In a surprise announcement Tuesday, Facebook announced their intention to buy Oculus VR Inc for $400 million in cash and $1.6 billion in stock. The community backlash was immediate and visceral.
Oculus manufactures the Rift virtual reality headset, currently available only to developers, and has been a popular attraction at recent trade shows. Initially funded by a Kickstarter campaign, Oculus is credited with jumpstarting the interest in VR gaming after headset attempts back in the 1990’s failed to find much of an audience. Those indie roots run deep, and the company built a passionate following of developers and gamers looking forward to a mass market release.
Facebook’s press release announcing the deal was a hard shock to many in this community.
The fan reactions on social news site Reddit, where Oculus has its own separate discussion area managed by users, has been overwhelmingly negative. Most of the fears centered on Facebook’s involvement watering down the gaming aspects of the Rift, and the monetization of user data with ads, as was the case with Instagram.
Developers are also speaking out. A number of pre-release Oculus Dev Kits are showing up for sale on sites like eBay, and some are publicly announcing they’ll discontinue support for the headset. Most vocal is Markus Persson, the creator of Minecraft, who announced via a tweet: “We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus. I just cancelled that deal. Facebook creeps me out.”
It’s a difficult transition for smaller companies to make, handling growth or getting acquired by a larger entity. Many of the community criticisms read like the ire generated when an indie rock band lands a lucrative record label deal. Early adopters feel they own a piece of the product, and there’s a lot of pressure on those brands against “selling out”.
Business analysts are mixed on the deal. Oculus should benefit from Facebook’s resources. Wearable computing, heads up displays, augmented reality, and VR are generating a lot of curiosity. Oculus now faces intense competition from companies like Sony, who also recently announced their Morpheus VR headset.
The first full day after the announcement Facebook's stock dropped 7%, but Facebook looks to benefit over the long term as they aggressively diversify their offerings, lest they become stale like every other social media site which came before them. After buying out Instagram and Whatsapp, Oculus marks their first hardware acquisition, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been bullish on VR’s influence over future Facebook services.
“Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow. Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”
While the Rift has focused primarily on gaming, there’s no doubting its potential to impact other markets as well. Virtual reality hardware could easily find a home in education, health care, or military applications. The concept of virtual schools or hospital visits are exciting ideas, but many are anxious about the “Powered by Facebook” label soon to be slapped on the box...