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I've lost faith in Oculus and I don't trust Facebook...

Michael Sawh


I've lost faith in Oculus and I don't trust Facebook...

...But I'm trying to keep an open mind

Just months after spending billions on instant messaging service WhatsApp, Mark Zuckerberg has set his sights on the interactive future in buying Oculus VR, the makers of the Oculus Rift for $2 billion. What does this mean and is it good or bad news? Michael Sawh decides.

“We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus. I just cancelled that deal. Facebook creeps me out.”

Markus Persson or ‘Notch’, the man responsible for a little game called Minecraft, tweeted this shortly after Facebook announced that it slapped $2 billion on the table and shook hands with Oculus VR to buy the company responsible for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

My initial reaction to this announcement was of disappointment, and I'm not sure that will disapate any time soon. I was willing to wait for Oculus Rift to be ready. The innovation, potential and ethos of the company earned my faith. And having had time to think about the deal, I am, like Notch, unsure I can show the same level of enthusiasm for the idea of a Facebook-branded/backed virtual reality headset.

Notch elaborated further on his blog about his opposition to working with Zuckerberg and company: "Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers."

Click ‘Oculus Rift’ on the Twitter Trends box or check the Facebook comments below the announcement on the Oculus VR website and you can get a sense of the mixed reaction from developers, fans and Kickstarter investors who say they simply did not sign up for this.

The dream to be part of something as innovative as the Rift that didn’t involve Microsoft, Sony or Apple is rapidly turning into the reality that Oculus needed a big company to help accelerate progress. Sony’s move into virtual reality with Project Morpheus was the biggest indication that this needed to happen sooner rather than later despite all of the recent investment and funding. I'm sure Oculus fans understand this point, it's really Facebook they're objecting to.

When I spoke to Oculus at CES in January they were adamant that they would not push out a consumer model of the Rift until it was truly ready. Siding with a company the stature and with the user base of Facebook could speed production up. But the question I, and no doubt other fans are aksing, is Facebook the company to do this?

Can a company whose gaming expertise equates to being a platform for games like Farmville and Candy Crush Saga be the best to drive development of the Oculus Rift forward? I had faith Oculus had the vision, I don't hold the same faith for Facebook.

Will John Carmack and company still be smiling in a few years time?

The Zuckerberg Argument

Mark Zuckerberg clearly has bigger plans for the technology but says gaming is top of the agenda: "Immersive gaming will be the first, and Oculus already has big plans here that won't be changing and we hope to accelerate."

So what’s the bigger picture?

"After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences,"

"Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face -- just by putting on goggles in your home."

This shouldn’t be a surprise to people that are familiar with Oculus. It’s going to have far wider appeal than gaming and is something I certainly don’t oppose. The benefits for movie-makers, designers even people in the medical profession are there for everyone to see.

When CEO of Oculus VR Brendan Iribe spoke to Digital Arts Online back in July 2013, he talked up the surge of interest from non-gaming parties: "In the first 30 days on Kickstarter, we started getting almost inundated with emails from people in [nongaming] markets… A lot of them came from medical fields, the military, architecture, automobile design, even fitness. There were just so many people reaching out to us."

oculus and rugby

O2 has been using it to play rugby with the England team, even Tesco has been using it show the future of retail. One Oculus investor has compared the Facebook purchase to Google buying Android in 2005. That’s a bold claim for a product that’s still not the finished article.

How is Facebook going to use Oculus? No one is really sure but perhaps it will be creating a socially-driven virtual world. From the start, Oculus has talked about creating a ‘Metaverse’ so maybe in some kind of Second Life-experience, you will be able to step into a friend’s house living across the other side of the world and interact with objecs in the environment. There’s clearly some exciting prospects for the technology to be used in a social way. There’s no denying that.

The nightmare scenario, however, is that Facebook eventually slaps its logo on and builds its interface into the virtual reality headset. That isn't what I and thousands of other gamers signed up for and Facebook has a long way to go to show it can be a trusted steward of this fantastic technology.

Clearly there’s potential in virtual reality becoming a vehicle for more immersive communication further down the line, but I don’t want Facebook to lose track of what makes the Rift great and blew me away when I put on the headset and grabbed that controller for the first time.

I'm willing to give them a chance to prove my fears wrong and you should too, but fans shouldn't be taken for granted.

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Matthew Salmon

March 26, 2014, 9:25 pm

Think of it in just financial terms tho - how much of an advantage to the development of the rift will all that investment be??


March 27, 2014, 12:55 am

and yet a search engine rules the world in mobile phones, tablets, and other technologies. Stranger things have happened.


March 27, 2014, 2:36 am

Also remember that Zuckerberg is a geek first and a Corporate CEO second. If you remove the Corporate aspect he might actually bring something to the party other than money.

Tim Sutton

March 27, 2014, 9:52 am

I'm edging towards wary happiness on this deal, from an initial gut reaction of "THE EVIL EMPIRE HAS TAKEN MY TOY".

Facebook haven't done anything to spoil Instagram or WhatsApp, they've bought them precisely because they do something different to what Facebook does. Integrating them into Facebook makes no sense at all from the investment perspective Facebook are buying from.

There's no reason to think Facebook would do anything different with Oculus, and every reason to think Facebook will just provide huge quantities of cash for development and let Oculus do their own thing.


March 27, 2014, 10:02 am

There is another aspect too.

I don't think any of the individual elements which go into making an Oculus are particularly exclusive. What the company has done is combine them in a clever way. Reminds me of Apple and the iphone...

Anyway, let's say Facebook totally break it. Once the market is proven there will be a massive incentive for another startup to step in and make a version which is truly independent. Morpheus will be locked down to PS4. Microsoft's version is also likely to be locked down.

I can see the ranks of PC gamers amassing for this purpose. IF the Oculus promise is broken.

Of course, taking the Apple analogy a bit further, the counter argument to this is patents. Small startups generally don't have the resources for lawyers and patents, and focus on grabbing market share by innovating and getting the best product out the doors first. Massive established tech players have the resources to back that up with lawyers and patents. (The danger is that sometimes the company loses sight of what's more important). With FB's money, Oculus could bar further entrants to the market by miring the field with floods of genuine and spurious patents. Watch this space.

Alex Walsh

March 28, 2014, 9:12 am

One one hand I'm deeply unhappy too. On the other, there's a part of me that hopes that it's part of FB risk management process- diversification- and they'll leave them to get on with it on their own more or less.

John Kilborn

April 25, 2014, 9:31 pm

Oculus was going to be big with or without Facebook's money. The acquisition by Facebook actually pushed away smaller businesses that were collaborating with Oculus. More developers (Other than just Mojang, Minecraft) are hesitant to make games for Facebook.
When the final version of Oculus is out, I don't think you will see any
benefit from Facebook's acquisition, and a list of potential problems.
Lets be honest, even if you don't need a Facebook account to use Oculus, they will be linked together. Even though Zuckerburg will be forced to develop games
for the Oculus in the beginning, his view for the future of Virtual
Reality is a social meeting spot, run by (you guessed it) Facebook.

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