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Oculus & Facebook: Probably Not So Bad, So Maybe You Could Stop Freaking Out About It
by E McNeill on 03/26/14 04:32:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

So, Facebook bought Oculus, and people are upset. I understand why! That was my first reaction too, at least after I got over the initial WTF moment. I backed the Kickstarter, I'm making a VR game, and I saw Oculus as the scrappy, geeky underdog in the game industry. Now, they're owned by a ginormous corporation that makes billions off of advertisements and user data. Not cool.

Naturally, the internet blew up. Reddit erupted with vitriol, especially in the Oculus subreddit, and right now /r/oculus is totally overrun with rage and gloom. Apparently, Oculus is dead, having definitively ruined their future. Now we'll have to log into Facebook just to play Farmville VR or sit in a virtual room instead of playing games. Time to cancel your pre-orders and hope that developers abandon the platform, even if that means the death of VR.

Can everyone please just calm down?

I was shocked and upset, too, but at this point, I'm convinced that this reaction is just the usual internet mass hysteria. Your awesome VR games are not going to be replaced with Like buttons. Facebook will not be taking scans of your retinas and selling them to the NSA. OculusVille is not the future. Chill.

Here's what changed my mind:

1) Nobody is trying to take away the games. Oculus and Facebook both say that games will still be the first big focus of VR. Zuckerberg said that "Oculus already has big plans here that won't be changing and we hope to accelerate". Palmer Luckey's take: "The gaming industry is the only one equipped to make immersive, interactive 3D worlds. That’s going to continue to be the case for a long time. We’re gamers, we want to play games, that’s why we’re doing this."

2) So far, Oculus is being just as nice as before. The founders haven't checked out. Palmer visited /r/oculus (as he has done regularly for months) to gamely defend the decision, and Oculus dev relations folks are still as open and available as ever. They're still loud about supporting indies (and promise greater support going forward), they're still trying to deliver on the same promises as before, and they seem to have maintained control of their destiny for at least the near future. Remember that Oculus had some big investors before its purchase; they now have arguably more freedom than they used to.

3) This could be great for VR. First of all, Oculus now has the money and clout to make a better product. They don't have to "rely on the scraps of the mobile industry", and they afford to sell the Rift for a cheaper price. If what they say is true, pretty much all their financial limits are gone. Secondly, VR in general has an image of being antisocial and isolating, and Facebook can give it an aura of sociality and mainstream acceptance. It might be less hardcore, but it can now become huge, and much like the rise of mobile gaming, I think that's ultimately a good thing. Hardcore VR games (like mine) won't go extinct just because your parents own a Rift.

4) Actual developers aren't so negative. Polygon's interviews show some trepidation, but also a lot of excitement. Indie devs that I seriously respect, like Rami Ismail or Robin Arnott, seem mostly positive about it. Others simply like Oculus and choose to give them the benefit of the doubt. This isn't to say that all developers are happy; Notch and Max Temkin gave some good reasons why they're upset, and I know a lot of others share those feelings. But that perspective is hardly as unanimous as the internet backlash would lead you to believe.

Personally, I think that Facebook bought Oculus because they think that VR might get big and they don't want to be left behind (like they were on mobile). VR is always going to be great for games, but it won't just be for games; Oculus has been talking about the wider social future of the Rift for a while. If Zuckerberg wants to be the guy to start the VR revolution, I'm not inclined to stop him.

I'm sure some people will think that I just drank the Kool-Aid. I'm keenly aware that I have a conflict of interest here as a VR game dev who Oculus has supported in the past. But Oculus hasn't promised me any money, I don't have any formal connection with them, and I could jump ship to Sony or 2D any time I felt like it. But right now, I'm trying to look at this as dispassionately as possible, and I just can't see Oculus as the bad guys.

I'm not saying that there's nothing to worry about. I've got concerns about the more distant future of VR in Facebook's hands, and I'm sure there's a mature conversation to be had about that. But it's not cut-and-dry, and there are clearly some good things that can come out of this too.

So if you're going online to preach the VR apocalypse, please, cut it out.


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Comments


Greg Scheel
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Telling us not to 'freak out' is no way to win us over, as a near total cripple when it comes to people skills, I should not have to be the one pointing this out to you.

Christian Nutt
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I think it's meant in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way.

