Posted on March 27, 2014, Phil Hornshaw Why You’re Right to Be Worried About the Facebook-Oculus Deal
When Facebook announced that it was purchasing virtual reality company Oculus for $2 billion in cash and stock yesterday, one imagines the collective groan of the Internet was audible.
The most visible reaction had to have been that of Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson, himself one of the top backers of the Rift during its 2012 Kickstarter campaign (Notch kicked in $10,000 to fund the prototype Rift head-mounted display). Notch mentioned that his company, Mojang, had been in talks with Oculus to create a version of Minecraft for its HMD, which still has not been released as a consumer product as of this writing.
“Facebook creeps me out,” Notch remarked on Twitter.
Upon hearing about the Facebook deal, Notch said he killed Mojang’s potential agreement with Oculus. “Facebook creeps me out,” he remarked on Twitter.
He’s not the only one. Responses on a Reddit post from Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey often share the same sentiment. Members of the gaming community, many of whom have been very positive on Oculus and on the Rift headset, seem especially upset about Facebook taking over ownership of the company — despite reassurances from Luckey that Oculus will remain an independent entity within Facebook.
A blog post on the Oculus website notes that Oculus will be able to advance VR not just in games, but also into social and other spheres, thanks to the deal. And on Reddit, Luckey reaffirms Oculus’ commitment to gaming, which is what got it started in the first place.
But players and fans of Oculus tech are right to be skeptical of the deal — after all, Facebook hasn’t given them many reasons not to be.
A Bad Rap
Just perusing the Wikipedia page titled “Criticism of Facebook” is a bit eye-opening. It’s a lengthy page that notes a number of major issues people have had with the 1.26 billion user-strong service. Facebook’s business model today is in selling user data — you use Facebook for free because, as others have aptly put it, you are the product that makes Facebook money.
In and of itself, the fact that users take part in Facebook and in so doing give up information about themselves to be used for advertising and other potentially lucrative reasons is not necessarily an issue. However, Facebook has a history of being less than willing to protect user privacy, and very much willing to position things like certain privacy controls in a way that makes them difficult for users to find, or for users to even to realize they exist at all. Facebook hasn’t built much of a reputation of being extremely trustworthy when it comes to user data, at the very least.
It’s nice to remain hopeful that Oculus will stay what always has been once it’s inside Facebook, but there’s no guarantee.
That Facebook has acquired other companies without necessarily screwing with them too much is nice and much-noted following the deal. The prime example is Instagram, the mobile photography social network that Facebook bought last year for about $1 billion in cash and stock.
Instagram is still Instagram right now, and functions mostly as it always did, and that’s definitely a positive precedent at this point.
It’s nice to remain hopeful that Oculus will stay what it always has been now that it’s inside Facebook, but there’s also no guarantee. Even if it does remain the same company, Oculus’ fundamental mandate today is different than it might have been when the company first started out. Though gaming may have never been more than an entry point for Rift and VR technology into the wider mainstream, it was still an area that has seen and surely would have continued to see substantial development.
Oculus might have more money because of the Facebook deal than it did before, but the suggestion by other gaming and tech journalists that now that Facebook is involved, gamers will get the VR they’ve always imagined out of Oculus, rings a bit false. Remember, the company had received some $100 million in venture capital funding late last year — it’s not as if it was hurting for cash, or a lack of funding was holding the company back (despite its original Kickstarter narrative).
Facebook means more money for VR, but that also doesn’t necessarily translate into good news for the gaming space. All it definitely means is that Oculus will be putting a larger focus on social sooner than it otherwise might have.
Regardless, there’s a reason Luckey took to Reddit as soon as the Facebook deal was announced — Facebook is a company that has earned a relatively bad reputation, and it was clear there would be backlash to the decision. Many people have little trust for the social networking behemoth. What’s more, many of those same people put a great deal of trust in Oculus and its vision; they even pledged their money to give the Oculus the means to bring the Rift to consumers.