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In the wake of Oculus' Facebook deal, game devs ponder what's next Exclusive
In the wake of Oculus' Facebook deal, game devs ponder what's next
March 26, 2014 | By Mike Rose

March 26, 2014 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

Well, who could have seen this coming? Facebook announced last night that it will acquire Oculus VR for $2 billion -- a move that set the internet alight, and set knee-jerk opinions into overdrive.

We've all had the last 24 hours to really think about this most incredible, gigantic of deals now, and what it could potentially mean for those game developers who have been working the tech into their current and upcoming titles.

Is Facebook's involvement good for game devs, or is the deal going to come crashing down on developers? Gamasutra spoke with numerous game studios currently working on Oculus games, to dig a bit deeper than Twitter reactions.

White Paper Games just released Ether One this week, a first-person adventure that centers on the human mind. The team has been working Oculus Rift support into the game for around a year now, and was one of the first studios to do so.

"My concern is that Facebook doesn't see this as a VR push, but as a wearable tech landgrab," David Smith of White Paper tells me. "There's been some buzz around Android wearables, and regardless of what you think of it, Google Glass. With the amount of specialized talent at Oculus, I could see Facebook thinking they've hit the jackpot."

Smith has his fingers crossed that Facebook is going to be taking a backseat when it comes to future decisions for Oculus, given that the Oculus team already seems to be on the right path without Facebook's input.

"In the past couple of years we've gone from super-expensive and not commercially viable VR solutions, to something that's getting to a comfortable stage and almost cheap enough for the masses," he notes. "We're still not there yet, both in terms of final hardware and in terms of how to apply the technology to games. We're still learning."

"My concern is that Facebook don't see this as a VR push, but as a wearable tech landgrab."
Smith adds, "If this cash injection allows them to tackle the first hurdle, and provide additional support for devs then maybe this isn't a such bad thing."

Pavel Sebor is the owner of owner of SCS Software, the company best known for simulation games like Euro Truck Simulator 2. The company added Oculus Rift support for its trucking game late last year, and Sebor says that he expects the Oculus team to be in touch rather soonish to explain exactly what is going on.

"We were looking to improve our support for the new version of Oculus Rift/dev kit in our games, and we still plan to do so," he notes. "Just maybe not so eagerly."

"Perhaps the hardware can only get better with more funding behind it," he adds. "On the other hand, what it means for content -- I think Oculus is going to lose big on support from indies now. And when it comes to support from major publishers, does Facebook really expect EA or Ubisoft etc. to rush to support a competitor's hardware platform?"

Markus "Notch" Persson said in a tweet last night that he was planning to add Oculus Rift support to Minecraft, but he's now completely changed his mind since the Facebook acquisition.

He later expanded in a blog post, "Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build."

Brano Kemen is currently working on the incredible Outerra game engine that Gamasutra reported on earlier this year. He, too, has been adding Oculus Rift support to his work.

"Nobody around here is exactly happy about it, mildly put," he said of the Facebook acquisition. "I guess a sell-out was expected once Oculus took VC money, but Facebook of all?"

"I personally was disappointed to read something that feels like a press release from Palmer."
He adds, "Palmer [Luckey, Oculus founder] wrote that he was initially skeptical when Facebook approached them, but then it became 'the clear and obvious path' as they convinced them about their vision. I personally was disappointed to read something that feels like a press release from Palmer; for me there are many other companies with which the acquisition would make much more sense technologically and 'spiritually.'"

Kemen notes that while Luckey appears to have been convinced by Facebook, clearly the rest of us haven't seen this message conveyed appropriately. Having said that, even if this deal turns sour eventually, the VR train is well and truly in motion.

"VR has been Kickstarted and is here to stay," notes Kemen. "Competition is appearing, which is always good for the progress. Ironically, there's no special tech in the Rift -- as Palmer himself admitted previously, it was basically just him realizing that VR was possible with the existing technology that was needed."

For now, Outerra will continue to support Oculus as long as nothing prevents them doing so, although the team's feelings towards the company have been altered somewhat.

One of the biggest releases coming to Oculus Rift is CCP's Eve: Valkyrie -- essentially a first-person space shooter set in the EVE universe. David Reid, CMO at CCP, told Gamasutra that, "We're very excited for our friends and colleagues at Oculus."

