Facebook's $2 billion purchase of Oculus VR earlier this week is not sitting well at all with the very market the virtual reality headsets were aimed at: gamers.
Virtual reality is one of those technologies where the idea is far ahead of the capabilities of the times. Throughout the '90s we had numerous attempts at VR, all of which failed miserably. We simply needed to wait for the computing power to get better before the vision could be achieved.
Oculus VR looked to be the company that could do it. The headset looked cumbersome but delivered on the promise. Many top figures in the gaming industry endorsed the headset, including id Software's John Carmack, Gabe Newell, the co-founder of Valve, Michael Abrash, a prominent game developer, and Cliff Bleszinski, former design director at Epic Games. Carmack liked it so much he quit id to join Oculus VR in late 2013.
The reaction to the purchase, though, has been almost unanimously negative. This thread on Reddit illustrates that in a whole lot of NSFW language. The developer of the widely addicting game Minecraft cancelled plans to make an Oculus version of the game, and Minecraft is a perfect game for showing off what the headset can do.
A lot of the money that supported Oculus in the early days came from Kickstarter, the crowdsourcing page that funds startups. For Oculus, 9,522 backers kicked in a total of $2,437,429 and many of them are upset.
"I feel that every single donor should get a "kickback/refund" from that $2 Billion (they'd still have plenty left over!) to put towards a kickstarter project that isn't a masquerading gold digger." -- Rogeraususa "I supported this because it's something that I've wanted to see become a reality since I read my first William Gibson novel. Now I find out that I might as well have handed my money right to Facebook and I feel a little sick." – Brodie Hannibal "I'm disappointed. You had the potential to become bigger than Facebook on your own." – John Susek.
Then again, there were supporters of the deal.
"That said, I honestly believe that Oculus chose this because they think it is the best way to realize their goal. I really hope the Facebook money hose allows them to make a version with a much higher resolution." -- Vyfwonkel "So much drama for such GOOD news. Better, cheaper hardware - that's what this means. Plain and simple." – Chris Cook
One analyst said this is already scaring off previous Oculus supporters. "There are many companies working on solutions using the Oculus Rift and everyone seems very concerned that Facebook may derail the focus of the company for its own efforts," said Jim McGregor of Tirias Research.
For his part, Zuckerberg has denied he would shift Oculus off game development, just that it would be used in other ways more suitable for his social network. But Zuckerberg's word isn't good for much these days. Facebook has been the target of numerous complaints and has shown a disregard for user privacy with its targeted ads based on user likes and getting rid of a privacy feature that let users limit who can find them via their Timeline.
There is a real concern that this will take resources away from using it for gaming, the natural application for the headsets. And then there's just the question of how well this merger goes. Tech acquisitions are rarely perfect unless it's a very small, targeted purchase. The landscape is littered with failed acquisitions that should, on paper, have worked. Facebook and Oculus makes about as much sense as eBay and Skype, and look how that ended.
And there's no guaranteeing it will work for anyone. Zuckerberg said Oculus had the potential to be the "most social platform ever." Has Zuckerberg looked at the state of Second Life lately? Or for that matter, the state of 3D movies. The technology is far more advanced than when it first came out, and yet 3D has flopped. Samsung and the other TV makers have abandoned it, and 3D movies have failed.
There are some ideas that people just don't want.