Why Facebook Buying Oculus VR Is Not the End of the World
Yes, you heard the news correctly yesterday. No, it’s not April 1st. Facebook, the social media monolith, has purchased Oculus VR for $2 billion. That’s not a typo. That’s billion with a “b”. $400 million of that will be in raw cash, the other $1.6 billion will be in stock options. It also includes a big fat bonus of $300 million “if certain performance goals are met,” whatever that means. Oculus VR has been bought.
These numbers are so abstract I have a hard time processing them. The instant Internet rage was palpable, so thick you could drizzle it over pancakes. Especially on the main hobbyist and news boards, such as the subreddit r/oculus and all over Twitter. R/Oculus in particular erupted in a collective explosion of confusion and betrayal, being a champion of the platform and earning the trust of Oculus VR to such a degree that its founder, Palmer Luckey, was a known commentator on the site. The most passionate reactions to the announcement was remixes of “Fuck you, Palmer” like Facebook had kicked the subreddit’s own grandma down the stairs and Luckey had helped push. I saw the largest amount of immediate disgust and anger from there and the official Oculus VR forums, but this isn’t a open bashing of two of my favorite VR communities. They were just the most vocally defeatist.
To everyone like me who had an immediate vomit-inducing reaction to the news, I have a stark piece of advice, on the level: calm your tits.
Companies buy companies all the time. Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion, ten times what Oculus was worth to them. Why is this situation so different? Why did the early adopters and the real cheerleaders of the coming VR revolution have such a gut reaction?
1. Facebook isn’t cool (anymore).
Mark Zuckerberg, the main face of Facebook, is hard to like. To the public, he’s an arrogant manchild who struck gold and got rich too young. Plus he was a jerk in that one movie about him. He’s the polar opposite of Palmer Luckey, whose boyish enthusiasm and awkwardness was refreshing in a sea of smarmy post-Xbox One PR smirks.
Facebook is now an enormous corporation, enslaved to its shareholders, engaging in one of the largest data mining operations in history. A corporation is a soulless engine with no other need than to consume as much profit as possible. It has no hopes or aspirations. Their undemocratic ideals offend our sense of democracy, something a crowdsourced startup company with big ideas and dreams fulfils at a subconscious level.
Facebook has earned its hatred more honestly, more passionately. Their history on privacy rights is staggeringly poor. Their main goal seems to be to hoover up all remaining data so they can cynically blast your face with advertising. Since the Rift is something you strap to your face, Rift fans are getting cold sweats that Zuckerberg is personally going to spam their 110* FOV with Farmville invites and Mountain Dew ads. Most importantly, Facebook is neither a games developer OR a hardware manufacturer. They have literally zero experience in this field and lots of money to throw around. Existential doubt about the future of VR and prophecies of doom are rightfully earned from such a company that went from the possibility of being the new telephone to a one word joke.
2. Oculus VR is cool (right now).
Oculus VR painstakingly earned its street cred by making a series of good and very public decisions. Their massively popular Kickstarter elbowdropped us all. Making the Development Kit available to everyone, not just industry insiders, was a coup. There were no legal blockades to development in VR. First time reaction Youtube videos are a past-time of mine. There are no content restrictions and no large financial burdens for entry. They got the attention of industry giants, people with genuine achievements behind them, like Cliff Bleszinski, John Carmack, and Gabe Newell, and brought the party to them. Carmack was so impressed he divorced id Software, a company he help build 23 years ago, to join Oculus as their Chief Technology Officer (King Nerd in a company of lifelong nerds).
They cultivated a culture of openness and inclusiveness like a beloved garden, spreading their own excitement by showing their own without a speck of pretension. Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus VR, often could barely contain his boisterous excitement for how goddamn cool this is going to be. Oculus VR was the real deal, a small startup with a clear vision of what they wanted to bring to the market, and they were doing it on their own terms. It was like Luckey was born out of the romantic version of the American Dream, with Zuckerberg on the other side of the spectrum, the Dark Lord of Data who stole his idea from his classmates and wants your cat pictures.
It’s why the pseudo-press release Palmer Luckey put out on the Oculus subreddit feels so utterly phony. It’s management speak, feels written by a lazy PR company, and addresses literally none of the major concerns the early adopters have about Facebook majorly and unequivocally fucking this up.
Yet I repeat: calm your tits. This is not the end of the world. It’s not the end of Oculus VR. It’s not even a problem.