"We share their vision about the future of VR and gaming and are looking forward to participating in the consumer launch of the Oculus Rift with Eve: Valkyrie," he added.

Zero Point Software has been working Oculus Rift support into Interstellar Marines, and the company currently has rather mixed opinions on what the acquisition will mean for them.

"Some of us are concerned that only the social platform will benefit from it and the gaming platform will suffer," notes Zero Point's Carsten Boserup. Right now the Oculus Rift supports passion and freedom for game developers, and Zero Point is worried that freedom will be lost.

"Having a big company with deep pockets backing them hopefully means they can now do a bunch of stuff that might not be immediately make money but could pay off longer term."
"But there is the option that with the 'unlimited' funds that Facebook have, they could make the Oculus Rift even better than without the resources from Facebook," Boserup adds.

Richard Perrin added Oculus Rift support to his first-person puzzler Kairo last year, and he notes that this acquisition could be really good news for all involved.

"Having worked with the Rift it still feels like technology that isnít quite there yet, but obviously Oculus must have been under enormous pressure until now to make it profitable," he says. "Having a big company with deep pockets backing them hopefully means they can now do a bunch of stuff that might not be immediately make money but could pay off longer term. So there is a good chance this will mean we'll get better stuff sooner from the Oculus team."

But on the slip side, Perrin worries about having to trust Facebook, especially given the various acquisitions that the company has made over the years.

"Apart from them having a huge wallet, they feel like a terrible fit for Oculus, and the only chance of this going well is them being relatively hands off for a while at least," he adds. "Iíve seen the defenders of the deal saying 'they didn't buy Oculus to ruin it' and I've seen those exact same words said in many buyouts before - I've even worked in a company that got bought out before, and the process is often unintentionally destructive."

For Perrin, his plans are to migrate over to Steam's VR API anyway, so he's not too worried.

"Valve's plan to make a hardware independent layer of VR support that still works perfectly with the Rift makes the most sense," Perrin says. "VR is an emerging market in gaming, and so being tied to the current market leader only makes sense for the short term. Eventually weíre going to want games that support a variety of competing headsets, and with this new question mark over the long term future of the Rift I think moving to hardware independent APIs is a smart move."

Chris Chung is working on the wonderful Catlateral Damage -- a first-person cat simulator which will eventually support Oculus Rift. The dev says that, following the acquisition, he's going to have to sit back and wait to see how this move affects his chances of supporting Oculus.

"I'm not about to abandon making my dream game, and I'm glad that they aren't abandoning me."

"If supporting the Rift means I'd have to support some non-gaming, Facebook-determined social features then I probably won't bother," he notes. "If Oculus can retain most of their independence and supporting the Rift means just providing a great, gaming-focused experience then I'd be on board for using it."

Robin Arnott, progenitor of the IGF Award-nominated (and VR-compatible) exploration game SoundSelf, believes that the merger is a lot less scary when you stop looking at it through game-tinted goggles.

"The nice thing about VR is that bullshit just doesn't fly very well on it," Arnott told Gamasutra. "I think what people are worried about is Oculus becoming a platform for games of the soulless-microtransaction-variety. And that's just not gonna happen because there's too much high-quality high-production-value content already being produced for Oculus."

To hear Arnott tell it, the industry's collective anxiety over the deal stems from its predilection for perceiving Oculus as "good" for games and Facebook as "bad" for games, when in fact each company is concerned with a broader market.

"Facebook, after all, is not a gaming company, but a communications company. And Oculus is not a gaming company, but a virtual reality company," said Arnott. "I think Facebook's probably looking at the big-picture potential of VR outside of games - as a means of communication and sharing experiences. I can't imagine what they'll come up with together, but I have a feeling that it'll more closely resemble the holodeck than Farmville."

E McNeill, who won last year's IndieCade VR Jam with the game Darknet (known at the time as Ciess), is optimistic in the near-term, but cautious about the long-term effects of the Facebook deal.

"Oculus has been doing great work so far; maybe the extra cash will just help them do it better," he says. "They've been wonderful to me as an indie dev, and I just hope they won't change too much now that they're under the umbrella of Facebook. Everything they've said so far has indicated that games are still a focus for them.

"I'm not about to abandon making my dream game, and I'm glad that they aren't abandoning me," he said. "I'm a bit more worried about Facebook's involvement in the long term, but for now, the only downside seems to be the enormous, ridiculous online backlash."

