Sponsored By

In the wake of Oculus' Facebook deal, game devs ponder what's next

Gamasutra spoke with numerous game studios currently working on Oculus games, to gauge the general consensus of the Facebook acquisition.

Mike Rose, Blogger

March 26, 2014

10 Min Read

Well, who could have seen this coming? Facebook announced last night that it will acquire Oculus VR for $2 billion -- a move that set the internet alight, and set knee-jerk opinions into overdrive. We've all had the last 24 hours to really think about this most incredible, gigantic of deals now, and what it could potentially mean for those game developers who have been working the tech into their current and upcoming titles. Is Facebook's involvement good for game devs, or is the deal going to come crashing down on developers? Gamasutra spoke with numerous game studios currently working on Oculus games, to dig a bit deeper than Twitter reactions. White Paper Games just released Ether One this week, a first-person adventure that centers on the human mind. The team has been working Oculus Rift support into the game for around a year now, and was one of the first studios to do so. "My concern is that Facebook doesn't see this as a VR push, but as a wearable tech landgrab," David Smith of White Paper tells me. "There's been some buzz around Android wearables, and regardless of what you think of it, Google Glass. With the amount of specialized talent at Oculus, I could see Facebook thinking they've hit the jackpot." Smith has his fingers crossed that Facebook is going to be taking a backseat when it comes to future decisions for Oculus, given that the Oculus team already seems to be on the right path without Facebook's input. "In the past couple of years we've gone from super-expensive and not commercially viable VR solutions, to something that's getting to a comfortable stage and almost cheap enough for the masses," he notes. "We're still not there yet, both in terms of final hardware and in terms of how to apply the technology to games. We're still learning."

"My concern is that Facebook don't see this as a VR push, but as a wearable tech landgrab."

Smith adds, "If this cash injection allows them to tackle the first hurdle, and provide additional support for devs then maybe this isn't a such bad thing." Pavel Sebor is the owner of owner of SCS Software, the company best known for simulation games like Euro Truck Simulator 2. The company added Oculus Rift support for its trucking game late last year, and Sebor says that he expects the Oculus team to be in touch rather soonish to explain exactly what is going on. "We were looking to improve our support for the new version of Oculus Rift/dev kit in our games, and we still plan to do so," he notes. "Just maybe not so eagerly." "Perhaps the hardware can only get better with more funding behind it," he adds. "On the other hand, what it means for content -- I think Oculus is going to lose big on support from indies now. And when it comes to support from major publishers, does Facebook really expect EA or Ubisoft etc. to rush to support a competitor's hardware platform?" Markus "Notch" Persson said in a tweet last night that he was planning to add Oculus Rift support to Minecraft, but he's now completely changed his mind since the Facebook acquisition. He later expanded in a blog post, "Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build." Brano Kemen is currently working on the incredible Outerra game engine that Gamasutra reported on earlier this year. He, too, has been adding Oculus Rift support to his work. "Nobody around here is exactly happy about it, mildly put," he said of the Facebook acquisition. "I guess a sell-out was expected once Oculus took VC money, but Facebook of all?"

"I personally was disappointed to read something that feels like a press release from Palmer."

He adds, "Palmer [Luckey, Oculus founder] wrote that he was initially skeptical when Facebook approached them, but then it became 'the clear and obvious path' as they convinced them about their vision. I personally was disappointed to read something that feels like a press release from Palmer; for me there are many other companies with which the acquisition would make much more sense technologically and 'spiritually.'" Kemen notes that while Luckey appears to have been convinced by Facebook, clearly the rest of us haven't seen this message conveyed appropriately. Having said that, even if this deal turns sour eventually, the VR train is well and truly in motion. "VR has been Kickstarted and is here to stay," notes Kemen. "Competition is appearing, which is always good for the progress. Ironically, there's no special tech in the Rift -- as Palmer himself admitted previously, it was basically just him realizing that VR was possible with the existing technology that was needed." For now, Outerra will continue to support Oculus as long as nothing prevents them doing so, although the team's feelings towards the company have been altered somewhat. One of the biggest releases coming to Oculus Rift is CCP's Eve: Valkyrie -- essentially a first-person space shooter set in the EVE universe. David Reid, CMO at CCP, told Gamasutra that, "We're very excited for our friends and colleagues at Oculus." "We share their vision about the future of VR and gaming and are looking forward to participating in the consumer launch of the Oculus Rift with Eve: Valkyrie," he added. Zero Point Software has been working Oculus Rift support into Interstellar Marines, and the company currently has rather mixed opinions on what the acquisition will mean for them. "Some of us are concerned that only the social platform will benefit from it and the gaming platform will suffer," notes Zero Point's Carsten Boserup. Right now the Oculus Rift supports passion and freedom for game developers, and Zero Point is worried that freedom will be lost.

