All of the big names in geekdom were behind the Oculus Rift. John Carmack the creator of Doom, Notch the creator of Minecraft, and Gabe Newell the head of Valve all came together to make everyone’s dreams of virtual reality come true. Then Mark Zuckerberg came in and ruined the party. At least that’s how everyone reacted when they heard the news that Facebook acquired everyone’s favorite startup late yesterday and ever since the whole project has essentially been written off by the tech blogosphere.
So what’s wrong with Facebook’s acquisition? Well, right now Facebook is viewed as the neighborhood creeper if the internet with its popularity amongst younger users plummeting. People are worried that based on the modus operandi Facebook has been run under they’ll run the Oculus Rift into some kind of next generation data mining scheme where they collect and sell your very thoughts and dreams. Outside of wild speculation based on the boogieman that Facebook has become, some serious criticism has been levied at the Oculus Rift company and Facebook over how this affects Kickstarter backers and whether or not this was even a smart business decision in the first place.
First off, the Oculus Rift wasn’t in any money trouble and had a nice nest egg of money and resources not only gained through Kickstarter but from the amassed fortunes of the above mentioned team of Carmack, Notch, and Newell and several others. Selling out to Facebook wasn’t necessary to get the product finished and in the hands of consumers, and the various beta builds that have made it into the hands of Kickstarter backers have been very functional so a consumer release seemed within sight. The second problem is that Facebook’s recent acquisitions have been costly and nonproductive. Sure they’ve mostly been strategic moves to stay at the top of the social networking market, but these products aren’t poised to make back the money they’ve shelled out any time soon, and that might be bad for both Facebook and Oculus Rift. History is filled with titans of industry who have attempted to take too much ground too fast and ended up burning through their seemingly infinite amount of resources with very little to show for it and in the fall end up burying all of the great things they tried to acquire.
The big problem however is that the people at Facebook aren’t in the business of innovation, hardware, or anything related to virtual reality, and the people who are have already starting to jump ship. Notch has gone on record as saying he wanted nothing to do with Oculus Rift as soon as he heard Mark Zuckerberg was going to get involved. People are worried that Facebook will attempt to sell the unit at a cheaper price and try to server ads to make up for the cost, but in the end that unit might not be powerful to be interesting for some of the most exciting prospects of the project, namely playing games like Minecraft. Officially Valve isn’t involved with Oculus Rift even though Gabe Newell was a huge supporter of the project, and if this apocalyptic vision of the future comes true then that means Valve will look elsewhere for next generation virtual gaming hardware.
Those who are looking forward to such an experience might end up moving over to Project Morpheus by Sony. They conveniently announced their own VR headset compatible with the PlayStation 4 at GDC to the surprise of everyone and many are latching on to it as the savior of the VR future. Sony has made moves in recent years to open up the hardware and the software tools to develop for them and there’s a chance that Project Morpheus might end up working on PCs as well as Sony’s consoles. Sony has had a popularity explosion with how they handled the PS4 during the Xbox One DRM crisis, so they might strike hard and fast in the same way against Facebook and Oculus Rift and ride the wave of good publicity to the land of fat profits and success.
But does this fallout represent reality? Maybe not, as there’s nothing stopping Facebook from handling Oculus Rift properly and using their resources to help develop a solid product and not hinder it. Still, all of this negative press could have a lasting mark on how the brand is viewed from here on out and competitors such as Sony are poised to come and steal their thunder. If anything this will spur on even more competitors to take a swipe at the project, given the amount of animosity people have for Facebook. But hey, competition is always a good thing right?