications stretch far beyond Oculus and Facebook and one thing is for sure, the lines in the VR battlefront have shifted and it seems like the big players are going all in.