"Having a big company with deep pockets backing them hopefully means they can now do a bunch of stuff that might not be immediately make money but could pay off longer term."

"But there is the option that with the 'unlimited' funds that Facebook have, they could make the Oculus Rift even better than without the resources from Facebook," Boserup adds. Richard Perrin added Oculus Rift support to his first-person puzzler Kairo last year, and he notes that this acquisition could be really good news for all involved. "Having worked with the Rift it still feels like technology that isn’t quite there yet, but obviously Oculus must have been under enormous pressure until now to make it profitable," he says. "Having a big company with deep pockets backing them hopefully means they can now do a bunch of stuff that might not be immediately make money but could pay off longer term. So there is a good chance this will mean we'll get better stuff sooner from the Oculus team." But on the slip side, Perrin worries about having to trust Facebook, especially given the various acquisitions that the company has made over the years. "Apart from them having a huge wallet, they feel like a terrible fit for Oculus, and the only chance of this going well is them being relatively hands off for a while at least," he adds. "I’ve seen the defenders of the deal saying 'they didn't buy Oculus to ruin it' and I've seen those exact same words said in many buyouts before - I've even worked in a company that got bought out before, and the process is often unintentionally destructive." For Perrin, his plans are to migrate over to Steam's VR API anyway, so he's not too worried. "Valve's plan to make a hardware independent layer of VR support that still works perfectly with the Rift makes the most sense," Perrin says. "VR is an emerging market in gaming, and so being tied to the current market leader only makes sense for the short term. Eventually we’re going to want games that support a variety of competing headsets, and with this new question mark over the long term future of the Rift I think moving to hardware independent APIs is a smart move." Chris Chung is working on the wonderful Catlateral Damage -- a first-person cat simulator which will eventually support Oculus Rift. The dev says that, following the acquisition, he's going to have to sit back and wait to see how this move affects his chances of supporting Oculus.

"I'm not about to abandon making my dream game, and I'm glad that they aren't abandoning me."

"If supporting the Rift means I'd have to support some non-gaming, Facebook-determined social features then I probably won't bother," he notes. "If Oculus can retain most of their independence and supporting the Rift means just providing a great, gaming-focused experience then I'd be on board for using it." Robin Arnott, progenitor of the IGF Award-nominated (and VR-compatible) exploration game SoundSelf, believes that the merger is a lot less scary when you stop looking at it through game-tinted goggles. "The nice thing about VR is that bullshit just doesn't fly very well on it," Arnott told Gamasutra. "I think what people are worried about is Oculus becoming a platform for games of the soulless-microtransaction-variety. And that's just not gonna happen because there's too much high-quality high-production-value content already being produced for Oculus." To hear Arnott tell it, the industry's collective anxiety over the deal stems from its predilection for perceiving Oculus as "good" for games and Facebook as "bad" for games, when in fact each company is concerned with a broader market. "Facebook, after all, is not a gaming company, but a communications company. And Oculus is not a gaming company, but a virtual reality company," said Arnott. "I think Facebook's probably looking at the big-picture potential of VR outside of games - as a means of communication and sharing experiences. I can't imagine what they'll come up with together, but I have a feeling that it'll more closely resemble the holodeck than Farmville." E McNeill, who won last year's IndieCade VR Jam with the game Darknet (known at the time as Ciess), is optimistic in the near-term, but cautious about the long-term effects of the Facebook deal. "Oculus has been doing great work so far; maybe the extra cash will just help them do it better," he says. "They've been wonderful to me as an indie dev, and I just hope they won't change too much now that they're under the umbrella of Facebook. Everything they've said so far has indicated that games are still a focus for them. "I'm not about to abandon making my dream game, and I'm glad that they aren't abandoning me," he said. "I'm a bit more worried about Facebook's involvement in the long term, but for now, the only downside seems to be the enormous, ridiculous online backlash." And Ichiro Lambe of Dejobaan, who recently worked the Oculus Rift into basejumping game Aaaaa!, noted that excitement for VR at GDC was pretty intense, and a deal with Facebook isn't going to change that. "Whatever they're up to, behind the scenes, is so awesomely cool that it's interesting to John Carmack," he notes. "The guy did not join OR because he needed Facebook's money. So, I'm hopeful that we'll see some grand stuff." "Bottom line, small developers are in a win/win situation: If Oculus supports neat things in the indie space, great. If not, it's still good news, because they've created an environment that's allowed companies like Valve and Sony to do just that."

About the Author(s)

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like