E McNeill
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Christian's right. I apologize if I come off as disrespectful, but this post is mostly a reaction to the craziest of the knee-jerk stuff posted yesterday. (And there was a lot.)

Greg Scheel
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No offense taken, and I can only respect you for offering an apology.

Now, if you want crazy kneejerk, that's easy...

Thumbs up and thumbs down comes to our culture directly from roman gladatorial bloodsport, and the use of the Gladius. So, in regards to Facebook/Oculus:

/thumbsdown
"Finish him!"
/spinerip

/toungeincheek

Wendelin Reich
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Greg, thanks for illustrating the reason why E McNeill asks people to "chill".

Greg Scheel
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@Reich

Look, it's impossible for anyone in PR to ignore the negative reaction, trying to pick on me and my nearly non existent social skills is pointless.
Anyway, he apologized, which is more than enough for me, Mr McNeill did not have to do that. In the spirit of decent behavior, should such even occur online, I am going to preemptively forgive you if you meant any offense.

Stanley de Bruyn
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The freak out massage is very clear massage that mr facebook should notice and go futher with high caution.

Phil Maxey
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I think developers/players loved the idea of the Oculus Rift as some kick ass gaming device, and what with a social networking company buying it, that dream appears to have disappeared. Time will tell though and even if it doesn't work out well for Oculus it will definitely spur something of an VR arms race. I wouldn't be surprised if MS and possibly Apple announced something similar.

E McNeill
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I've seen some people who seem to think that this means Oculus won't be developing a consumer version of the Rift, whereas all the evidence seems to point to even *better* final hardware. I totally understand why people might be concerned about the long-term development of VR, but we're still going to get our "kick ass gaming device".

Christian Nutt
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Well, to be fair, things are really ambiguous on this front (see my story from yesterday.)

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/213898/Oculus_Facebook_weigh_i
n_on_2_billion_surprise_VR_deal.php

Notably, said Zuckerberg, Facebook is "clearly not a hardware company" and is "not going to try and make profits off hardware long term," with Oculus. What that means for the device's ultimate consumer launch is unclear. Zuckerberg would not address launch timing. No further details were discussed.

Still, Zuckerberg promised to push "the different levers that Facebook has to make the product available to be people, affordable, and ubiquitous."

Phil Maxey
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I think how it's going to be monetized is what bothers a lot of potential users, if there's even a hint of ads appearing anywhere in the interface that's going to put most gamers off.

Christian Nutt
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I suspect people are looking at this the wrong way. If this was a buy for the talent (Zuckerberg said this) and a play to establish a technology (Zuckerberg said this) and will be a software and services business for the company (Zuckerberg said this) and the company will not generate revenue from hardware sales (Zuckerberg said this) then the Oculus tech is going to be licensed out, I'd guess, to interested manufacturers. Manufacturers will be interested because of the hype and because of FB's name.

I think games are safe because games are a fantastic proving ground for all of this tech. FB not care about games (in particular the sorts of games that people are currently making for Oculus Rift) so it will not be tempoted to stick its fingers into this pie at all.

But it also will lay the groundwork for the "real" uses for OR as Zuckerberg/FB envision them down the road. He alluded to this, though I don't remember the exact quote, and also repeatedly said this is a long road. Iribe also, IIRC, said that games are the beginning.

Michael Thornberg
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There are so many things about Facebook that worries me, that 'creeps me out' doesn't even begin to cover it. And I can't express how disappointed I am with Oculus. Even if there won't be any ads, that computer will still run a Facebook driver. Collecting god knows what and sending it back. Which then is used for whatever they feel like. I am so incredibly disappointed. So much promise, just out the window like that.

Tanner Mickelson
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The way I see it is that this is either a horrible thing, or a great thing. If Facebook keeps their hands off of the gaming side of things and doesn't pop ads up while we're trying to play TitanFall, then the extra money is going to make it possible to do a lot of things. Personally, I'd like to see some sort of eye tracking because if we had that we could navigate menus with our eyes and not have to pause the action to re-equip items in an RPG for example.

However, the thing I think most people are worried about, and I agree with, is what happens if Facebook decides that the way the Oculus guys are running things isn't to their liking. As long as the Oculus guys are in control, then we can be reasonably confident that they won't screw up games by putting banner ads across our vision, forcing F2P, and turning it into a mobile-like hell... If on the other hand, Facebook decides they want to milk it for more cash, then they've got all the resources they want to try and get rid of the people trying to run Oculus the right way.

