What does the Facebook Oculus VR deal mean?
Unless you've been living under a rock inside a remote cave on an uninhabited desert island, you can't have failed to notice that Facebook has just bought Oculus VR for a sweet $2 billion - a transaction so unlikely that it had many gaming fans glancing at their calendars in disbelief just to check that it wasn't April 1. While the deal isn't to everyone's liking - Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson has already said that his game won't be coming to Oculus Rift as a consequence of the acquisition - it could change the technological playing field considerably.
Oculus suggested that there’s a secret project in the works that will make the deal’s aims become clear. But what could it be?
We've compiled a list of five potential ideas which could happen as a result of Facebook and Oculus VR jumping into bed with one another - one of more of these ideas could end up being a reality, and could change the way we view immersive technology - and games - forever.
Secret Project #1: A Facebook game console
he most obvious possibility is that Facebook has purchased Oculus VR in order to make inroads into the gaming sector with its own piece of hardware. Facebook has already carved out a large and profitable slice of the interactive entertainment arena with titles like FarmVille and Candy Crush Saga, and the company will be very aware that there's a massive amount of profit to be made in this market. Buying Oculus VR - tipped by many experts to be one of the most important gaming firms of the next decade - sends out a very confident message to the rest of the industry.
The Rift headset could merely be one element of a much larger package. It is platform-agnostic, which means that it could quickly and easily be paired with an entirely new piece of gaming hardware. Oculus is a VR firm, but it has plenty of seasoned pros in its ranks - former id Software honcho John Carmack being one of the most notable. And it is not beyond the realms of possibility for Oculus, backed by Facebook's considerable reserves of cash, to produce its own games console that runs on the ultimate social media network and plays the very best Virtual Reality games from the world's finest developers.
Former Epic Games staffer Cliff Bleszinski - another gaming icon who has invested his own cash into Oculus VR - has recently been quoted saying that the company needed an "ecosystem" to transform the Rift from an optional peripheral to a dedicated platform, and Facebook could well offer that.
Secret Project #2 – Facebook ‘does a Steam’
If the console idea sounds a bit extreme, then perhaps Facebook could be looking into something a little less drastic. Valve's Steam distribution service has already revolutionised the way PC owners buy and play games, and has proven so successful that the company is now working with hardware partners to produce a series of PC-based Steam Boxes. Steam's strength is its audience - 75 million active users as of January 2014 - but compare that to Facebook's 1.23 billion daily visitors and you begin to see the scale of the potential here.
Facebook already has games as part of its framework, so it wouldn't be much of a stretch for the company to expand the scope of its service. If Facebook was the only place where you could play Oculus Rift versions of popular PC and console games - or Rift exclusives - then even the most staunch hardcore gamer would quickly lose their distaste for the social network.
Just converting a tiny percentage of those 1.23 billion active users would turn Facebook into the biggest gaming network on the planet, and that would surely trigger a development goldrush, with all the best studios working in the sector producing titles for the Virtual Reality headset.
Secret Project #3 – Facebook itself goes VR
Oculus Rift is thought of as a gaming tool, but Facebook's focus is everything social - not just interactive entertainment. Facebook has already conquered PC and mobile, and Mark Zuckerberg is keen to steal a march on his rivals by claiming a new frontier: Virtual Reality. Rift has applications way beyond playing first-person shooters and flight simulations; it could change the way we interact with friends and family online, making the experience altogether more personal and interactive.
Virtual Reality could be used to place two people who happen to be on opposite sides of the world in the same room with one another. Communication on the web has evolved from text to speech and then video, but Virtual Reality could be the next potential step. Millions already use social networking to remain in touch with distant relations, and this could make things a little more human.
We’re yet to see one of these 3D social spaces really take off, though. Second Life, released in 2003, largely sank without trace from public consciousness after a brief popularity spurt. And PlayStation Home was so popular it… didn’t make the transition to the PS4.
Secret Project #4 – Facebook takes on Xbox Live
Microsoft changed the gaming landscape with its Xbox Live service - a platform that tracks your performance, gaming exploits and friends, and also allows for online play in a variety of games. 46 million members now fill the ranks of Xbox Live, making it one of the most popular gaming-focused networks on the planet.
The attraction of the service is that it monitors your in-game achievements, allows you to keep in touch with gaming pals and generally makes social gaming a breeze. It wouldn't be much of an effort for Facebook to replicate this model; it already has the social and messaging elements nailed down, and the aforementioned 1.23 billion users could create the biggest potential pool of gaming partners on the face of the planet.
Given that Microsoft demands a flat yearly fee to access Xbox Live's Gold tier, we could even see Facebook introduce a subscription business model that subsidises the cost of the Rift headset, lowering the barrier of entry to millions of potential players.
Secret Project #5 – VR sport events, gigs, virtual tourism and much more
One of the most tantalising aspects of Virtual Reality is the ability to be in an entirely different place and immerse yourself completely. Mark Zuckerberg has already hinted that we could see a future where you could get the feeling of attending a sporting event using nothing but your Rift headset, but the potential applications go way beyond that.
Massive music concerts could be accessible from your living room, and while we'd never recommend it over the real thing, you could potentially visit global landmarks such as The Pyramids, Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower, all from within your Rift headset. Want to watch a movie in 3D in a massive virtual cinema with friends who live in another city? Rift can offer that, and we're likely to see Hollywood's biggest studios flocking to support the headset.
Closer to home, the growing popularity of spectator eSports - driven by titles such as League of Legends - could make Rift the viewing system of choice for dedicated fans. By donning the Rift headset you could place yourself in the game itself, even though you're not actively taking part. It seems far-fetched, but consider this - League of Legends players are now considered to be professional athletes in the United States, and last year's Season 3 World Championship was watched by a staggering 32 million people via video streaming service Twitch.
Next, read our Oculus Rift vs Project Morpheus comparison