Facebook has made yet another significant purchase, but this time, it’s entering a new world: gaming, at least for now. The company bought Oculus VR, virtual reality company and maker of the Oculus Rift, for $2 billion last week and got its hands on what has been the latest darling of the video game industry. However, Facebook sees much more potential for the virtual reality device beyond gaming purposes. Thus Facebook jumped on the chance to buy up a technology that it thinks could eventually change the world—at a price that’s greater than the gross national product of Greenland.
This purchase, like several other Facebook transactions, made waves in the tech industry, but this one in particular generated an incredible negative reaction as well. Oculus VR vice president Nate Mitchell said that while he expected to get some negative feedback from the device’s core fans over the Facebook deal, he was surprised by the deluge of negativity from its mass audience. Geek.com even ran an article about how to cancel your Oculus Rift preorder and get your money back soon after the announcement.
Zuckerberg claims that Facebook will leave the Oculus Rift alone for the most part, merely allowing its developers to enjoy the social media giant’s massive pool of resources. Having the capital Oculus needs to produce the technology on the level that it wants, at the numbers it wants to produce, and within or even beating the timeframes the company has set, are likely main drivers for Oculus’ decision to sell.
Facebook’s resources would also be especially valuable in the marketing department, as Oculus and other virtual reality developers are still working to persuade consumers to come back to a concept that was deemed disappointing and even somewhat cheesy back in the 80s and 90s. It has been difficult in the beginning to generate mass appeal for the once failed technology, and in so doing prove that the Oculus Rift is truly the new generation of VR. To Oculus and Facebook, the device has much to offer the world, particularly in the realm of gaming, and they need consumers to believe that too.
But many have their doubts about what this purchase means for Oculus VR and the Rift. Many believe that Facebook dipping its hands into the project could be troublesome, and they are turning their backs on the technology altogether. Some venture to say that this could not only have a negative effect on the Oculus Rift itself but on the future of VR and its future effects on the world altogether.
Here are four of those ways that the Facebook-Oculus VR partnership could virtually destroy the world.
As Facebook moved beyond its focus on creating a valuable service, it stumbled upon the power of advertisements to bring in sizable profits over time. Now, from sidebar ads to featured posts in a user’s News Feed, advertisements have become Facebook’s bread and butter, and there appears to be no end in sight as to how many ads Facebook can cram into its user experience.
Can you imagine how much the VR experience could be tainted when you introduce ads into the picture? Picture a sidebar ads for an airline popping up on your virtual trip to a gorgeous beach in Thailand. Or an ad for a video game popping up as your game loads the next scene or environment. Advertisements could completely take away from the perceived reality of the virtual experience as they remind you of your true reality: plopped on your living room couch, not being anywhere near the environment you just felt you were really in.
In addition to ads themselves, Facebook could figure out a way to integrate promotional products into games and other experiences. Would you care if the products around you in a game were all branded by the game’s or Facebook’s sponsors? Would it feel forced if those products were present or announced while you were watching a football game from the coach’s eye view or cruising around with a robot on Mars? For many, these product promotions are already annoying enough in movies and TV shows of today—to not be able to escape them even in VR could pose a real problem to the widespread acceptance of the technology.
Leave it to Facebook to destroy one of the coolest technologies of late with advertisements meant to further line its deep pockets.
As if Facebook’s current user data-collecting efforts weren’t bad enough, its association with the Oculus Rift could prove to be even more invasive than many might realize at the moment.
This data collection is mostly for the use of “personalizing the user experience”—or in other words, targeting ads that may be more tailored to each individual user. Facebook captures information about your preferences via your browsing and clicks on various content—and other potentially nefarious ways we don’t even know about yet—and analyzes and uses that information to potentially generate more ad sales and, thus, more money for the company.
To begin, Facebook could use these same tactics for targeting ads based on Oculus users’ behaviors—such as which games they play, which types of simulations they run, and so on. This would likely take very little innovation to put into effect. Even if Facebook doesn’t bombard users with ads (at least not off the bat), if a user’s Oculus Rift is connected in any way to his or her computer or mobile device, there’s where the user data will contribute to ad targeting.
