The social media juggernaut is set to purchase Oculus VR for a total $2 billion in a deal slated to finalize in the second quarter of 2014.
Not long after announcing their $19 billion acquisition of mobile messenger service WhatsApp, Facebook revealed another surprise purchase, striking a multi-billion deal to acquire Oculus VR. Oculus has been a hot topic of late as its impressive virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift, continues to move toward a commercial release. Just last week the Rift’s latest Dev Kit (DK2) was put out for pre-order and turned heads at GDC, building on a steady stream of excitement that the gaming community has been cooking up since the public first got their hands on the product in March 2013.
On the surface Oculus’s acquisition is a surprise – it’s hard to see a 1:1 connection between Mark Zuckerberg’s massive social network and a predominantly hardcore gaming device like the Oculus Rift – however Zuckerberg shed some light on Facebook’s plans for Oculus in his official statement:
“Our mission is to make the world more open and connected. For the past few years, this has mostly meant building mobile apps that help you share with the people you care about. We have a lot more to do on mobile, but at this point we feel we’re in a position where we can start focusing on what platforms will come next to enable even more useful, entertaining and personal experiences.
This is where Oculus comes in [...] Oculus’s mission is to enable you to experience the impossible. Their technology opens up the possibility of completely new kinds of experiences.
Immersive gaming will be the first, and Oculus already has big plans here that won’t be changing and we hope to accelerate. The Rift is highly anticipated by the gaming community, and there’s a lot of interest from developers in building for this platform. We’re going to focus on helping Oculus build out their product and develop partnerships to support more games. Oculus will continue operating independently within Facebook to achieve this.
But this is just the start. After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home. This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.”
Whether or not a VR headset is a necessary enhancement to watching videos or video conferencing over Facebook remains to be seen, but Zuckerberg claims this integration of the technology will revolutionize the Facebook experience.
On the other side of this business deal, Oculus released their own statement, focusing more on the financial burden this acquisition will lift and the freedom it will provide for product development:
“At first glance, it might not seem obvious why Oculus is partnering with Facebook, a company focused on connecting people, investing in internet access for the world and pushing an open computing platform. But when you consider it more carefully, we’re culturally aligned with a focus on innovating and hiring the best and brightest; we believe communication drives new platforms; we want to contribute to a more open, connected world; and we both see virtual reality as the next step.
Most important, Facebook understands the potential for VR. Mark and his team share our vision for virtual reality’s potential to transform the way we learn, share, play, and communicate. Facebook is a company that believes that anything is possible with the right group of people, and we couldn’t agree more.
This partnership is one of the most important moments for virtual reality: it gives us the best shot at truly changing the world. It opens doors to new opportunities and partnerships, reduces risk on the manufacturing and work capital side, allows us to publish more made-for-VR content, and lets us focus on what we do best: solving hard engineering challenges and delivering the future of VR.”
Public reaction to the deal was immediate and, as with all major events on the internet, for the most part vitriolic. Gaming forums in particular are decrying the deal as a major disappointment, but the story has also had at least one truly negative effect. Markus “Notch” Persson tweeted the following shortly after the news went public:
We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus. I just cancelled that deal. Facebook creeps me out.
— Markus Persson (@notch) March 25, 2014
Notch expanded on his tweet in an interview with Polygon, stating “VR has huge potential in many fields, including social. I can see why Facebook would want to get in to this. As a game developer, however, I don’t ever want to get stuck trying to target a platform not focused on games. People have made this mistake before.”
That said, not all hope is lost for the hardcore gaming fan. A number of journalists and industry insiders have turned to the positive side of the story, choosing to put their focus on the financial liberty Oculus VR now has to pour into hardware development.
They were always going to be acquired. FB gives the best chance for proper time to develop and investigate its broader uses…
— Adam Sessler (@AdamSessler) March 25, 2014
One other side of this story that bears mention is Sony’s recently unveiled Project Morpheus, their own VR tech that had a strong showing alongside Oculus’s DK2 at GDC last week. Morpheus, despite its infancy, has already been placed on almost equal footing with the 2 year old development of the Oculus Rift by many journalists who’ve had hands-on demos with both products. It’s unclear how Morpheus will compete with Oculus once the two reach final production, or how Oculus’s new home at Facebook will tip the scales, if at all.
The Oculus Rift has rekindled a public interest in virtual reality that had all but faded in the ’90s and become an unwanted gimmick. Enthusiasm over the Rift’s progress certainly makes it seem like this time around, VR headsets could be more than a fad. With a cushy $2 billion from the folks at Facebook, Oculus might be able to bring virtual reality into your home.