Facebook & Oculus: A Wider FOV Perspective
Since the news a couple of days ago, a lot of people have asked me what I thought about the whole “Facebook bought Oculus” thing. “What does this mean for VR?”, “Dave, tell me it’s going to be okay!”, “I want my money back, can you tell Palmer I want my money back?”. First of all, I’m not asking for your DK1 OR DK2 money back (trust me, you’re still going to want it), it’s going to be okay, and this means the future of VR is going to be much bigger, not to mention much better and delivered in much higher quantities. I mean, you do want your games/apps/crazy creations to get into more hands, right? Think about it this way: would you feel so inclined to develop for the newest iPhone if Apple only released 50,000 on launch day vs 1 million units? Probably not! After watching Oculus for a while now and talking to Palmer from time to time, I have no reason to believe things are going to change or that Oculus is ruined; quite the contrary. Just look at the latest news: Abrash believes so strongly that this is a good thing that he finally joined Oculus. His letter to the community outlined it perfectly. If you are aware of Michael Abrash’s contributions to both VR and Oculus, you will understand why this is another big win and really seals the deal.
Now a word to the KickStarter or early funders of Oculus. I’m part of your crowd and I know… we’re all surprised. I put in my own decent sized chunk of money to help them drive forward and deliver on a promise. So what exactly has changed? Did Oculus break any promises yet? No. What was your intention on funding Oculus? I believe we all wanted to see Oculus succeed and revive VR. We all wanted to have an awesome piece of VR tech in our hands and be a part of VR history. Some of us even funded Oculus JUST to get DK1. So why the anger? Why the attitude? You got your DK1 and Oculus is still going to deliver a commercial product that does not deviate from their original promise. In fact, you are getting way more bang for your buck now that Facebook is in their corner. You know what else you get? Better tools! Facebook is known for having pretty decent developer tools on top of listening to the 3rd party developers. Sounds kinda like Oculus, no? When it comes down to it, they don’t owe you anything else, but you know what? You are getting a lot more anyway, for free. To top it all off, guess what? They did succeed! Many people don’t realize that the measure of success isn’t always “Company A made a product and made a billion dollars!”, but in fact, many times success is measured as “Company A made an awesome product, got additional funding, made another product, and then were scooped up by a more financially capable powerhouse”. The last point to these folks is that it’s called KickStarter for a reason. It’s to kickstart projects and companies. You did that. You still get to be a part of VR history, because you know what, it will always be known that Oculus established itself because of KickStarter and when people go see who funded that, you get to be there. You! Enjoy your mark on the wall, it’s there forever, regardless of who bought Oculus.
If you still are not convinced, you might have to take a step back and look at the people who are complaining about this (maybe this is you). They hate Facebook for some reason (usually privacy, ads, annoying friends who post too much) or they don’t understand how Facebook acquisitions work and they think Oculus ‘sold out’ and will lose all control. I will address the Facebook privacy concern first: Do you own a smartphone? Do you have an email account? Have you every bought anything off Amazon? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, the companies that offer these services (much of which is out of pocket) have far more of your personal data than Facebook does or ever will. Besides, why is your personal data so important? What are you trying to hide? What is Facebook REALLY going to do with your friends list or a “private conversation” you had on your wall? Try to sell you t-shirts or random crap you don’t need through ads you don’t even have to click on? Putting that concern aside, I also have to ask, what makes Facebook so different from those other companies? What makes Facebook such a bad choice? Maybe it’s the large corporation you don’t like. Guess what, Oculus was headed there anyway! For existing non-believers, I will lay it out for you why Facebook is one of the best possible buyout companies:
Facebook Integrity (yes, they DO have some)Wait? Facebook has integrity? Yes. Look at their engineering retention, look at how much money they have and look at how much of your daily life actually DOES revolve around some very small part of Facebook. They hold up their end of the bargain when it comes to uptime, connectedness and delivering you a way to get your products out there. The second part of this is how Facebook treats its acquisitions. You know Instagram is owned by Facebook, right? Why is it still called Instagram? It’s still essentially the same product it was when it was acquired? Yes. Why would Facebook destroy a developed brand and all of the users and turn it into something people aren’t used to or comfortable with? They wouldn’t, it would be TERRIBLE business. Obviously Facebook is not stupid when it comes to business, just look at their empire. Zuckerberg himself is extremely excited about VR, and I believe they will keep letting Oculus do what they are doing and push them to deliver on their promises to us. Remember that Oculus are the experts in VR, not Facebook. Facebook is well aware of this fact. Facebook is known for letting its own engineers along with the engineers of its acquisitions drive amazing new innovation and create compelling new software and hardware. That won’t change.
