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Oculus & Facebook: Probably Not So Bad, So Maybe You Could Stop Freaking Out About It

Seriously, it's a good thing.

Edward McNeill

March 26, 2014

4 Min Read

So, Facebook bought Oculus, and people are upset. I understand why! That was my first reaction too, at least after I got over the initial WTF moment. I backed the Kickstarter, I'm making a VR game, and I saw Oculus as the scrappy, geeky underdog in the game industry. Now, they're owned by a ginormous corporation that makes billions off of advertisements and user data. Not cool.

Naturally, the internet blew up. Reddit erupted with vitriol, especially in the Oculus subreddit, and right now /r/oculus is totally overrun with rage and gloom. Apparently, Oculus is dead, having definitively ruined their future. Now we'll have to log into Facebook just to play Farmville VR or sit in a virtual room instead of playing games. Time to cancel your pre-orders and hope that developers abandon the platform, even if that means the death of VR.

Can everyone please just calm down?

I was shocked and upset, too, but at this point, I'm convinced that this reaction is just the usual internet mass hysteria. Your awesome VR games are not going to be replaced with Like buttons. Facebook will not be taking scans of your retinas and selling them to the NSA. OculusVille is not the future. Chill.

Here's what changed my mind:

1) Nobody is trying to take away the games. Oculus and Facebook both say that games will still be the first big focus of VR. Zuckerberg said that "Oculus already has big plans here that won't be changing and we hope to accelerate". Palmer Luckey's take: "The gaming industry is the only one equipped to make immersive, interactive 3D worlds. That’s going to continue to be the case for a long time. We’re gamers, we want to play games, that’s why we’re doing this."

2) So far, Oculus is being just as nice as before. The founders haven't checked out. Palmer visited /r/oculus (as he has done regularly for months) to gamely defend the decision, and Oculus dev relations folks are still as open and available as ever. They're still loud about supporting indies (and promise greater support going forward), they're still trying to deliver on the same promises as before, and they seem to have maintained control of their destiny for at least the near future. Remember that Oculus had some big investors before its purchase; they now have arguably more freedom than they used to.

3) This could be great for VR. First of all, Oculus now has the money and clout to make a better product. They don't have to "rely on the scraps of the mobile industry", and they afford to sell the Rift for a cheaper price. If what they say is true, pretty much all their financial limits are gone. Secondly, VR in general has an image of being antisocial and isolating, and Facebook can give it an aura of sociality and mainstream acceptance. It might be less hardcore, but it can now become huge, and much like the rise of mobile gaming, I think that's ultimately a good thing. Hardcore VR games (like mine) won't go extinct just because your parents own a Rift.

4) Actual developers aren't so negative. Polygon's interviews show some trepidation, but also a lot of excitement. Indie devs that I seriously respect, like Rami Ismail or Robin Arnott, seem mostly positive about it. Others simply like Oculus and choose to give them the benefit of the doubt. This isn't to say that all developers are happy; Notch and Max Temkin gave some good reasons why they're upset, and I know a lot of others share those feelings. But that perspective is hardly as unanimous as the internet backlash would lead you to believe.

Personally, I think that Facebook bought Oculus because they think that VR might get big and they don't want to be left behind (like they were on mobile). VR is always going to be great for games, but it won't just be for games; Oculus has been talking about the wider social future of the Rift for a while. If Zuckerberg wants to be the guy to start the VR revolution, I'm not inclined to stop him.

I'm sure some people will think that I just drank the Kool-Aid. I'm keenly aware that I have a conflict of interest here as a VR game dev who Oculus has supported in the past. But Oculus hasn't promised me any money, I don't have any formal connection with them, and I could jump ship to Sony or 2D any time I felt like it. But right now, I'm trying to look at this as dispassionately as possible, and I just can't see Oculus as the bad guys.

I'm not saying that there's nothing to worry about. I've got concerns about the more distant future of VR in Facebook's hands, and I'm sure there's a mature conversation to be had about that. But it's not cut-and-dry, and there are clearly some good things that can come out of this too.

So if you're going online to preach the VR apocalypse, please, cut it out.

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