The Oculus Rift: The Hype and The Facebook Takeover

OculusRift1The media and gaming world has been enthralled by the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that will allow gamers to get a real first-person perspective in their favourite games. Since its duct-taped debut at E3 2012, the developers Oculus VR have raised over $91 million to fund the various prototypes and fix issues with software such as those which caused a worrying motion sickness for users. The hype surrounding the product has been growing exponentially since then, with the release of developer models allowing gaming companies to create headset compatible games in time for the Oculus Rift’s release. On March 25th, 2014 it was announced that Facebook had bought the Oculus VR for $2 billion. What does this mean for the gaming hardware, and why would a social media outlet even want to buy a company specialising in virtual reality headsets?

The Oculus Rift has come a long way since 2012, with help from a Kickstarter campaign in which Oculus VR raised over $2.4 million through fan community donations, far more than their $250,000 target, showing that the demand for the device is massive. However it could be argued that much like the Kinect for Xbox or the Wii balance board, the Oculus Rift provides a novelty gaming experience in that after a while gamers will become bored of wearing the headset and opt for dual monitors or the normal controller gameplay style. The issue with the aforementioned motion controls is the lack of precision: after spending 30 seconds just trying to get the selection tool to appear on the screen via Xbox Kinect, you have to shake your hand violently enough to get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome just to play the game you want. Specifically in first person shooters the motion sense technologies come into difficulty simply because there is no way to get the pin-point accuracy that a sniper rifle provides when using even your fingers. Nintendo attempted to combat this by making casual games such as Wii Play and Wii Sports, which do not rely on accuracy in their gameplay and have a low difficulty to avoid the ‘rage quits’ that befall so many gamers.

Oculus VR have learnt from Kinect and the Wii’s mistakes, endeavouring to create a sensitive, precise and immersive gaming experience that allows you to play all styles of game comfortably. The most recent version of the Oculus Rift uses a low persistence OLED display to eliminate motion blur and judder, the catalyst for simulation sickness. It has a high-definition 960×1080 per-eye display which improves clarity and colour. For the ability to actually move within a game rather than just feel like you’re sitting way too close to a TV screen, the Oculus Rift also uses an external camera and LED reference point on the headset itself, giving players the ability to peek round corners and survey the vast lands of their chosen game’s world. The most recent version also includes updated orientation tracking, a built-in latency tester, an on-headset USB accessory port, new optics, elimination of the infamous control box, a redesigned SDK and further optimized Unity and Unreal Engine 4 integrations.

oculus rift 2Whilst it seems full steam ahead for the Oculus Rift, an announcement on March 25th, 2014 came as a surprise to followers of the product’s development and made many sceptical about the mission of the company. Via his Facebook page, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had acquired Oculus for $2 billion. This caused some confusion and worries amongst fans as the Oculus Rift is meant to be a gaming device, not yet another way to connect with Facebook, or in the enraged words of YouTuber Boogie2988’s character Francis, “so I can crush candy in real time?”. In order to diffuse the panic Palmer Luckey, a founder of Oculus VR, posted on the company’s blog to comment on the recent merge:

“When Facebook first approached us about partnering, I was skeptical. As I learned more about the company and its vision and spoke with Mark, the partnership not only made sense, but became the clear and obvious path to delivering virtual reality to everyone. Facebook was founded with the vision of making the world a more connected place. Virtual reality is a medium that allows us to share experiences with others in ways that were never before possible…

In the end, I kept coming back to a question we always ask ourselves every day at Oculus: what’s best for the future of virtual reality? Partnering with Mark and the Facebook team is a unique and powerful opportunity. The partnership accelerates our vision, allows us to execute on some of our most creative ideas and take risks that were otherwise impossible. Most importantly, it means a better Oculus Rift with fewer compromises even faster than we anticipated.”

So it seems there is little damage done by the Facebook takeover, but the merge in still in its early stages and it is unclear how much power Facebook will want to wield due to its financial aid to the developers. There is still a lot of time for developments and issues to arise for the Oculus Rift as the actual device is still a baby only released to game developers for coding purposes. Mark Zuckerburg has taken a huge leap of faith investing in a two-year-old hardware company with a 21-year-old founder that hasn’t released a consumer product ever, but in a community where virtual reality was the stuff of sci-fi films and a laughable subject in the real world the Oculus Rift is the first viable virtual reality device with unforeseeable opportunity.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Writing most fervidly about film, animation, comics and games, but you'll get articles on almost anything if it catches my eye. Not afraid to criticise as well as champion.
Edited by Misagh.

