My knuckles were white, and sweat dripped from my brow as my fist slammed against the desk.
If you are anything like me, the recent buyout of Oculus VR by facebook probably left your head spinning somewhere down the street from the location where you read the news. Personally, I was furious. "How DARE they betray their backers?", I thought. It certainly had to be their greed, and the enticing two-billion dollars (four-hundred thousand cash and 1.6 billion dollars worth of stock options) thrown into the ring by the social media juggernaut fronted by that dastardly Mark Zuckerberg guy. How could they? Oculus is a company that had only made it this far with the help of it's community, and this was a move that no one could have anticipated. I instantly went to google to harvest every bit of vitriol that I could from gamers all over the world. It made me feel better to know that others out there were angry. I went over in my head the ways that Facebook could ruin something that, up until now, I was extremely enthusiastic to support. The comments of Minecraft creator, Markus Persson, also caused me some discomfort. Persson, also known as "Notch" to the Minecraft community, was previously in the works to create a version of his bestselling game for use on the Oculus VR system. He ended talks with the VR company shortly after news of the acquisition, announcing the news on twitter with the statement ending in, "Facebook creeps me out". Persson went on to explain his reservations through an open letter, rather than addressing the media head on about his comments - below is an excerpt.
"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 went to bed that night feeling bitter and defeated. Though I didn't own one of the Rift devkits, I was planning on supporting the company later in the year. They stood for something I believed in, a technology that could change the face of consumer entertainment forever and for better - a product completely created through the ability to crowd-source. "Not anymore", I told myself. I fell asleep wondering how Facebook would sink their teeth into my dream device.
The next day was a lot like any other. I woke up, I went to work, I got home and logged onto my computer to check out the news of the day. To my surprise, I caught wind of a surprising comment by John Carmack, formerly of id Software and now the CTO of Oculus VR. Carmack is especially near and dear to my heart because he produced the very first computer game that I had the pleasure of sneaking around to play, Wolfenstein 3D. Later, I would experience the shoot-em-up splendor of DOOM, and the rest is really history. Other than Sonic the Hedgehog, John Carmack was solely responsible for my present obsession of everything gaming.)
In a response to a blog post about the purchasing of Oculus VR, John seemed to take an optimistic view - while remaining a realist about the fact that he also was unaware of the deal until it was released to the public. He explains in the excerpt below.
"There is a case to be made for being like Valve, and trying to build a new VR ecosystem like Steam from the ground up. This is probably what most of the passionate fans wanted to see. The difference is that, for years, the industry thought Valve was nuts, and they had the field to themselves. Valve deserves all their success for having the vision and perseverance to see it through to the current state.
VR won't be like that. The experience is too obviously powerful, and it makes converts on contact. The fairly rapid involvement of the Titans is inevitable, and the real questions were how deeply to partner, and with who."
Honestly, I wasn't expecting Facebook (or this soon). I have zero personal background with them, and I could think of other companies that would have more obvious synergies. However, I do have reasons to believe that they get the Big Picture as I see it, and will be a powerful force towards making it happen."You don't make a commitment like they just did on a whim."
This statement left me at an impasse. While I agreed with Persson's comments about the ability Facebook had to destroy Oculus, I also understood Carmack's passion for creating a worthwhile gaming experience - afterall he pushed the Rift from being released early because had an issue with the visual latency that the prototype had. If there's anything true about this situation, it is that Carmack left a company that he gave a better part of his life to create, so that he could perfect a piece of technology that he is emotionally invested in.
At the end of the day, I have mixed feelings. While I don't want the Oculus Rift to be compromised by the vision of a social media company, I'm convinced that perhaps the Rift might have a better chance in the consumer market with the help of Facebook. The developers have promised that their vision will still stay true, without the smother of an overactive Facebook branding. Short-term, it appears that it's business as usual at Oculus VR, but long-term? Who knows? I'm going to channel my inner John Carmack and try to be optimistic, while knowing that the future of the company is out of my hands.