Earlier today Facebook announced that they would be purchasing Oculus VR for around $2 billion. Of course the initial reaction ranged from joyful optimism to cynical eye-rolling.
I’m going to try my very best to explain why this enormous purchase for Facebook is a better investment at $2 billion than let’s say, their recent purchase of WhatsApp.
For starters, it adds legitimacy to a tech that would’ve easily been written off as “gimmicky.” We’ve been down this road before with the swift rise and fall of 3D. Before that, motion controls that were supposed to change the world but really just made us look silly in front of our families at Thanksgiving. Oh yeah, remember when vitality sensors were a thing? Me neither. As gamers we’ve grown accustomed to immediately scoffing at anything claiming to be the next big disruptive technology.
The point is that this news will make more people curious — who previously wouldn’t be — about the tech. This is HUGE news not only for the gaming community but the tech community as a whole. You’re going to be seeing a lot of news stories in mainstream media being run along with some pretty crazy ideas being thrown around.
Mark Zuckerberg also commented that Oculus VR will operate independently with in Facebook:
Immersive gaming will be the first, and Oculus already has big plans here that won’t be changing and we hope to accelerate. The Rift is highly anticipated by the gaming community, and there’s a lot of interest from developers in building for this platform. We’re going to focus on helping Oculus build out their product and develop partnerships to support more games. Oculus will continue operating independently within Facebook to achieve this.
I’m pretty sure this is to assure us that some kid in a hoody and sandals won’t be pulling John Carmack away from Rift development to try to get Candy Crush to look nicer. Honestly, this gives the Oculus team the financial security and resources that they need to release this thing, and do so likely at a grander scale than they originally planned.
The acquisition allows the door to be opened for other possibilities outside of the realm of gaming. Imagine flight schools or the Air Force using the Oculus Rift headset as a cheaper alternative to a million dollar flight simulator. Hell, why not do what Apple does with their iPads and lease a bunch of these to colleges where they can be used to take students on virtual tours of ancient Rome or another solar system?
Zuckerberg used the example as just a small example of the opportunity this presents for the Rift:
This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.
Personally, I wouldn’t want to relive my 22nd birthday where I tried to fight a chair I claimed was talking smack about me at some bar in Hoboken. However, the idea of being able to insert myself into someone’s video of their white-water rafting trip seems pretty exciting. There’s true potential here that actually makes me excited for virtual reality for the first time in a long time.
This is just my initial gut reaction to the news but I’d love to hear what you guys think. Who benefits more, Facebook or Oculus? Does this truly do anything for virtual reality gaming? What does this mean for Sony’s Morpheus headset that was announced at GDC?