Facebook Buys Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Studio

PHOTO COURTESY | GAMEZEBO “Doom” co-creator John Carmack joined Oculus Rift in 2013.
“Doom” co-creator John Carmack joined Oculus Rift in 2013.

Oculus Rift, the premier name in virtual reality technology, announced earlier this week that they have been bought out by Facebook.

The VR headset technology has been making the rounds as well as making waves since it was originally funded through the crowdfunding service Kickstarter. It’s been shown off at video game industry events like E3, PAX and Game Developers Confer­ence to high praise and even greater desire for a consumer model.

Currently, users can purchase an Oculus Rift headset development kit — a prototype meant to allow software developers to cre­ate games for the device. However, the final product does not yet have a solid release date or form factor. That hasn’t stopped it from gaining widespread acclaim from the media, many of whom are calling it the next big thing in video games.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief ex­ecutive officer, has plans for the device that go beyond gaming, however.

“Oculus has the potential to be the most social platform ever,” he said in an analyst conference call. ‘“Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.”

He went on to describe uses like attend­ing sports games and making visits to the doctor — all from your own home.

News of the purchase and Zuckerberg’s mention of non-gaming related uses has been met with some opposition. Facebook, while popular, certainly has its detractors as a shaky and sometimes untrustworthy ser­vice.

Markus “Notch” Persson, creator of the insanely popular sandbox game “Mine­craft,” is perhaps the most public, high pro­file detractor of the buyout.

“We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus,” he stated in a tweet. “I just cancelled that deal. Face­book creeps me out.”

Twinbeard, the development studio be­hind surrealist comedy game “Frog Frac­tions” also chimed in, in predictably amus­ing fashion.

The studio is currently running its own Kickstarter for “Frog Fractions 2” (though the studio has said this is not the actual title of the game, which will be released in se­cret after development). The latest stretch goal for the project states that, should the Kickstarter reach $2 billion, Twinbeard will “Buy Oculus back from Facebook.”

Despite concerns, Facebook maintains that this will have only a positive effect on the Oculus Rift’s development. It’s being said that Oculus will continue to operate in­dependently in their Irvine, Calif. headquar­ters even after the deal closes in the second financial quarter of this year.

The deal itself was struck for $2 bil­lion: $400 million in cash and $1.6 million in Facebook stocks. There will also be an­other $300 million in it for Oculus if they can meet new performance targets laid out by Facebook.

Those targets likely involve the consum­er model, as the company already released a new development kit (DK2) to replace the original prototype, codenamed “Crystal Cove.”

I myself got to use the original prototype in Los Angeles at E3 last year. While I was worried about the viability of virtual real­ity technology at the time (we went through that fad in the 1990s, after all) I must say I came away thoroughly impressed.

Final judgment of the Oculus Rift (and Facebook’s influence on the company) will have to wait, but for now I remain optimis­tic.

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