Last week, Facebook acquired Oculus (makers of the Oculus Rift) for $2 billion dollars. Previously, Oculus had raised a nice chunk of change through Kickstarter and many of those backers were now upset. Markus “Notch” Persson even rage quit his port of Minecraft to the Oculus Rift because “Facebook creeps me out“.
First, Oculus was a scrappy upstart that was about to compete with Sony head on and likely Microsoft and many others. It’s extremely difficult to fight entrenched competitors who are far more well funded than you. They were buying old smartphone parts to fashion the original Rift prototypes. The simple fact is the odds were against them succeeding long term on their own. That’s not to say they couldn’t but they wouldn’t have been able to compete at the scale of a larger company.
Second, everyone who backed their Kickstarter campaign got what they were promised: the SDK. I’ve always been wary of Kickstarter because you’re not buying something tangible necessarily … you’re pledging money to an idea that may or may not come to market. It’s like investing without ownership. I’m wary of it myself but maybe that’s just me. On the one hand, I wish Facebook should refund everyone who backed the project. It might go a long way to creating goodwill and positive PR for Facebook. On the other hand, many of the most vocal opponents simply hate Facebook and nothing would change their opinion one way or the other.
Third, Facebook is trying to ensure relevance beyond its primary social app. Instagram, WhatsApp, and now Oculus is Zuckerberg’s attempt to position his company to be around for the long term. It’s doubtful that they’ll simply graft the existing social app on to the VR platform.
Could it all go south? Yes. Could you be playing virtual FarmVille in five years? Maybe. It could also be something revolutionary that doesn’t resemble Facebook as we know it today. It’s too soon to tell. I like the idea of Oculus having deep pockets and hopefully doing what they would’ve been doing if they hadn’t been acquired.
Further reading: TechCrunch has a good article on why the haters should relax.