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  1. I think people will really think twice about kickstarter from now on.. This does a lot of damage to other people as well

    • samuelrowe

      Kickstarter was, and is, a platform for people to fund projects they find interested in. Not for them to buy equity in a startup (Kickstarter have been very explicit about this in the wake of Facebook’s Oculus acquisition.) I’m interested to know how you think the purchase does damage to other people.

      • The harm is along the lines of creating another, more immersive avenue for people to remove themselves from reality, where people are already glued to their screens for many hours out of the day.

  2. It’s really interesting in terms of crowd funding that you would build this tight community around a new concept and IP, have many supporters invest in it, hit your goal and then quickly hope to sell it to the highest bidder. I also wonder if they ever truly figured out their financial situation when it came to outlining their goals when they first started their campaign. If you needed more money, you could have started out by asking what you really needed to get it out there. To say FB will make resources easier to come by and pretty much endless to support takes away what many people were hoping to get out of something they had invested in personally. Now it’s handed over to someone else and the company doesn’t really care what you think after you helped them get there because they made it far enough to sell it off.

    Obviously in any business situation, that’s what companies do, they find investors and VCs and then work together to sell it off to make your money back. It’s essentially just about making money on something that can be short lived like many apps we’ve seen being bought up by big companies. I hope that they at least don’t lose their focus and their core ideas that it’s to push gaming forward and not laterally.

    • Mozell Bland

      People were:

      1)Pitched a too good to be true entertainment product that many have been dreaming about for most of their lifetimes’.

      2)For a few hundred dollars, you not only receive an early-model development kit, but help get the wheels going on this being the next big thing in gaming and beyond.

      3)Early model development kits of too good to be true product arrive at doorsteps as promised. Product is even BETTER than what was pitched. Backers get to play all kinds of envious test games and/or create their own.

      4)KS money dries up. Investors are brought in for much needed improvements like head tracking, better displays, smoother motion, and elimination of making people vomit while playing. These refinements make the product far better than even the better than promised first dev kit.

      5)Oculus loses access to key components needed to manufacture the product. They are too small (even with the millions of dollars from angel investors) to secure enough parts to fufill orders for the newest dev kits, let alone trying to actually ship a product to millions of consumers.

      6)Oculus now needs help that can only come from a major corporation. Nintendo, Valve, Apple, Samsung, etc., sit on their hands. Will Rift die before it even has a chance?

      7)Zuckerberg offers two billion dollars. He envisions the Rift being a great games console, as well as having far reaching implications on entertainment and communications…just like Palmer did in his initial Kickstarter pitch.

      8) Rift is really going to come out now! It now has the funds to further refine the product, lower the cost to consumers, acquire/court major developers into producing games to support it, and launch/advertise the product effectively.

      If anything, people that are excited about the Rift and believe in its future should be relieved that it is actually going to see the light of day. It is by far the biggest success story in KS history.

  3. Nilson Thomas Carroll

    I’m curious as to how this turns out in terms of video gaming. Obviously, the Rift is a huge step up from the days of Virtual Boy, but I dunno, I’m not sure how much it’ll enhance my gaming experience. I keep going back to Crypt Worlds, which has a strange world to explore. Would it be better with a Rift on my head? Maybe…

    Either way, smart of Facebook to grab this before it explodes, if it explodes. While “who cares about Facebook,” the partnership could really push the technology forward. Now if only Apple and Nintendo would team up…

  4. Mary Awad

    Everyone dreams about gaming in virtual reality. And now that it might actually happen, it’s a little scary. But still, Facebook definitely has some ulterior motives here. It will be interesting to see how this plays out…

  5. I remember hearing about the Oculus Rift when it first was released. I was excited beyond measure that games could be more realistic. Thefact that Facebook has now bought up the product it makes me worrty about its future. I feel as though it might just be another medium for people to use for social media. Just sitting on the couch all day walking around the world of facebook and the channels of youtube. I really do hope that this is going to stay the course of being for the next generation of video games.