There are still more invasive possibilities that Facebook could take advantage of. These might be slightly more out there, but they can still definitely be done with the technology as is or with slight adjustments and upgrades.
For one, the Oculus Rift is based on cameras, one of which is placed on the front of the device. That camera’s movement allows the picture on the screen to move in tandem with the user’s movements. But what else can that camera be recording and transmitting? The room and people around you? Yourself? Who knows what recordings that camera could make and where those recordings could go. Watch yourself—if you have a certain brand of potato chips sitting next to you, you may just see ads for them pop up in your News Feed.
Lastly, another spooky possibility is what Facebook could do with a microphone attachment. While that technology is not readily available at the moment, with the advancements in online gaming to incorporate the mic, it won’t be long before that’s a feature as well. If voice recordings are made to transmit to other users, where else could those recordings go and how might they be used? You may not be discussing your government takeover plans over Call of Duty, but you may be sharing things you simply don’t want shared with a commercial entity. Watch your privacy.
Facebook appears to have a lack of interest in turning profits on hardware sales—for the moment. Zuckerberg said, “We’re not going to try and make a profit off of the devices long-term. We view this as a software and services thing.”
Once the technology gets going, it is very possible that Zuckerberg and Facebook could change their minds. If VR takes off as well as Oculus developers hope, then Zuckerberg will have a real moneymaker on his hands. While the current developer kit is available for $350, which is comparable to and actually less than the latest PlayStation and Xbox consoles, this may not be the case for long.
Even if the devices themselves don’t become the focal point for Facebook’s margins, consumers might still have to keep an eye out on price-gauging on software and services, as Zuckerberg pretty much explicitly said. Once you’ve bought the device, you need to buy games, simulations and other software to make the technology actually worth anything, and it’s here that Facebook can find a way to rack up prices far beyond what the original developers might have charged.
The strategy is to get consumers—including cost-conscious ones—to buy the device initially. Then, as they want to use it and expand what they get out of it, they’ll be roped into buying more software and services, where Facebook will be happily waiting with bloated prices on its VR products. Selling more Oculus Rifts may be good for device, game and software developers to make their goods accessible to more people, but it’s even better for Facebook’s bottom line.
Kickstarter’s founders intended for the service to be a way to bring venture capital endeavors to the masses. If a product or project interested you, you could take part in the funding process at whatever level that you want, even as low as a few dollars. Many books, movies, CDs and other media are funded in this way, as well as charitable organizations and other initiatives.
When this donation is given, a person generally feels that they have become a part of the project, and become personally invested in its outcome. So when a large company swoops in and buys out the personally funded project, products and outcomes could be affected to a point not anticipated or wanted by the original funder. As GameSpot so aptly put it, “Giving money on Kickstarter does not mean we have any say in a company’s decisions.”
This was exactly the thoughts of those who had used Kickstarter to fund the Oculus Rift once Facebook purchased Oculus VR. The decision to sell to Facebook was completely out of the hands of the Kickstarter funders, and many were outraged at what Oculus chose to do. They are concerned about the influence Facebook might have on this company and a product like the Oculus Rift.
Will this shakeup in the Kickstarter world spell out trouble for other Kickstarter projects out of fear that another large and unwanted company could come in and buy the project Kickstarter users are funding? This is a clear example of how Kickstarter can ultimately disappoint its users, and it can cast doubt on the power of Kickstarter to allow users to contribute to a company or project they believe in. If people stop believing in Kickstarter, fledgling projects and startups run the risk of never seeing the light of day thanks to the lack of strong venture capital backing.
The fact is that Oculus wouldn’t have gotten to where it was and the success it had become if it weren’t for those early Kickstarter backers who believed in the project long before Facebook even took notice. And now many of them feel like the company has turned its back on their investments and that they’ve lost their “baby,” so to speak. This could happen in a number of buyout situations, but this one popularized it, and it could spell trouble for future Kickstarter campaigns.
The partnership is still in its infancy, but there are plenty of ways that it could be troublesome for the gaming industry and even the future of technology. Only time will tell where Facebook takes its new toy and, ultimately, where the Oculus Rift and virtual reality will take users around the world.