And Ichiro Lambe of Dejobaan, who recently worked the Oculus Rift into basejumping game Aaaaa!, noted that excitement for VR at GDC was pretty intense, and a deal with Facebook isn't going to change that.

"Whatever they're up to, behind the scenes, is so awesomely cool that it's interesting to John Carmack," he notes. "The guy did not join OR because he needed Facebook's money. So, I'm hopeful that we'll see some grand stuff."

"Bottom line, small developers are in a win/win situation: If Oculus supports neat things in the indie space, great. If not, it's still good news, because they've created an environment that's allowed companies like Valve and Sony to do just that."

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Allan Rowntree
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OK so I would expect Zuckerberg to go for Second Life or an MMO company next, Blizzard?

Alan Barton
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I was thinking they would go for a games company, but sadly the most likely targets are Epic, Unity or Crytek ... or Valve!!. By controlling an engine and a market place and economy build around the engine, they would put a strangle hold on much of games development.

Its the one thing I'm now worried about when relying on an engine. If that happens, it'll be back to writing our own engines or we will all jump ship to whoever survives the acquisition wars. :(

... My guess would be Epic with their new marketplace and engine licencing changes, as they have already sold part of their soul to Tencent Holdings. :(

Michael Thornberg
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I seriously doubt Tencent (a.k.a chinese government) would approve.

Ron Dippold
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The NYT had this today: 'According to a person involved in the deal who was not allowed to speak publicly because he was not authorized by either company, Facebook eventually plans to redesign the Oculus hardware and rebrand it with a Facebook interface and logo.'

So, anonymous source, but if true they're already planning on Facebooking it up.

Michael Wenk
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I don't think that the sale means a whole lot of difference for game devs. Unless you believe that FB bought them out to shut the project down, FB will need to get support for the headset. To do that they'll need to sell a ton of headsets. To do that they'll need support, so they'll have to pay studios to put in that support. There was always the fact that once OR got established that they would need to extort, er, put license fees to grow revenue, but that was always in the cards. Sure FB could get more greedy.

However, in the short term, I'd think this is a good thing as OR will have a ton more money to develop the headset itself as well as pay studios for support.

Kyle Redd
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Change every instance of the word "support" with the word "exclusives" and I'd agree with you.

Alan Barton
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@Michael Wenk: "pay studios for support"

Ahh the dream of free cash. Not so likely unfortunately and even if they do what to throw some cash around, that money would most likely go to the likes of the big publishers. Say a Call of Duty, branded with a Facebook Oculus logo etc..

Also Oculus didn't need to pay for support, because they got (and have now squandered and shat on the) huge free support from a very enthusiastic developer following, all dreaming of helping to make VR a reality.

The only way I can see Oculus working is if they totally open source all its code. But unfortunately that's not likely to stay that way over time. But even if they start open, that would at least allow us to see what we are expected to include in or be associated with our products... Because as it stands, imagine asking core gamers to have to install a closed facebook DRM filled Oculus storefront (filled with spyware) all just so they can use Oculus. Oh you thought it was just going to be an Oculus driver? yeah right. Facebook won't stop at just a driver. They are already talking about far more integration into Facebook.

All of that is before we even get into the spying PR nightmares that Facebook have shown themselves to be mixed up in. Imagine our products being associated with Facebook revelations. We could easily end up with consumer backlashes and boycotts of our products. We just want to make fun entertaining products. Facebook wants to spy on everyone, so they can sell everyone's privacy. Morally I have serious problems with the direction Facebook are heading so I have serious concerns about my products being associated with what has become a Facebook spyware product.

Oculus is literally that now. Its spyware.

Also how will Steam now have to work with and respond to Facebook's moves into games? So that then puts Oculus on Steam consoles now in doubt long term, as we can all see how Facebook can shift the goal posts of what software will be delivered with Oculus in the future. Also its obvious a walled garden will now slowly grow up around Oculus with Facebook now it control. They want Facebook integration.

So it does affect developers. It affects us a lot.

We need an open VR system on PC. That's why my hopes are now on either Valve and/or CastAR for PC development.

In my mind, Oculus as a VR platform has just moved from 1st place at least 4th place. VR will live on, but Oculus have damned their image.

