The news that Facebook have paid $2.2 billion dollars in cash and Facebook shares to buy Oculus, is far from surprising. The Oculus team have a huge profile and one of the behemoths were always going to buy them out.
What I’m interested in is the potential downsides of the takeover and its implications for the technology. Here’s a couple I can see:
1. Accentuating the Generalist
Although gaming is the primary focus for the Oculus Rift VR headset, there’s a lot of emphasis on other applications for it as well. Personally, I intend on using it for some clinical simulation research for my PhD. This takeover won’t stop that as far as I can tell, and it could actually speed up access to the retail units, but I worry that Facebook may dull some of the sharper edges the Oculus team have. Games are where the money is, so hopefully there’s still some support for other areas of R&D to keep a wider but smaller audience in the loop. On the encouraging side, the Oculus team seem to think it’s not just about games:
As we talked more, we discovered the two teams shared an even deeper vision of creating a new platform for interaction that allows billions of people to connect in a way never before possible.
That said, there’s always lots of starry-eyed optimism during a honeymoon period – it’s the long term commtment that will count.
2. The Facebookisation Risk
As bizarre as this sounds, I worry that Facebook will try to put too strong an imprimatur on the Oculus technology, making it appear more a niche product than it deserves to be. Yes, Facebook has huge user saturation, but it’s also starting to suffer from the perception of its size and age. If the Oculus Rift is seen as being grafted to the Facebook brand, it could actually suffer. If its first outing in Facebook land is perceived as a novelty, then that risk increases further.
On the extreme side of the equation from my concerns, here’s what the Oculus team have to say:
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.
There’s no doubt there’ll be more funding, though I find it hard to believe it’s been too hard a struggle raising money given the profile the Oculus tech has. If Facebook operate at arms length, with some reasonable requirements for integration with Facebook, it may work very nicely. It’s just finding that balance.
Oculus founder Palmer Luckey is very upbeat in his blog post about the buy-out, but he has to be to some extent. How upbeat do you feel about it?