When Facebook acquired Oculus VR Tuesday afternoon, I shared the same reaction that many others following the Oculus Rift development did: “Wait, what?”
The $2 billon acquisition certainty turned the heads of both gamers and people within related industries, mainly because Oculus Rift seems so outside what a social network like Facebook would pay to acquire. For what purpose does Facebook need a virtual reality headset that is made for gaming?
In a Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg said that the Oculus Rift is “really a new communication platform” and that “[o]ne day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.” He states that Facebook will first assist Oculus VR with their original intent in gaming and then branch out for “many other experiences,” such as watching a basketball game court side or sitting in a classroom filled with students and a teacher.
He says that Facebook will start branching out after games are made. But when exactly is that point that the company wants to move on from games and do other things with the Oculus Rift?
Recently, Gamespot released an editorial on why people shouldn’t worry about Facebook buying out Oculus VR. The article makes some good points, like how more funds means a better and more timely product and that the Oculus Rift will still have a focus on gaming. It also points out that there’s some ambiguity behind Zuckerberg’s statements. But with what Zuckerberg’s vision for the device’s future, it seems that may be in equal parts a gaming and entertainment platform, much in line with, for example, Microsoft’s “all-in-one home entertainment system” Xbox philosophy.
My concern isn’t that the Kickstarter backers may feel wronged, because they will always have no say in what a company does with their money. My concern isn’t that the Oculus Rift will become the Zynga machine for ultra-casual gamers. My concern is whether or not Facebook knows what to do with their new toy.
Zuckerberg’s grand ideas of being in a classroom or at a basketball game are far in the future; the technology for more than one person to watch the same event with the same camera but be able to look at different directions hasn’t been invented yet. Maybe the Oculus Rift will be centered towards gameing for a long while. However, that doesn’t mean Facebook won’t try something like streaming videos through the device. Granted, that would be pretty cool, but what improvement is that over a television or tablet other the possible inducement of nausea?
I appreciate that Zuckerberg and Facebook want to spend billions of dollars in what they believe will help worldwide communication. It’s a pretty admirable goal for a company to have. Whether that can be done with a virtual reality headset that runs through a PC and was created with gaming in mind, and whether they know when to move on from gaming and make it the next next big thing in technology, I’m not so sure.