Facebook just announced they will be acquiring Oculus (developers of the Rift) for $2B ($400M in cash, $1.6B in stock). The internet is ablaze with almost unanimous displeasure about this announcement and I’d like to dig into why, despite an initial surprised reaction, I am happy about this acquisition.
Francis nicely sums up the reaction around the internet at the moment. We’ve also seen Notch pull out of talks with Oculus to bring Minecraft to the platform. From all sides of the globe, Indie’s, AAA and gamers alike have made it clear they are not happy. Of particular note are those (like myself) that backed the Rift on Kickstarter. Lets delve into why everyone is so unhappy.
There are a bunch of reasons people are citing for their displeasure of this announcement, lets look at each one in detail.
- Distrust of Facebook – Notch is the most outspoken proponent of this point and has gone on record within hours of the announcement to completely pull out of negotiations. There is also widespread complaints across twitter and the Indie community. Ironically, many of the people venting their frustrations are using Facebook to do so. While I agree that Facebook have a tarnished record of late with privacy concerns and issues with the virality of the network (vs paid advertisements) I don’t see how this impacts on the Oculus. Do people really think that their rift will start showing ads to them or selling their private information? These are two very different platforms, one paid and one free. I would much rather see FB money going to Oculus rather than more VC money which is almost exclusively tied to ROI and profits alone.
- Kickstarter – On the kickstarter page as well as twitter and other social platforms, a lot of backers of the original Oculus Kickstarter are stating they feel betrayed by this news. The logic is that they backed the original project and therefore selling to a large company is betraying that initial trust. I am an original backer, I backed within the first few hours. I feel no betrayal at all, in fact, quite the opposite. I took a chance on Oculus and by funding the initial run, the company has managed to secure $2B for future development. I originally back Oculus as I want to see VR in every home around the world as soon as possible. By partnering with FB the humble beginnings of a kickstarter campaign can come to fruition.
- Farmville VR – There are already a bunch of meme’s going around referencing facebook games and VR. The fear here is that Oculus will become a casual game platform, or worse a social networking platform. Hardcore gamers feel this acquisition will change the development path of VR and take the focus away from them. I don’t see how these are mutually exclusive. I always assumed VR (and specifically the Oculus) would service hardcore and casual players alike. Facebook is unlikely to restrict the usage of the platform to only service their own games. There will be enough competition in the VR market that Facebook will need to stay competitive. With the current setup it looks like Valve will be offering an API that sits on top of the majority of VR headsets so they will become a commodity
The Counter Argument
Rather than being angry at this announcement I am looking at it in a positive light for the following reasons:
- Cash Money – This injection of cash to Oculus is four times larger than all of the funding received so far by the company, with the shares coming in at four times this again. This sort of cash injection will set Palmer and the team up to take on Sony and any other competitors that come along in the future. If VR is to hit the mainstream a large cash injection like this will help to expedite the process.
- Mainstream – VR is still a niche part of game development and video gaming. Having the Facebook name on the product and working closely with them will allow Oculus to enter the mainstream more rapidly. Whatever your thoughts on Facebook, they do have a large reach and this is ideal for seeing VR reach ubiquity.
- Self Contained – Facebook has a history of leaving companies they acquire fairly self-contained, letting them get on with what they are good at. I can’t see this being any different for Oculus. Facebook, as a business, has little to do with VR which lead to my initial surprise in the announcement. Long term though, this will be a good thing. My prediction is for Facebook to get out of the road and let Oculus do what they do best, make great VR solutions. Facebook will utilize the technology where it suits them, but otherwise I can’t see this derailing the company too far.
I know my view is not a popular one, however I feel the debate has been too one-sided this far. While I do have my reservations about the deal, looking logically at it I find this to be a positive thing for VR in the long term. My dream is to see a VR device in every home within the coming decade and I see the announcement today helping this cause. Carmack has made a number of comments supporting the move and I highly his opinion. I think watching what he does will be a good way of gauging the success of this acquisition.
Still not happy? What are your major complaints with the acquisition? Is there anything Facebook could do to ease your concerns?