Do you think there's any way that Oculus might have been able to put terms in the buyout that would prevent Facebook from destroying it if they wanted? Or does Facebook have complete control whenever they want it?

E McNeill
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Well, Palmer said that they got to "define the milestones" for Oculus (http://www.reddit.com/r/oculus/comments/21cy9n/the_future_of_vr/c
gc0eoq), and Brendan Iribe has been emphasizing their effective independence in interviews (http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/03/25/oculus-ceo-describes-rapid
-sale-to-facebook/). Time will tell, but it looks all right so far.

Tanner Mickelson
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Interesting... If that's the case then they may have had the foresight to ensure Facebook can't damage their core gaming audience. Even if the Oculus Rift ends up ruined though, as Phil Maxey said it'll start a VR arms race. With Project Morpheus we're already seeing the beginnings of that.

Seth S Scott
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Great article buddy. I totally agree with you and I was definitely a bit perplexed yesterday. I didn't back the Oculus in KS and I personally don't have much interest in the VR market (except for this guys recreation of the Seinfeld apartment http://www.jerrysplacevr.com/). I definitely think Facebook is turning into a pretty lame corporation but your argument of the Oculus having some more money to be developed and produced is definitely valid. Who knows where this will go in a year or two but time will tell. This is the "Golden Age" of indie dev's making and releasing games and just because the Oculus is owned by a corporation now doesn't mean its doomed. Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft have realized the beauty of having AAA games as well as the little guys and today is as good of an example of indie devs being successful on large scale, corporate owned products.

Ron Dippold
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I think it's mostly a Death of a Dream thing.

For various reasons people were really fired up about the Rift. This was going to change things, man! Plucky guy Kickstarts his dream and offers us possibly the best new gaming experience in a long long time. John Carmack leaves Id to become the CTO! The holodeck is coming! People had extremely high (unrealistically so) expectations for Oculus and the Rift.

Now we get the harsh reality check. Before the product even launches, our Joy Box has been bought by a company that exists to make people miserable and has a horrible track record with companies they've acquired. The big dream was the big sellout. It's a Gibsonesque (Neuromancer) scenario with giant evil corporations buying up promising new tech for nefarious purposes. There is nothing so wonderful that it can't be acquired and turned into a mere advertising and spying machine. Yes, I'm being over the top here - it's the crystallized form of the comments we've been seeing.

So you can certainly still make great games for a corporate behemoth's sanitized data collection service (Apple App Store, Google Play), and I expect we'll still get some great Rift games, and I hope it really takes off. Practically I'm not sure this will have any big long term effect.

But the Dream, whether it was ever possible or not, is dead, and that makes people really angry and they freak out even if they can't quite put their finger on why.

Shannon Rowe
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Yes, the "hate big companies, root for the underdog" cliche is so ingrained in people, particularly internet geeks, that these sorts of knee jerk reactions are pretty predictable. Instead of focusing on the actual real world positives, we get all the usual FUD from privacy zealots and "you sold our your grass roots" fanatics.

Oculus have been nothing but upfront about all of this, and how this helps them financially. FaceBook has a right to make money. If that means a Metaverse with ads or a subscription model, then so what? Some people get so fixated on expecting everything for free - I get disgusted whenever I hear about things like class action suits against FaceBook policy changes, when it's a *free service that these people never paid for in the first place*. So too with these latest doses of outrage, that ignore the commercial realities.

Then again, you can't reason with a zealot. I still have Linux nerd mates who've been insisting for a decade that Linux will one day wipe out Microsoft Windows.

Amir Barak
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"Oculus have been nothing but upfront about all of this"
Then why were they calling it a partnership rather than an acquisition at first?
Where's the updated roadmap details concerning Facebook's plans for profiteering off of the technology?
If Facebook has no plans of monetizing the hardware, how are they planning to monetize the software?

"free service that these people never paid for in the first place"
Doesn't have to be free. Nobody forced Facebook to make it freely available. Having something free doesn't mean they get to do whatever they want, whenever they want, with their customers.

"FaceBook has a right to make money. If that means a Metaverse with ads or a subscription model,"
Everyone has the right to make money, it's just that some people/corporations make money is shitty ways... I don't mind services on a subscription basis or ads, it's enforcing a technology based product into a monetized data-mining corporate direction that bothers me (and apparently other developers as well).

