It’s time we took a hard look at the Oculus Rift. Facebook now owns the Rift and controls the funds for its future development. Now, without classifying Facebook as good, bad, or indifferent, questions still remain: Why did Facebook buy the Rift? What are they planning on doing with the platform? What does this mean for gamers, who were a large part of the original target market?
Of course, this isn’t the first time Facebook has acquired a tech business -- I’m sure you haven’t forgotten Instagram and more recently WhatsApp -- nor is it even their first foray into the video game market. If you’ll remember, Zynga was the company behind Farmville. That’s still played by 40 million of so users each month. Facebook’s part in this game, as well as the others of its kind, is that it targets users with advertisements in and for the games. That’s how Facebook makes its money: mining data and targeting users with specific ads.
How does this play into the Oculus Rift? Well, Facebook doesn’t have any experience with gaming itself -- at least, not with games in the same realm as Eve Valkyrie, the Oculus Rift flagship. It’s evidence enough to break plans for the popular first-person game Minecraft on the Rift, at least. Minecraft’s creator, known as "Notch," said he doesn’t feel comfortable working with Facebook, calling the deal “creepy.”
And Facebook’s secrets aren’t secrets -- rising concerns over user privacy, coupled with the ubiquity of Facebook Connect, is cause for concern; just how involved will Facebook be in the game development and production processes? Historically, Zuckerberg and company have tended to be hands off with the companies they acquire, to let them run their business model as they were before, only with Facebook getting a piece of the action.
But that isn’t the only factor at play. Backers of the original Oculus Rift Kickstarter are calling for the head of Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey. Many feel “betrayed,” because the indie project they supported with their own dollars has been bought by one of the world’s least-liked companies. The words “sell out” appear often on Luckey’s Kickstarter and Reddit AMA pages. The Internet being the Internet, people feel that Luckey owed them something: To stay independent. To keep Oculus the same small company it originally was.
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But that is short-sighted. Luckey has said in the past that the Rift would not always be strictly a gaming platform, just that gaming is driving research into virtual reality right now. The deal with Facebook not only gives Oculus a huge amount of capital to continue improving the product with, it also opens it to development for social applications.
Yes, there’s the possibility (actually, I’d say it’s pretty obviously part of Zuckerberg’s plans) that Facebook’s site will be integrated into the Rift. To his credit, Luckey has denied claims that you’ll need a Facebook account to use the Rift, and that if Facebook tries to interfere with the Rift’s development, he’s “done.”
But, much like the rest of the Rift’s future, no one knows how the acquisition will pan out. All the negative reactions could mean that the customer base shrinks, but Facebook’s marketing power could easily regain those sales.