But the most damning aspect of all and most important aspect for games development is the view of our customers. The views of the early adopters (on reddit and kickstarter) is uniformly deeply damning of Oculus. These people supported Oculus from day one, yet now their attitude shows that over night, Oculus has become an absolute pariah no one really wants to be associated with. That is a huge hill to climb and a huge issue for developers.

Greg Scheel
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Please forgive me for thinking that you could be a shill, you are clearly a truebeliver.

Alan Barton
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@Greg Scheel

Thats ok, I've upvoted a few of your comments over the past few days and i don't take it personally.

I'm deeply gutted by what Oculus have done. Well over 20 years (whilst working in the games industry) I got to help contribute some design ideas to the electronics of an early VR headset (we were trying to create our own VR headset the first time around for VR). That and over the past 3 months, whilst being out of work, I've been working flat out 7 days a week solidly up to +15 hours per day working on my own VR game! ... all with a view and deep hope of supporting and being a part of helping VR to finally become a reality!. I've believed in VR for the better part of a quater of a century! and i feel sickened by what Oculus have done. I do not want VR to become yet another Ad filled and spying backdoor into people's lives.

Because of my continuing interest in electronics, I knew of the work of Jeri Ellsworth. She is high profile in the maker movement and she is one of the people behind Valve's VR ideas and CastAR. I believe she could make CastAR a success and I like the idea it can project video into the real world as well as function as a more conventional VR headset as well. Its well worth checking out youtube to see the work on CastAR. I wish they would promote CastAR more, as few people seem to know about it at the moment, but now Oculus have shot themselves in both feet, hopefully it'll give others like CastAR a chance to be heard more.

Marvin Papin
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@ Greg Scheel

I agree with you on many points but I still want to believe. And get advantage of what happens 'til it collapse.

About CastAR, ok it's cool. But due to the desire of AR, there are many limitations for VR. I have some apprehensions toward immersion an reactivity. You're limited to a white surface, I'm not sur about visual quality and it's a projected image. I expect little games on it but that's all. I'm much more intersted in VR capabilities and immersion.

Plus I found that AR is more a limitation. But could be more a tool than an entertainment medium. But I hope they'll be successful anyway.

ian walker
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hmmm, bit of a theme here - orchestrated unemployment; just the thing for harvesting a rich brew of boosted IP. You need to be careful what you talk about and what work you do and research on the internet... And LOL jeri AND valve and makers etc... Maybe someday you get jeri and/or gabe aside and ask them where 'their' ideas came from (well for valve and a few other things...) really press them and make the point the the internet doesn't forget, especially in the era of universal surveillance - by more parties than JUST THE NSA... Thats right, JUST.... And your take on castAR is kinda lame (no offence meant, it just is) - yet another example of an idea loosely conveyed and ultimately misinterpreted... Sigh

Arthur Goikhman
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Anyone developing for the Rift had to be concerned about ultimate adoption, and for that matter, even about the device ever shipping. The purchase by Facebook, especially given Zuckerberg's comments, makes it clear that those two concerns are no longer of serious consequences. How can that be anything but great news for Oculus Rift developers?

Alan Barton
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If you can't see the issues this creates, I suspect you are trying to put a positive spin on this buyout, probably because you're likely to be a developer targeting VR.

I am as well. But I'm willing to speak openly about the problems and pitfalls Facebook represents. I've listed just a few above and what Oculus have done has damned their image with early adopters. Its a serious issue. Read Reddit and Kickstarter if you don't want to believe it.

Jeff Leigh
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Facebook is a social networking site that has peaked, possibly on the wane. They are competing against giants like Google and Apple, and they missed the move to mobile phones.

They see products like Google Glass and wonder "Is that the next thing in mobile?" That's what this acquisition is about. Their biggest competitor has a mobile device in the works that will keep the phone in the pocket while users access their data/apps, and Facebook doesn't want to miss the boat again. Facebook doesn't even care about the tech - they want an app store out of this and a stake in mobile.

For this to be a 'mass market' device that Facebook is interested in, it has to compete with Google Glass. And when you think "wearable display" there are currently two names: Google Glass and Oculus Rift. The fact that the Oculus is a polar opposite to mobile is irrelevant - this is about impressing shareholders and "owning mindshare" in next-gen mobile head-mounted displays. That a few indie game devs are burned by this sale is irrelevant. They have no interest in a device that is tethered to a high-end gaming rig or these developers. After another 3-5 years in dev it'll be redesigned to cater to a completely different set of developers.

