Facebook's purchase of virtual reality company Oculus for $2 billion has turned tech theorists into futurists. What plans does the world's biggest social network want with an unproven helmet gizmo? What does our Facebook-led virtual reality future look like?
Oculus, which began as a Kickstarter project, has largely been concentrated on appealing to gamers looking for the next big thing in immersive entertainment. But in a post on his own Facebook page, Zuckerberg gave some broad suggestions as to his ideas of the future of Oculus.
After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face -- just by putting on goggles in your home. ...
Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.
In Zuckerberg's view, the Oculus is more than just a gaming platform, it's a communication platform. (Just like Facebook isn't just a place for cat pictures.) As Gigaom asks, it's unclear whether Zuckerberg will use the Oculus for virtual reality or for connections in actual reality. The focus on communication, though, suggests more of the latter. But what kinds of communication does he see? Tech theorists are happily throwing out their ideas already.
If Reddit's most upvoted comments are a good gauge, the gaming community is freaking out that Facebook will ruin the Oculus Rift. Early investors have a reason to be angry, too, given the origins of Oculus as a Kickstarter project. As ValleyWag's Joel Johnson explains, there's an expectation that giving money on Kickstarter to a cool product won't just be used as seed money for a multi-billion dollar sale, with reward for the "angel" investors. Kickstarter's comments board has been less eloquent and more vehement in their dissatisfaction with the "sell out."
However, recognizing that gamers are their core of support so far, Oculus quickly moved to assure the community that Rift's devotion to the genre will continue. "This is a special moment for the gaming industry," Oculus' co-founder Palmer Luckey wrote in a Reddit post. "Oculus' somewhat unpredictable future just became crystal clear: virtual reality is coming, and it's going to change the way we play games forever." Indeed, the money Facebook can pour into it will likely give Oculus the ability to put its headsets to sale even sooner and provide some always needed cash and leeway. That means hiring more developers who would attempt to make the Rift more user-friendly. "Facebook has a history of funding its big purchases well and letting them run themselves independently," Mashable notes. Its purchase of Instagram is a perfect example, as the company just passed 200 million users and has only lightly toyed with ads.
However, not everyone is so excited about the Facebook effect. Markus Persson, one of the creators of the wildly popular Minecraft, revealed last night that his company had been "in talks" to make an Oculus-ready version of the game, but he pulled the plug, simply to avoid doing business with Facebook.
We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus. I just cancelled that deal. Facebook creeps me out.— Markus Persson (@notch) March 25, 2014
Test-driving a car on the Autobahn or previewing how a shirt would fit on you could make the Oculus a sort of virtual reality Amazon. Arch Virtual, for example, has created a number of Oculus Rift applications that can tour college campuses or give test drives of cars. Using the Oculus to see things (really see them) before spending money could give a better sense of what you're actually purchasing. Within this plan lies obvious opportunities for advertising tie-ins too, making it even more appealing for Facebook.
Virtual reality video chat
Like an immersive version of Skype, the Oculus could be used to chat with friends and family in faraway locations while actually feeling present. If everyone begins to wear Oculus headsets, will the world end in a dystopia? Not quite. "It ends with you using them the same way you'd use Skype — zipping in and out of the virtual world for meetings, making it much easier to work from home or catch up with far-flung family." A business meeting through Oculus Rift would certainly be preferable to the awfulness of teleconferences. (Combined with their other big acquisition, WhatsApp, it's just another level of global communication.)
Of course, that big headset could make things slightly more difficult. "Playing a game with a massive set of goggles on your head is one thing," Wired notes. "Using them to chat with your friends is another."
The giant headset will provide an easy, if intrusive, way to put banner ads in people's vision. That's the key fear of Facebook's involvement: that the company is too concerned with selling your information to provide targeted ads. While that's always been part of the Facebook's model, they've tried to minimize their intrusiveness. That would be a lot more difficult in an immersive Oculus headset. The Verge imagines playing a virtual reality game where giving a "Like" to a brand — Coca-Cola in this example — allows gamers to venture to the next level or area. Hey, every company has to make money. A Like seems like a fairly small cost.