The Oculus Rift was one of those things that made me feel like a revolution in gaming was on the horizon. I admit that lately, I’ve been feeling a little unenthused by what’s out there. I haven’t felt a compelling reason to buy any of the new generation of consoles. I’m mostly playing MMOs, one of which originally launched in 2004. Everything coming out lately just feels like it’s been more of the same old thing.
I wrote about the Oculus Rift before and how excited I was by the potential. The prospect of a true VR experience is still the main reason to be excited even though I haven’t yet been able to play with the machine without getting terrible motion sickness. I’m hoping the final product with correct that. Almost as exciting, though, was the way the Oculus Rift was brought into the world: it began through Kickstarter. It was funded by the excitement of its fans and developed on the back of that grassroots-level enthusiasm.
And then Facebook bought them.
I understand how the developers could be willing to sell their baby to the megalithic Facebook. If somebody waved $2 billion dollars in my direction, I would do the same thing. I might even do it for less, like say . . . $1 billion. There’d be room to negotiate, is my point.
Less exciting, however, is the idea that the Oculus is now in the hands of Facebook.
Yes, I use Facebook. This blog will get a large portion of its traffic from the automatically generated link that appears in my Facebook feed. I use it but I don’t love it. I don’t even like it.
I use it because that’s what’s there and it’s where people are. It functions for its purpose and it has enough inertia behind it to prevent other, better products from gaining much ground (Google+ would get my vote, even though nobody uses it very often, including me).
Notch, the creator of MineCraft, sums up his own feelings about this disappointment quite well:
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.
Don’t get me wrong, VR is not bad for social. In fact, I think social could become one of the biggest applications of VR. Being able to sit in a virtual living room and see your friend’s avatar? Business meetings? Virtual cinemas where you feel like you’re actually watching the movie with your friend who is seven time zones away?
But I don’t want to work with social, I want to work with games.
I should note that this doesn’t mean the Oculus Rift is ruined forever. It might still be a great platform. It does mean that I’m considerably more skeptical now than I was before I read this announcement. Facebook isn’t a company that inspires a lot of confidence in me. Like Notch says in his post, their motives are unclear and shifting, their platform has been unstable, and there’s nothing about their history that says “yeah, I trust them to get this right.” Every indication of Facebook seems to indicate that it’s been a wild success in spite of itself. One needs only look back at the Facebook IPO debacle for a reminder.
The fact that the Oculus Rift sold for $2 billion dollars before it even hit the shelves sits poorly with me for another reason. Let’s go back to 2006.
The Nintendo Wii hit the world with the force of a hurricane. I was still working at GameStop at this time so I endured the full wrath of desperate consumers looking to buy the system for the holidays. I remember how motion controls were suddenly the thing in gaming and Microsoft and Sony scrambled to have their own answers.
But eight years later, what’s the state of motion control? A gimmick past its prime, if sales of the Wii U are any indication.
What happens to VR if the Oculus Rift doesn’t live up to its $2 billion worth of expectation? Will any of the competing products on the horizon be there to take up the crown or will the disappointment set VR gaming back another decade?
I think it would have been better for gaming, for VR, and for the Oculus Rift itself is this hadn’t happened. It would have been fun to see how far the grassroots momentum generated by the Kickstarter could have carried this thing.
I guess we’ll never know.