If you haven’t heard about it yet, Facebook plans to purchase Oculus VR, the makers of the Oculus Rift HMD, for 2 billion in cash and stocks. You can read more here: Facebook To Buy Oculus VR
I’ll admit, I had the same knee-jerk reaction as so many others on social media today; thoughts of how the Oculus would become some bastardized FarmVille simulator bombarded with ads definitely occurred to me. But I think we should look at the positive potential this opportunity gives to Oculus and immersive technology in general.
It is important to realize that Oculus isn’t going to be the only player in the VR market. Just this week, Sony just announced their Project Morpheus HMD for the PlayStation 4. However, Oculus has a significant head start and a lot of influence on how the market will pan out. I feel that the most important factor for the success of the VR is to get it into the hands of as many people as possible. If it remains a novelty for only hardcore enthusiasts, I really think it will go the way of the 3D television, which is a struggling market. Go ahead and Google “3D television sales” and you will see the term “dead” in 4 of the top 8 results. That is certainly not what I want for Oculus, and VR in general.
So here’s why I think this deal will work out well for VR. First, Oculus is going to need the extra financial leverage to push out their final consumer product. Oculus already ran into an issue with the DK1 where they ran low on components and had to suspend sales. Now this may not be a big deal, as it could be argued that they switched most of their components over to the new hardware that will be used in the DK2 anyways. But even John Carmack agrees, “I expect the FB deal will avoid several embarrassing scaling crisis for VR.” Representatives from both sides of this acquisition have assured the press that games will come first, even saying that FB intends to accelerate the rate of gaming development, keeping games the priority. And as much as I don’t like social media style FB games, if this deal means that more people can learn about and experience the Oculus Rift, that has to be a good thing. Again, I don’t want to do a Google search for Oculus in the coming months and read “Dead” repeatedly.
Finally, here is what actually makes me cautiously excited about the acquisition. I’m a huge proponent of exploring the uses of VR in science and technology, as can be seen in my projects here on this site. So I like the idea of FB pursuing other ways to use VR besides gaming. Some of the most intriguing experience on the Oculus right now aren’t even games as much as they are attempts at social experience in VR. My opinion is that, if VR is successful as a consumer technology, then VR gaming will also be successful. So why not look into other ways to use that technology and make it ubiquitous in the home? If you only use a HMD to play games, that could be a hard sale to many families, with all the other consoles and peripherals on the market today. But if it can also be used to watch movies, perform Skype calls, study and build 3D models, read books, explore the world… these are the compelling use cases that will push VR from novelty to necessity in the home. If this acquisition means that we’re one step closer to hanging out with holograms of our friends, and if it means that I can keep on building robots controlled with an HMD, then I’m excited for the future.