  6. Tyree Vanhoose

    Facebook’s marketing team will destroy this project. I feel sorry for the programmers and product designers who put all their effort into this. Oculus should’ve stayed the course a little longer before selling out.

  7. blalock

    I really don’t understand all the flaming regarding this announcement. Without Oculous we still would not have consumer level VR. With this merge VR will just be accessible to more people than it would have before.

  8. Not sure if it’s already been mentioned but it’s obvious that they plan to make their own version of Google Glass. Why else would Facebook want VR technology; there games would be severely underutilizing the technology and, currently as it stands, it is too bulky to wear just for social networking. Not saying it’s impossible but it would be highly unlikely that Facebook would start opening their own game studios. However they could look for some partnerships’ with current studios, i.e. Ubisoft or, dare I say, Activision; yet, even that seems a bit off, since Facebook would likely lose money by investing in game studios.

  9. This is very sad. kickstarter was supposd to help people with great ideas realise there visions and not fund R&D for big cooperations.

  10. I would’ve sold out when I heard sony and microsoft were developing similar technology, they have platforms to deliver this stuff on already.

  11. People Hyped VR so much that Facebook got wet in the pants and jumped all over it. Everyone already knows VR is a cool concept, but it isn’t cost effective or practical.

    • But that’s the way new technology general starts off: unaffordable and not always that useful. My money is on VR getting popular and eventually useful/affordable. Whether Oculus Rift will be the thing to usher in VR, however, is debatable.

  12. PerkAlert

    Thanks for sharing this info! I’ve heard about the Oculus and the Facebook takeover, but I didn’t know much detail about it. I can’t believe this all began as a small Kickstarter campaign two years ago and that it’s already been sold for 2 BILLION dollars! Talk about the American Dream… there’s gotta be a movie in there somewhere, right? I’m interested in seeing where all this business goes… I’m not much of a gamer, but virtual reality does sound fascinating (if not a little foreboding ha)!!

  13. Lashawn Toro

    This is proof that history ALWAYS repeats itself. People always flip out when such controversial announcements are made and they ALWAYS assume the worst is going to happen.

  14. Virtual reality is no doubt the future of, well, many things. Television, Video Games, Social Media, you name it. But whichever medium masters it first, may greatly affect the remainder of the technology’s evolution.

    • Burke

      I know this might sound ridiculous, but I’m vaguely curious because of the recent purchase whether Facebook might consider other markets, such as video games, rather than sticking to social media. That is a completely uninformed and unsupported curiosity, however, and should be taken with a grain of salt. Personally, I’m having trouble imagining what virtual reality will really do for social media, and I’m excited to see what happens.

  15. I think the people who were expecting the Oculus to be funded purely by the Kickstarter campaign were wildly underestimating how complex, long, and expensive a process like developing a consumer version of this product can be. Even when you consider that the campaign brought in ten times what they were looking for, that money was only ever going to be for R&D purposes, and the next natural step is to take the polished, Kickstarted product to investors who can provide the crazy amount of capital it takes to get a product like this one mass-produced and sold as a consumer product.

  16. I didn’t know Oculus was a Kickstarter project! I haven’t really been following it, just hearing snippets here and there. Thanks for the comprehensive overview.

  17. Burke

    Great article! Really interesting information about the merging with Facebook.
    I’m still not sold on the idea that it won’t be gimmicky, at least at first. I actually feel the Wii is a good comparison, but for seemingly different reasons than you. My concern is not that the Wii made games that were not precise enough, and some of their best games, if they required less precision, were still reasonably difficult (Mario Galaxy and the recent Legend of Zelda come to mind). I think my concern is the tendency to make games like Link’s Crossbow Training (an early Wii release) that sacrifice enjoyability for experimentation in the new medium. I think that the tendency has been to release mini games that rely on the gimmick and then try to come up with ways to integrate it into a real game. I have generally been impressed with Nintendo’s ability to make even their gimmicky games fun, however, and maybe this device will yield similar results.

  18. They sold the rifts soul… I have been on the rift bandwagon since the initial kickstarter campaign (although I did not give them a dime I give nothing for free) today I have stepped off the wagon. I hate everything facebook stands for. It is a plague upon humanity. I have never signed up for any social media and never will. if you google me all you can find is stuff from like 10 years ago, I enjoy my privacy.

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