Facebook Buys Oculus: What’s The Downside?

There's one hell of a ride ahead for virtual reality

There’s one hell of a ride ahead for virtual reality

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?

 

Will Wright joins Linden Lab Board of Directors (and a quick Sims Social review)

I had to have a bit of a smile when I saw Tateru Nino’s story on The Sims’ creator Will Wright joining the Linden Lab board.

Over the past week I’ve been playing The Sims Social, the Facebook-based version of the game. I’d argue it’s actually one of the least social versions of the game in that there is no live interaction with your Facebook friends and it’s a flurry of more traditional Facebook Wall posts and messages between your friends to achieve key parts of the game.

Not surprisingly with a Facebook-based social game, there’s a heavy push towards virtual currency (SimCash), and it’s not cheap:

Sure, you can play most aspects of the game without buying SimCash (there’s also Social Points and Simoleons that you accumulate and spend), but it takes an active effort to play that way. I can’t blame Electronic Arts for wanting to make money, but I think the slant is too heavy. There’s plenty of depth in the game although there’s a heavy feeling of the MMO grind or familiar endless Farmville grind you’ll be very used to. That classic Sims humour is still present and overall I’m enjoying playing although I think that interest may wane fairly quickly.

Anyway, back to Will Wright. He obviously has no active role with The Sims anymore and I wasn’t able to find any direct comments he’s made on The Sims Social, so I hope he’ll not be part of a drive to implement such a constraining social model on Second Life. I’m more assuming he’ll bring some new ideas that don’t rely on tried and true models – Second Life needs to remain unique whilst improving / evolving. The more brain-power on the Board to help that along the better.

That said, if Simlish becomes the new primary language of Second Life, I’m leaving.

Facebook addiction: there is moderation

A little over a month ago, Ross Gardiner posted the video shown below, addressing his thoughts on Facebook. It’s well worth a watch if you’re a fairly heavy user of Facebook and wonder about whether it’s a good use of time. That said, the video does take the well-worn path of abstinence, which is overkill for the large majority who use Facebook a few times per week.

I’m endlessly amused at the black and white approach to anything like this: you’re either a heavy user or you don’t use at all. It’s a shame that approach misses out the huge majority that fall squarely in the middle. Anyway, if you worry about your level of Facebook time, have a watch of this:

Thanks to a Facebook friend, Anna, for the link.

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