My predictions for Facebook's Rift: Integrated CPU/GPU to render graphics and the ability to bluetooth pair with smartphones. Rift will become a "platform" rather than a peripheral. It will certainly support wi-fi if not cellular networks and will offer apps, including games, in an app store. They'll immediately change the design to allow users to see their surroundings while using the device - they need to avoid being branded the 'FaceBrick' next to Google's minimal design. Next will come announcements of cloud connectivity through a new FaceCloud. HD 3D Stereo will likely survive as an improvement over Glass, but there will probably be a "light" model that only displays in one eye.

Robert Green
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"The fact that the Oculus is a polar opposite to mobile is irrelevant"

I'd say it's fairly relevant, in the sense that it's completely nonsensical to pay $2bn for a VR headset maker then turn it into something completely different. Buying Oculus doesn't get them any mindshare at all if they completely change what the Rift is before it even gets to market, because all of the existing mindshare would obviously leave.

I think it's reasonable to assume that a long-term plan would see the headset become wireless, if only so you don't have a cord dangling around while you're using it, but facebook are not a competitor to google glass in any way - google glass is powered by google's search, mapping, voice recognition, email, etc. - all things facebook lacks.

Jeff Leigh
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I hope you are right. I own the current dev kit and I was considering buying the new version just to have the higher resolution version before Facebook 'gets their fingers in the mix'. (It could, afterall be a few years before another product fills the space.)

I seriously doubt Facebook is $2 billion dollars interested in producing high-end gaming accessories that only appeal to a niche (VR enthusists that don't get headaches) of a niche (gamers) who will spend a lot of money on a very limited-use product. Companies like Facebook want something that leverages their existing networks and will expand their ability to connect users with businesses - something with mass appeal. For this purchase to be worth it for Facebook, they absolutely must turn the Rift into something with mass-market appeal and a low barrier to entry.

You can pretty much imagine the Board Meeting: "Slim it down, make it wireless, and make the screens transparent - a pair of glasses that can display 3D holograms over real space while accommodating for the users movements so that rendered objects persist in 3D space. Pictures you take are instantly uploaded to your Facebook photo album. We'll expand our content network to offer all sorts of services, and the advertising opportunities are endless. Walk by a McDonalds and a transparent tab enters your field of vision hovering over it with a coupon code. We can make that opt-out on a per-business basis." That's the sort of stuff that gets shareholders and upper management folk excited enough to spend big money.

Somehow I seriously doubt the discussion ended entailed "With this device, hardcore gamers can fully immerse themselves in worlds like Skyrim! We need to make sure we don't interfere with the Rift developer's plans."

Robert Green
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They certainly have greater ambitions than just hardcore gamers, but no, I can't imagine that board meeting. Zuckerberg still maintains a controlling interest, and he's personally familiar with the device. This idea you have still seems to suggest a room full of people who for some reason decided it made sense to spend $2bn on something, only to turn it into something completely different. If Facebook wanted to make Google Glass, what did this purchase get them? You'd have to replace the screen, the chassis, remove the lenses (they wouldn't work with AR), then you could get rid of all the staff involved in making games/software for that system...... what exactly does that leave them with?

Luke Schneider
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I was upset by the news at first too. Today I've come to the conclusion: It's good short-term, doesn't matter long-term to games. We'll get better, cheaper hardware in the 1st retail release. I'm hoping for 2560x1080 or 2560x1440 85hz (or something on that level).

As long as the Oculus continues to support Steam's VR API, that's excellent insurance and that's what everyone should develop for anyway. If they don't support it, that's the red flag everyone can freak out about.

If it doesn't work out in a few years (Oculus is sold off/shut down), we'll still have that awesome hardware, and a different company will fill the void. Eventually we'll have hardware that's all self-contained, and has a little dongle to project an image to a TV so others can watch (or you'll be able to watch on your phone/tablet). Whether it's Oculus that gets there first or someone else doesn't really matter. It's not like we're ever going back to really closed off hardware.

Michael Thornberg
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Maybe it works out well. Who knows.. It is just that Facebook is behind them now. That (to me) causes me automatically assume there will be spying involved. Just the mere suspicion of it, makes me turn away. I will never trust Facebook. This (for me) is simply the worst news regarding Oculus possible, it's like a death knell for Oculus as far as I am concerned.