Facebook's Oculus Rift Acquisition: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

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For those who are unaware, last night Facebook pulled off the unthinkable by acquiring the rights to Oculus VR, the company behind the Oculus Rift, for the approximate sum of $2 billion. $400 million of that is in straight cash value, while the rest of the provided assets are in Facebook stock options. Oculus VR is said to remain operating as an independent entity under Facebook’s tutelage, while remaining at their current place of operation in Irvine, California.

Shockwaves were sent throughout the gaming industry. Everybody left, right and center had a different take on the events, mostly providing a one-sided argument for or against this acquisition. It’s entirely understandable; the crowd-funded Oculus Rift team being bought out for the price of more than the nominal GDP of Liberia is a polarizing issue. Let’s try to look at all facets of the situation (even if the end result skews in a certain direction).

The Good

With Oculus Rift under the wing of Facebook, the financial restraints are finally free for Oculus VR. Despite raising just under $2.5 million in funds as a Kickstarter project, that amount is not nearly enough to cover the costs required for bringing the device into potential millions of people’s homes. In fact, the company has raised an additional ~$88.5 million in funds ($75 million of which came through a round led by the venture capital firm of Netscape founder Marc Andreessen) since the Kickstarter funding came to a close, in an attempt to help further develop a consumer build suitable for the public.

They had just announced the second version of their developer kit, hitting 1920x1080p resolution (960x1080p per eye), a horizontal field of view (FOV) of 90 degrees and a diagonal FOV at 110 degrees, for the price of $350. The goal of the development team is to provide a much more technologically advanced version for the general consumer and the security of a corporation the size of Facebook will provide them with as much opportunity as possible to get it done.

In his own acquisition announcement statement, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stated that immersive gaming would be the first priority for Oculus Rift going forward. However, with the additional funding that Oculus VR will receive, the vision of the device can expand beyond further expectations. Zuckerberg stated that the device could even see use beyond just strictly gaming; it could serve as a tool to take virtual vacations, for study in a virtual classroom or to consult with your doctor within the virtual realm. There are notable links to the vision of virtual reality that are similar to Sony’s approach in Project Morpheus.

While probably not to the expectations of the hardcore gamer, the Facebook corporate network could open and expand to new opportunities for the virtual reality company. Executives at big name publishers like Ubisoft have already stated their reserved skepticism in the viability of virtual reality gaming, but the backing of Facebook behind them could feasibly enhance development opportunities for the Oculus Rift. Money talks.

The Bad

Public opinion of the Oculus Rift is at an all time low.

Take a look at any gaming forum, imageboard, link aggregator, social media site (including Facebook) or any general place where video games are discussed online and you will see dissent, despair, resentment and confusion. While it is entirely possible that Facebook will act strictly as the financial proprietor, and nothing more, the general consensus is of a tangible Facebook integration of nefarious means (more on that later on).

It also unfairly paints Kickstarter as a company in a negative light. The crowdfunding site is not, I repeat, not an investment site. “Backers are supporting projects to help them come to life, not to profit financially.” That is straight from one of Kickstarter’s Help pages, describing just exactly what the company is about. Essentially, you are funding a creator’s dream to create their project in exchange for pledge rewards, based on how much you help them out. You are not buying into the company.

The ownership team technically does not owe their pledges any money. They technically do not owe their pledges an apology. They have technically fulfilled their legal requirement to provide the development kits to those who provided financial support to their project. Turning their back on their pledges is disappointing, however a few bad apples does not a rotten tree make.

Technically sufficient, furthermore, is not enough to answer for the perceived notion that they sold out. Hard. When you have notable game developers, including the likes of Minecraft’s Markus Persson, drop Oculus Rift VR support for his sandbox game immediately after hearing of Facebook’s involvement, you have to think that the other shoe has to drop at some point or another. The indie scene is prone to judgment of those who sell out, and when mainstream development is not 100% dedicated to the idea that virtual reality is the future of gaming, those individual aspiring creators might not jump to show their support for Oculus VR’s device. Especially when there are other virtual reality options in the market to develop with.

(I totally get going for the buyout, by the way. A 21 year old in Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey was offered $2 billion by one of the most powerful people in the world for his property. You’d be lying to yourself if you wouldn’t jump at that opportunity, or at the very least regretably take the deal, in his circumstances.)

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