Money, Money, MoneyYes, money. Money matters in all things technology. Just because Oculus secured 100 million doesn’t mean they have ‘made it’. That’s pennies compared to what they actually need to deliver an amazing product. I can’t imagine how many PO’s get turned down, how many ‘hacks’ they have to come up with, how many compromises they have to make, and how much has to be done ‘expensively’ in-house because they can’t throw a few bucks down for some manufacturer to make some real hardware, exclusive to the needs of VR. I know from personal experience that VR is expensive and it’s difficult to build or find quality hardware. Facebook has the infrastructure in place to truly mass-produce HMDs and the future VR tech Oculus develops. How far did you think 100 million would go? It’s probably mostly used up already, leaving not a lot of money to make the splash that VR needs to be really successful this time around.
People, People, PeopleYeah, people. Do you think VR is going to be magically adopted once the Rift hits stores? Probably not. You’ll get your hardcore gamers to buy one, but only if they game on a PC? Hmm.. the audience is now quite a bit smaller, AND people would have to know it exists. That means an enormous marketing budget, which returns to my first point: money. With the sheer number of people using Facebook, all they have to do is spew some ads in the corner to start generating revenue. They own the largest social platform on the planet… that seems like pretty good leverage and a pretty good way to get the word out to people that VR is really here. It’s also a good base to start at to connect people together in VR… it’s the core of the technologies that make Ready Player One and Snow Crash such a fantastical possibility. You do want to experience the Metaverse in your lifetime, right? I know I do!
Platform AgnosticitySelling to a company like Microsoft, Apple or Nintendo would only hurt Oculus and hurt VR. Not because those companies are evil or have any trust issues, but they are incredibly married to their platforms. Imagine only being able to use the Rift on a MacBook? Or Windows? Or a WiiU? To me that sucks as a developer. I want to get my idea and my message to as many people as possible. Being stuck on a platform is incredibly limiting. That’s not to say people wouldn’t hack around that, but for the average consumer, they would be locked. Facebook already runs on and develops for thousands of different devices. This is good news. They are in the business of spreading technology like a virus! This is GREAT for VR. Get it out to as many people in as many ways as possible (assuming it doesn’t hurt the experience). This also means I can potentially run games in Linux or on my MacBook when I’m on the go, or whatever other hardware/console I might have at the time. This aligns with the visions of Oculus and I don’t see that changing. Instead, I see additional support that would have been otherwise too expensive for Oculus to invest in for day-1.
Security and InfrastructureSecurity. Security. Security. How many times has your identity or credit card number been stolen because of a security flaw in Facebook? (Not because you were stupid and gave your money to some phisher). Now how many times have you had to cancel a credit card, or change your password or your account on Playstation Network, or LinkedIn, or MySpace because someone legitimately hacked them? ’nuff said. What happens when there is a problem? They roll out a fix THAT day. Facebook has a dev cycle which pushes out changes and fixes daily. Don’t you want that same infrastructure for your VR experience, or do you want to wait a month for a rolled-up hot-fix to hit a website. No, you want it immediately.
My initial, gut reaction was to weep, but what I discovered I was sad about was my own vision for what I wanted Oculus to be, what they represented. As others have pointed out, Facebook isn’t everybody’s favorite company. While I have some grief about the situation, and I agree with many people that I would liked to have seen Oculus rise on their own 2 feet, stay ‘independent’, and stay the same “scrappy” company that they started as, I’m also glad that we can all rest easy that a big key has turned and VR is not just a risky ‘hackers game’ anymore. The future is going to be a great one, and if Facebook screws this up, there will be plenty of HMDs and VR manufacturers to fill their shoes and deliver on the lost promises of Oculus. I trust Palmer, and I trust Oculus, and I trust that they have made a decision that is going to really benefit the VR community as a whole. We have to remember that we will still get our awesome stories and immersive games in VR, we will all still make a difference in peoples lives, and we will still have the Virtual Reality we were all promised 20 years ago. The Metaverse is now guaranteed!