"Then again, you can't reason with a zealot."
Which is probably the reason you've so casually dismissed reasonable concerns and logical arguments. I guess, yeah, you can't reason with a zealot...

***
Heck, I'll even give you a physical example of your whole -> free equals rights to abuse.
I can walk into my local library and read books for free. This does not give the library the right to call McDonalds and tell them I'm here so they can ask me if I want to order a cheeseburger. This also does not give them the right to go through my wallet and call my friends to ask them if they want a cheeseburger too, even if I'm in the library space, even if I left my wallet in the library.

I know, I know, but we store our data on their servers, right?.

So? Can you imagine a situation where the EULA for boarding an airplane states, "Leaving your luggage with us grants us the right to go through it and call all your friends"?

Wendelin Reich
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Thanks "E", I couldn't agree more.

I do get the broader internet backlash, even if I don't agree with it. What I don't really get is the broad backlash here on Gamasutra. The FB acquisition...

- enlarges the total value of the gaming market (currently at 60-90B/year, depending on who estimates) in a significant manner, which means jobs, investment etc.

- gives more financial security to Oculus and VR in general, making VR a better investment for developers (including indies like myself)

- almost guarantees what was far from guaranteed before, that a new, different platform (next to Apple, Google, Valve) will emerge - a platform that isn't yet clogged up

I fail to see what's so bad about this.

Greg Scheel
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From a PR perspective, it just does not matter what any one person thinks, although I wish it did.

The survey I saw linked from Reddit, ( my apologies for not having the link handy ), was running 50% negative, 45% wait and see, and only 4% what's the problem. That is pretty bad overall, no way to avoid it. This may not turn out to be disastrous, but it ain't good. The product may turn out well, but the indie developer support has tanked, and there is no way to avoid that observation, based on empirical evidence.

Shannon Rowe
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Indeed, I see only positive outcomes here. Better hardware, solid platform, and the likelihood that we will now get a full Metaverse/OASIS universe to play in.

Amir Barak
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The problem here with your statement is that there is always a compromise made with such deals. Or are you suggesting that the Facebook corporation (Zuckerberg in this case) gave 2 billion dollars to the OculusVR team from the goodness of his heart? Then why is this an acquisition and not a donation, if Facebook cared so much?

John Bagoode
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That first paragraph made you sound like a huge, condescending douchebag. You then proceed to "point out" a few retarded comments from Reddit, as if they help you demonstrate your point.
Also, you're acting like this is the first internet shitstorm you've ever encountered.
Lastly, you give examples from Reddit. Fuck's sake, Reddit? The Internet's spawning pool of shit spewing idiots?

As for Facebook's intentions with the Rift, we can only wait and see. If they ruin it completely, then people will get upset. But I don't think their intervention was needed or wanted(by the community). A good product will sell without the help of some huge-ass corporation.

Christian Nutt
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If you think the first paragraph makes the author sound like "a huge, condescending douchebag" you are taking things way, way too personally and investing them with emotional resonances that are not intended, I'm afraid.

John Bagoode
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maybe, I`m a pretty empathic person, but isn`t this what the comment section is for, to write your opinion in regards to the article?

Benjamin Quintero
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John, you can have a rebuttal to someone's article. You can say that you don't agree. You can even express you opinion on the point's he makes. But calling someone a "douchebag" is a personal attack that says nothing for or against the article itself. That makes your comment as useful and constructive as me saying that "Bag" is in your last name.

Benjamin Quintero
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"...as a VR game dev who Oculus has supported in the past"

I think that's probably the most important line here. Investing in something that hasn't even hit the market yet and trusting an insider is kind of like buying a house and just taking the seller's word that it isn't infested with termites.

If it has been purchased by a company who's sole purpose in life is to extract your secrets to help promote itself to more of the people you know and show you dog food ads because it knows you have a dog, then yes that is reason for concern. If this buyout was in the interest of diversifying Facebook's global portfolio I could understand, but it's not. There is too much overlap in the shared digital space for Facebook to not want to mind meld these concepts into something that is only loosely related to video games. Games will not be the top priority, they will be a bullet point on a long list of social advertising strategies for the Rift.

We don't know what was said behind closed doors but I can almost certainly imagine that it was mostly a lot of drooling over the fresh ink on that check followed by, "yes sir, Mr Z. whatever you say."


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