Computing Magazine

Facebook, Oculus Rift and the Future of Virtual Reality

Posted on the 02 May 2014 by Hadi20 @hadi_frht
When Facebook bought out Oculus VR last month, many techies and gamers were understandably upset. It wasn't just the case of another corporation buying out a small company, Oculus VR was regarded by many as an important step in the direction of the whole next generation of consumer technology. The seven-years-ago equivalent would be like hearing that Apple had sold the iPhone to Google, but more than that, Oculus Rift had actually been crowdfunded, being one of the most significant and successful projects in the history of Kickstarter. Understandably, those that had funded the Rift felt betrayal not only as consumers, but on a personal level.
Facebook, Oculus Rift and the Future of Virtual RealityThe Oculus guys made a cool two billion off the deal. You could give more than half of that to the IRS and still have more than enough money left over for the core Rift team to live very well for the rest of their lives, so it's hard to fault them as individuals for taking the money. The deal also allows the Oculus team to keep working on the OR projects that they had been developing, with financing from Facebook, who claim that they will continue to put VR gaming at the forefront. So while Facebook's ownership of Oculus Rift may trouble some, we may want to wait and see whether or not the OR mission statement actually changes.
Before we worry that this is the end of the dream, let's look at some of the basic facts of consumer-grade VR right now:
  • No Set Price Range
The consumer version of the Oculus Rift has yet to ship, while the developer kit version runs $350. That's not a bad price for the most immersive VR experience available, it's in the range of a new video game console. However, it may well be that Facebook's financial might will allow the Rift to be produced and sold at a very low price. If we're looking at $100, $150 virtual reality, then Facebook's influence on the Rift, not to mention their power as a marketing force, may actually speed the proliferation of VR.
  • Nobody Owns a Copyright on VR
The Oculus Rift itself is a copyrighted concept. The idea of strapping two lightweight TV's to your face is not. To worry that Facebook are going to single-handedly ruin virtual reality for everyone seems foolish when any garage start-up out there can develop their own competing VR technology to offer an alternative to the Facebook-owned OR.
  • VR is Too Big to Ignore
Finally, the sheer headline factor to this story only helps to prove that the Oculus Rift has already made its mark. Whether or not it winds up being the VR unit that you find in every home, it has piqued the public's interest, and it would be crazy to assume that everyone from Sony to the smallest tech developers aren't taking notice. It's even said that Valve's new headset tech outshines the Rift.
"The tech world is largely about ideas that are too big to copyright," said Jason Hope, entrepreneur (http://sens.org/outreach/outreach-blog/release-internet-entrepreneur-jason-hope-pledges-half-million-dollars-sens) "and whether or not Facebook's Oculus Rift remains true to the original vision sold to its Kickstarter funders, it's not the end of the new era of VR."
The Oculus Rift has already birthed some fascinating projects, and it's doubtful that Facebook wants to change the open source nature of the project, as, love them or hate them, Facebook are pioneers of the user-generated era of web content.
The disappointment that many feel over Facebook's buyout of Oculus may have more to do with philosophical concerns than practical ones. The professional ethics of crowdfunding your project on Kickstarter before selling out to a major corporation for two billion dollars are up for debate, certainly, but it's hardly a nail in the coffin of the virtual reality dream. Even if Facebook decides to fill your eyeballs with advertising as soon as you strap the OR on, the Rift is far from the only option for virtual reality as we move into the next era of consumer tech.
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About Author:  Melissa Williams is a philanthropy and business writer.  As a native Texan, she began her career as a fundraiser for a non-profit organization.  Lured by the mountains and trail running, she relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona and works as a consultant for non-profit organizations.  She enjoys writing about philanthropy and entrepreneurs. 

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