Facebook’s surprise acquisition of Oculus for $2 billion of cash and stock is a sudden turn in the story of retail virtual reality, and this move will have far-reaching implications in the world of consumer electronics, communication, and gaming. We reached out to a number of developers already working in virtual reality for their take on the news.
"I guess it makes me kind of curious. It’s not two things that you imagine putting in the same pot," Robin Arnott, the creator of Soundself, told Polygon. "Someone thinks these two things belong in the same pot and thinks strongly enough to spend $2 billion on it. I think this means that there’s going to be some very interesting uses of VR in the very near future. It’s very surprising, but I’m only excited about what that could be. I’m pretty it’s not going to mean stupid free-to-play Facebook games on VR. That doesn’t seem real to me."
"Could it be the dawn of a truly virtual alternative social reality? These are the questions that come to my mind," he continued.
"As far as being a developer for VR is concerned, the only way this affects me is that there are some social aspects in Soundself that we didn’t really explore because it didn’t seem like a good use of our development time. It makes me wonder if those things are worth exploring. I really don’t know. I’m more excited than anything, to be honest."
Virtual reality has a bright future
Dejobaan’s Ichiro Lambe, who saw the company’s skydiving title AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAa come to the Rift via Owlchemy labs, is also excited.
"…Everything that's come about in the past few weeks — from this to Sony's announcement to the half dozen VR-related things I saw on the GDC floor — gets me psyched about it," he told Polygon, "For Oculus, how can Facebook be aiming for anything less than Neal Stephenson's Metaverse — finally an actual, honest-to-goodness virtual world?"
"The fact that Sony and Valve are interested in it means that someone up high thinks there's some excellent gaming potential. The fact that Facebook is interested in it means that Zuckerberg thinks it's for everyone. That is phenomenally exciting," he stated.
"What's my place in all of it? I'm not sure, anymore — all these companies are doing big, tangible things, and it probably means that we'll benefit from thinking about huge, nontraditional things."
Mojang's Notch was more direct in a tweet. "We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus," he said. "I just cancelled that deal. Facebook creeps me out."
We reached out for further comment, and he clarified his position. "Well, VR has huge potential in many fields, including social. I can see why Facebook would want to get in to this," he told Polygon. "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."
Justin Moravetz is the developer of Proton Pulse, one of the best early experiences on the Oculus Rift, and he's also a bit nervous.
"My two concerns are how this fractures the end user perspective and how this effects developers," he said. "Social media is polarized almost like politics. I think you'll find many users with an instant gut reaction to the news. The public image will need some work if they plan to shake any negative association with FaceBook."
"My other concern is how this affects developers. There are a few developers taking large risks creating VR content. It is very difficult to get publishing deals as it is," Moravetz continued. "This shift to Facebook may reset or even close the lines to Oculus the developers rely on to get the content moving. With crowd funding becoming an increasingly unreliable source, developers are left with porting existing content to reduce costs. The barrier of entry needs to stay open."
"The VR industry needs solid content to survive," he said. "It's taken decades just to make the hardware viable. If the developers can't create, the hardware can't float."
Sergio Hidalgo is working on Dreadhalls, a horror title for the Oculus Rift. "Seeing the numbers involved, my first thoughts is that it will probably mean Oculus now has almost 'unlimited' resources, which I guess could accelerate the research and development process, and how fast they are able to put a product into the consumer's hands," he said.
"As an indie developer myself, I hope Oculus will keep the same openness towards us as they have done in the past. They have always been an open company and very easy to work with, fostering the indie community, with the VRJam, for instance, and I believe the indie community will have to play an important role in the early days of VR, so I hope they still count with us!"
This could change any number of things announced about the hardware and software plans as well. "Also, I guess we will have to wait for further announcements on Oculus' part to know whether the plans they've announced publicly in the past still stand," Hidalgo said.
"As much as I enjoyed seeing Oculus as a scrappy underdog, they were never going to stay that way for long"
Others see nothing but possibility. "Oculus being bought by Facebook offers the platform a number of unique opportunities, which are potentially a snug fit with the key things that we as a studio think are offered by VR, and where we put a lot of focus for our own VR game World of Diving: its multiplayer and social elements," Richard Stitselaar, Creative Director on the World of Diving, told Polygon.
"With an eye on the enormous amount of Facebook users and the virility potential of the platform, full integration of Facebook features in your VR game might just be the way to break into the social space and to add that important layer to your game that will make the VR experience so much more personal and relevant."
E McNeill is the mind behind Darknet, a game we called one of the Rift's killer apps. "As far as games are concerned, that's the only quote that matters," he said, referencing Mark Zuckerberg's blog post that said Oculus' plans won't be changing. "I'm not about to abandon making my dream game, and I'm just glad that they aren't abandoning me."
"Palmer has always said that VR is going to be huge outside the gaming sphere, and I guess this just goes to show that Mark Zuckerberg believes him," he continued. "As much as I enjoyed seeing Oculus as a scrappy underdog, they were never going to stay that way for long. They've been wonderful to me as an indie dev so far, and I'm just hoping that this won't change them too much."
"Right now, I'm mostly worried about the PR hit they're taking among game devs," he said. "I want Oculus to be the good guys, and I hope they still can."