Why Facebook Purchasing Oculus Might Feel Bad But Is Actually Good

If you either already know who I am or don't really care about the source of this content then please feel free to skip down past the first few sections:

Why am I writing this?

  • Facebook recently purchased Oculus Rift VR for $2 billion.
  • The gaming community has become pretty polarized about it.
  • I get fustrated when I see people forcing opinions without giving reasons and this is my outlet.
    To clarify that last point I have no problem with people just saying "I don't like this". That is acceptable and is an opinion. I just have an issue when people tell others they are wrong without giving a proper argument. "I don't like that Facebook bought Oculus" is very different to "Man Oculus is going to be crap now because Facebook bought it so everyone boycott it".

Why should you listen to me?

  • I'm in a position that this aquisition directly affects me and my decisions with game development at my company over the coming years.
  • I've developed with the Rift dev kit 1, was and am excited about doing the same with the second generation kit.
  • I like to think I have a relatively good view of the industry from multiple sides:
    • As a gamer
    • As a developer
    • As a games company CEO and director

My Opinion

Fundamentally I would love VR to come to the mainstream consumer market as long as it is good and actually adds to a serious gaming experience (im not so bothered about casual gimmiky things).

Right now the Oculus Rift is absolutely awesome but it is not a consumer product and it is by no way polished enough for mass consumption, none of the VR solutions are. Now just as a gamer I don't really care where a VR solution comes from, a long as it comes, is reasonably priced, is supported well and is good. Oculus Rift VR being purchased by Facebook from this point of view is definitely good.

  • If the Oculus Rift ends up sucking it has already caused a huge push in VR dev worldwide. Someone else will be there to pick up the research (and profit) as we have already begun to see with tonnes of other companies publicly (and privately getting) stuck in.
  • The Oculus were/are trying new things and are solving new very hard problems. Often when this happens the pioneer who leads the way spends a huge amount of resources on solving the problems only to have another company swoop in and actually make a better product having discovered the solutions or by utilising the techinques used by the pioneer. Facebook backing both professionally and monitarily gives Oculus the resources to really push hard at the front and possibly still come out the consumer success through the strength to push off other companies looking to get involved.

My only worry as a gamer is that Facebook will encourage or move the team away from game development as a priority. However it's been announced by both parties that they will not move away from the current direction of research and development and in fact aim to hurry it forward:

"Immersive gaming will be the first, and Oculus already has big plans here that won't be changing and we hope to accelerate." - Mark Zuckerberg

and

"Our team will keep hiring the best of the brightest to accelerate virtual reality and develop the core functionality of our product" - Brendan Iribe (Conference Call)

Still no matter what people say I like to think how what they say makes sense to them and where the benefit is to them as companies. Fundamentally at the end of the day that is what matters. Thinking about it logically, worrying about Oculus dev direction, at least initially, shouldn't be much of a concern.

  1. VR is a long way from being adopted by gamers (a demographic well known for early adoption of new technologies).
  2. Social and much more casual adoption normally takes at least a couple of years after early adoption (if you need a very widespread example think smartphones - pre iPhone and post iPhone phenomenon, they were around for ages and perfectly functional for a long time)
  3. Therefore... at least initially it makes sense that Oculus keeps developing for a likely and strong early adoptor demographic as a route to the consumer market. Pushing straight for the finish line, especially with something as new and abstract as VR would be extremely expensive and far riskier. Not only that - developing the Rift for gamers first will result in a great product... game development and gamers are demanding and actually exaccerbate a lot of the issues with VR forcing the issues to be confronted rather than avoided or covered up.

So at least on paper I guess its a good thing but the deal still leaves a bad taste in my mouth and I'm not entierly sure why. If I had to give a few reasons I'd probably go with the below:

  • I like small passionate teams and I just hope that the Oculus team stays the same and keeps the same company and dev culture.

  • I can see why early backers who backed to see an independent and small project take off might feel betrayed as the Oculus's original development goals feel like they have changed. Kickstarting a venture opportunity towards Facebook investment doesn't sound so nice.

  • Facebook isn't a tech research and dev company at it's roots and it certainly doesn't have a focus on Gaming. Notch (Marcus Persson) has a great and very passionate blog post on it here. Marcus tends to like to do things by setting an example and he hasn't dissappointed here (it's a quality I like in people). However I am concerned about the non-thinking people who now suddenly think Oculus is "Evil" or something like that though. Social responsibility is tough :)

  • I don't like all the moaning and whining about it. It's annoying.

Still none of the above 4 (especially the 4th one) matter in comparison to the below.

  1. VR development research is expensive.
  2. Being a pioneer in an area of development is extremely expensive.
  3. Public sentiment does not = money, at least not directly.
  4. Facebook has given Oculus the monitary and structural support to really deliver which in theory should result in:
    1. A better developed final consumer product.
    2. A potential for more widespread adoption.
    3. Better development tools and ease of integration into existing tools and applications is much more feasible when you are a monolith of a company.
  5. This is the first mainstream public investment by a giant into VR. That kind of reach is invaluable in consumer adoption and investment into an new and expanding industry.

Conclusion

So basically, as long as the team stays focused and the development direction doesn't deviate too much for at least 2-3 years, then this deal could be seen as the biggest step for consumer VR yet!

Techinally even if it doesn't, it could be because this is an example of VR research being successful and making money which means now investors and other pioneers will be more inclined to venture into the space in the future

Those are my current musings on the whole shebacle. I'd be interested to hear other people's opinions. If you would like to add your two cents please tweet me to a post elsewhere or just tweet me if you a far more succinct person than myself!

To the future of the games industry ;)

@Mentioum
Jeremy Hindle