Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past week, then I’m sure you’ve already heard the news that social media giant Facebook has agreed to purchase Kickstarter darling Oculus Rift for a reported two billion (with a B) dollars. Now many gamers are up in arms at the apparent betrayal and “selling out” of Oculus Rift to the “evil and soulless” corporation that is Facebook, but could this actually the best thing that could have possibly happened to the company and its innovative product?
Virtual Reality is Expensive
Pioneering new technologies is not cheap, especially not when this new technology involves all the complexities of creating a fully immersive virtual reality. So when a company like Facebook with a market cap of over 100 billion dollars (I had to do a double take, too) decides to take a publicly funded project like Oculus Rift under its massive, fiscally opulent wings, the sky is no longer the limit. Simply put, with Facebook’s clout, Oculus will have much more opportunity to grow than it ever could have had as an independent company.
Oculus VR has been selling the development kits for the Rift for $300 for the original model and $350 for the Development Kit 2, and promised from the very beginning to offer the final model to consumers for even less than that. This positions the product as a very affordable device for consumers, and in turn ensures that demand will be quite high (the development kits have been selling out, too). Now while most companies dream of having this problem, the issues that this presents are very difficult ones for small firms to overcome. Manufacturing and marketing are extremely expensive prospects in the technology and entertainment industries; it’s very difficult for small fish to make a big splash in this sea. Facebook is a shark- it can and will support, make, and sell Oculus Rift to the masses.
Innovation is Key
Consumers want something different. The reason why products like Windows 95, the iPhone, the Wii, and now Oculus Rift have attracted so much consumer interest is because they were unlike anything that came before. Now take a service like Facebook, which currently has 1.23 billion (again, I had to do a double take) registered accounts and is constantly offering these users a new way to stay connected (more on that later). You now have a 7th of the world’s population already using a service that is about to the introduced to a very innovative and attractive piece of technology. But does everybody who uses Facebook want Oculus Rift? Absolutely not, but if even 1% of 1.23 billion users go the Oculus Rift route, that’s 12.3 million consumers. That’s not bad at all.
Games are not the Future of VR
The easy answer when looking at the potential of virtual reality is in gaming. In fact, games have always tried to immerse us in a fully realized virtual world, but I believe that the future of virtual reality lies not in gaming, but in communications and research. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was recently quoted as saying on his company’s acquisition of Oculus VR,“Immersive virtual and augmented reality will become a part of people’s everyday life,” and that “Strategically we want to start building the next major computing platform that will come after mobile.” He goes on to explain some of his ideas behind the potential of Oculus Rift technology, including “…studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.” The potential for VR as a communication tool are far-reaching and quite possibly the future of human interaction. Taking it a step further, you could (in theory) recreate an entire accident scene and witness how the events unfold. In turn, juries could make a better judgment and decision based on these immersive experiences. This is one example of how the technology could potentially be used, but there are many more – it really does open up a whole new world of possibilities.
As for gaming though, the possibilities are just as tantalizing but also more concerning. Yes, running in a field as Link or exploring the stars with a full crew at your command are exciting opportunities, but would you really want to play a game like Call of Duty in virtual reality? Now most of you probably answered yes (and, admittedly, the idea is quite cool), but take a second to think of the consequences of lifelike violence rendered in a recreation of reality. You open up the possibility for games to be the cause of things like post-traumatic stress disorder or even serve as a tool for violent people to indulge in a more visceral and realistic depiction of said violence. Now I’m not saying that games and VR don’t make for an exciting and interesting combination – I, for one, would love to play games with virtual reality integration – but caution is key in order to keep things fun and safe.
Now that the ink is dry and the cheques are cashed, the future of Oculus Rift under Facebook’s aegis is both clear and hazy. In one sense, the product and company will now have the backing of a multi-billion dollar corporation behind them and be able to reach a much larger audience faster and with a clearer message than was possible on its own. On the other hand, however, the potential applications of virtual reality technology are both fantastic and worrying for humanity and how we enjoy our entertainment. At the end of the day, though, we must realize that most of us wanted to see Oculus Rift succeed; by joining with Facebook, they are on track to do just that.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of 3GEM Studios.