Wednesday, January 14, 2015

2014 FB Highlights: Oculus Rift

Originally Written 3/26/14

 If you are not disappointed by Facebook's purchase of Oculus, you haven't been paying attention. Which of their acquisitions have been improved, or even leveraged to their full potential? When was the last time the core site added functionality you actually enjoyed or valued?

Feeds (or walls, or timelines, or whatever the hell we're supposed to call them this week) have become polluted by targeted sponsorship and throttled by algorithmic efforts to 'tailor' the content you receive, neutering them of their spontaneity and variety. People forced to develop for Facebook's "platform" have compared it unfavorably to Alighieri's Hell.

Zuckerberg's aspirations for VR resemble Second Life circa half a decade ago more than anything from Snow Crash or Neuromancer. Given Facebook's stake in developing VR as a social communications medium (read: a tarted up telepresence and home-shopping engine), it is naive to assume that the Oculus team will have nearly as much time and creative freedom to devote toward developing artistic and entertainment applications. The agenda behind an acquisition ALWAYS transforms the acquired.

All of that having been said...

If The Devil himself offered you $2B in resources to develop your dream project, and the exposure to make it a household name overnight, most people would find it very hard to walk away. That kind of money gives you the ability to test and refine your product in ways that VC funding cannot hope to match. Facebook's (admittedly dubious) ambitions also give Oculus an incentive to escape the techno-limbo of gaming peripherals. All of the potential applications Zuckerberg described are uninspired (or insipid), but if you really want to see Virtual Reality blossom into something beyond a fetish object, this is a smart horse to put money on.

Could Oculus have pulled it off on their own? Maybe. I like to think so, but I was always the target market. Even when it was primarily a gaming peripheral, their product hinted at a world I always wanted to live in. So yeah, of course I'm disappointed that Luckey and Carmac signed up with Z-bag. If I were more invested in this, I might even be outraged. But it is also laughable that Kickstarter backers and gaming enthusiasts feel like they have the right to tell a stranger to turn down a literal fortune to develop his dream.

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