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The Rise and Fall of the Oculus Rift

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Smart money was always on the Oculus Rift being a bust—the idea of a motion sickness-causing gaming experience that requires strapping a giant box to your face, however immersive, at its very core seemed aimed at such a narrow gaming niche that it was all but doomed to fail. After all, gaming gimmicks like the Ouya never quite pan out, and the only thing keeping devices like Nintendo's Wii U alive is the sheer number of popular franchises held hostage on that hardware (something that the Rift would never have had). Fortunately, Facebook has saved everyone the time it would take to watch the hardware slowly fail to sell before fading into obscurity, instead delivering the death blow by buying it outright and explaining that in addition to gaming (or perhaps in spite of it), the Oculus Rift has a chance to "create the most social platform ever."

So basically, gaming is now just a side focus and the device will be aimed at connecting people in social ways much like how Facebook bettered human interaction by removing the "human" and "interaction" elements from the equation. These are truly the people who should be trusted to be the harbingers of future technology.

Naturally, the acquisition incited a huge backlash from every sane person who sees Facebook (as in, those people who made it possible to spam your friends with Farmville-related stuff 25 times a day) as a global force for evil, but the backlash from those who helped get the Oculus Rift off the ground by donating money to its Kickstarter campaign was even more bitter because of their personal stake in the whole drama. In a way, this outcome was an inevitability; backing products on Kickstarter has always been a recipe for disaster because of how many unknowns there are. In the end, despite Kickstarter's power-to-the-people undertones, there's no guarantee that backers won't be surprised as they learn they they're merely stepping stones on the way to a company's two billion dollar windfall.

But what of the Oculus Rift's future? Surely that money will be used to better the product, right? The funny thing is that it no longer matters what happens to the end product. It could be reworked to be less dorky-looking, completely remove the possibility of motion sickness, and truly become an experience worth its asking price (rumors place it around $300 USD)—none of that matters because the product itself is nonetheless viewed as "tainted" by many of its vocal fans, and the idea of paying to strap something to one's face for future social experiences is a hard sell to Facebook's ever-dwindling crowd. After all, Facebook and Twitter and even Myspace (circa 2003) caught on because they were free social experiences. Had any of them had a hardware requirement that acted as a barrier to entry, they would have never taken off like they did. That's really the crux of the issue: many people are more burned out on social experiences than ever before because of their sudden prevalence, so the idea that they'll pay money for "social 2.0" is so ludicrous that it wouldn't be surprising if the Rift just disappears off the face of the planet one day as Facebook decides to cut their losses.

When it comes to niche technology, consumer trust is everything, so the loss of that trust all but guarantees that the Oculus Rift will go the way of the Ouya as people simply stop caring. This is a sad, though not wholly unexpected fate for the technology. Goodnight, sweet prince.

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