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?


Multi-user dungeons: they’re still relevant

I’ve bored friends and colleagues with my stories of discovering the power of MUDS in the early 1990s. I have a massive soft spot for the original virtual worlds (as pictured), but aside from sentimentality there remains a real role for these text-based worlds. Justin Olivetti over at Massively has a great article on MUDs that showcases some of the good ones and the people who play them.

The reason I believe these environments still have relevance is not just because of the dedicated community that still use them. They provide some great lessons in how to create engaging communities and content. Most people tend to think of MUDS as gaming-oriented platforms, which is essentially true. The thing is, their sibling the MOO (MUD, Object Oriented) has that real content creation focus that led to iconic communities such as LambdaMOO. My own experiences were with a MOO used to interact with music collaboration software and its power to engage people was incredible.

So, if you’re interested in getting people excited about a common purpose or just want a great social space, spend some of your development time wandering around a MUD or MOO. I’d also love to hear about your experiences: did you have or do you still have a favourite MUD / MUSH / MOO?

[via Metaverse Journal]

The end of ‘reality’

Released in 2009, a short film called ‘the third & the seventh’ was released. Created by Alex Roman. it’s essential viewing for anyone in doubt about the future of computer-generated images in film. Computer-generated or not, it’s one of the most stunning pieces of work I’ve seen. Have a look for yourself (watch in full screen / maximised mode):

The Third & The Seventh from Alex Roman on Vimeo.

The most exciting thing about this for the coming 5-10 years, is the ability for creative people with more limited budgets to be able to realise their visions in full. Does it get any better than that?

Environment education via a virtual mine

Virtual Mine is “an educational 3D environment, game, and educational curriculum for teachers, students, and anyone who’d like to learn more about mountain top removal, coal fired power production, alternative energies, and the amazing music and culture in the Appalachian mountains”. Which sounds a little staid on the surface, but the reality is an engaging and immersive education experience. I attended the launch tour this morning alongside around 35 others, mostly educators and developers, to see what was on offer.

Funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the Independent Television Service, the Virtual Mine consist of an entire island in Second Life. After equipping a hard hat and HUD, a series of processes can be controlled and viewed. Whether it’s tree-clearing, the removal of the mountaintop for mining, or balancing the nearby town’s energy needs with the environmental impacts of the mining and cola-fired power station, it’s all covered.

Have a brief look for yourself:

This is the sort of build that tends to shine a very bright spotlight on the opportunities virtual worlds provide for education, including environmental education. That said, one of the tour participants made a humourous comment during the ‘turn off all the unnecessary lights in the town’ exercise, asking that we shut down the region’s server in the process to truly save some power.

Some of my other snaps from the launch tour:

Tree clearing simulation

The blasting begins

Coal-fired power and its town impacts

Turn off the damn lights!

Congratulations to the developers of Virtual Mine and the wider support team. You can find out lots more information on the project here.

[Originally posted over at The Metaverse Journal]

Proof we’re one big digital community

THere’s nothing like a picture to help summarise complex concepts, and since 2007 Randall Monroe has been creating brilliant maps that encapsulate where the growth is in online communities. The picture below says it all. To really enjoy it, browse the full-size version. For the geek, there’s plenty of comedy gold in the map, even though to some extent it’s based on science – as much as you can get any real numbers about online communities.


(Full-size version here)

via [XKCD]

Death, obituaries and website comments

This article in the St Petersburg Times, a Florida USA paper, is the sort of one that can make you very angry and bring a tear to the eye, all within a few paragraphs.

The synopsis: a man who worked as a dish washer for $9 an hour died as a result of a hit-and-run accident, when the announcement of his death occurred a reader posted ‘A man who is working as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack at the age of 48 is surely better off dead’. The response from other readers, the man’s friends and work colleagues and the newspaper show that there’s still plenty of community left. Journalist Andrew Meacham and his editor deserve huge kudos for follwing up with a superb story.

On the tech side, comment moderation is an old chestnut, and the idiot that posted the comment won’t be the last. The challenger for the future is that as mainstream media outlets get less influential and news sources diversify further, who will be the arbiter of community standards? If the same comment had appeared on a blog or social media service, the response to it might have been different. That’s not an argument for the status quo, but a prompt for discussion on an issue that’s not going to go away.

What do you think: will there ever be a solution to the idiot troll?

Oedipus Rex: in Second Life

Virtual world Second Life has a vibrant arts community to say the least. Part of that community is the Avatar Repertory Theatre (ART). They have a few shows under their belt now, including Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Their latest is Oedipus Rex (Oedipus The King) by Sophocles. During October there’ll be six performances, with tickets costing L$500 (around US$1.50). That’s a pretty reasonable price for the whole theatrical shebang including music.

Here’s a short promo to give you a taste:

More information on the show over at the ART blog, or you can check out the theatre space itself in Second Life. If you haven’t checked out Second Life before, here’s a good excuse to do so.

via [Metaverse Journal]

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