Is Facebook's Purchase Of Oculus VR Really A Bad Thing For Gaming?
For those of you who haven't yet heard the news, Facebook purchased Oculus VR - the studio behind the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headset - for $2 billion.Though that's no doubt great news for both the social network and its shareholders, it leaves a rather bitter taste in the mouths of gamers and game developers, particularly those who backed the project on Kickstarter.
Say what you will about Oculus "delivering on its promises" with the headset, I can all but guarantee that most of the devs who backed it when it was originally announced expected they'd get to have a say in the future of the project. This purchase by Facebook thus feels very much like a betrayal; it's as though the developers took a big payday over the chance to do something truly meaningful in the gaming space.
Already, several industry personalities have stepped forward to express their shock, disappointment, or pure disdain for the deal. Markus Persson - better known as Notch, founder of Mojang and one of the original creators of Minecraft - took to Twitter yesterday announcing his plans to bow out of any development on Oculus.
"Facebook creeps me out," he tweeted.
"Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts," he later elaborated on his personal blog. "Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build."
"Don't get me wrong," he continues. "VR is not bad for social. In fact, I think social could become one of the biggest applications of VR. Being able to sit in a virtual living room and see your friend's avatar? Business meetings? Virtual cinemas where you feel like you're actually watching the movie with your friend who is seven time zones away?
But I don't want to work with social, I want to work with games."
Notch hit the nail on the head, I think. The Oculus Rift was originally designed, funded, and distributed as a game development tool. Now that it's been snatched up by the long arm of Facebook, it runs the risk of becoming something else altogether. Under Facebook, the Rift might well become a social media tool, first and foremost. Is that a bad thing?
For Facebook, no. For everyone who originally followed and funded the project? It's...actually not entirely clear.
Facebook's plans for the Rift are simple: it's going to use the device for communications, media, and other forms of entertainment. It's going to use it to revolutionize social browsing, sharing, and conversation. It is, in essence, going to try to bring about a new evolution in computing. This isn't something that's going to happen overnight, of course. Zuckerberg is planning for the future - for a decade down the line.
"This is really a new social platform...Oculus has the potential to be the most social platform ever," Zuckerberg said of the acquisition. ‘"Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures."
It's not just gamers who are a little dismayed at the Oculus buyout. A lot of people in Facebook's camp think the social giant might be taking things a bit too far. "It's fantastic for games,"says Forrester Analyst James McQuivey of the Rift. "But for social media, it's a little bit like buying a trampoline. It's very exciting and exhilarating for short periods of time, but not something you will do every day - much less several times a day."
Of course, Zuckerberg has never really been in the business of caring what his investors or shareholders think. He's all about the next big technological breakthrough; he innovates for innovation's sake. The Oculus VR purchase could well be seen as a continuation of this trend.
That said, he's no fool. Zuckerberg very likely knows what the Oculus Rift's original intent was - and he knows how much money there is in dominating the gaming market with such a peripheral. I wouldn't be terribly surprised to see Facebook take a sort of 'hands off' approach where game development is involved, allowing developers to create games to their hearts content.
That would certainly keep with CEO and founder Palmer Luckey's recent assertions regarding his company's current roadmap. Is it really so unreasonable to think - or perhaps more accurately, to hope - that this Facebook acquisition won't change anything? That the Rift might be, first and foremost, agaming peripheral. And that now, equipped with the effectively infinite resources provided by its new owner, Oculus VR could make its headset more advanced than ever before?
That's certainly a better hope than the alternative - which is that the Rift is now destined to become one more social media gimmick in a long line.