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Social is No Longer Enough for Facebook (NASDAQ: FB)

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted March 28, 2014

Just what the heck is Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) up to lately – that’s what we all want to know. The direction of its latest ventures don’t exactly fit with its position as the world’s leading social media platform.

Tuesday, out of nowhere, Facebook announced that it would purchase Oculus VR, the maker of the virtual reality (VR) headset called the Oculus Rift, for a sum of $2 billion. This is only a little over a month after Facebook shelled out $19 billion for WhatsApp.

Oculus, which got its start on the crowd funding site Kickstarter, doesn’t even have a product on the consumer market.

What it does have is a virtual reality display that has the gaming world buzzing, especially after this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas.

But since Tuesday, those same gamers have been in a tizzy about the Facebook takeover. Their grumblings can be heard loud and clear all over the Internet – Twitter, Reddit, even Facebook. Wall Street seemed to embrace the news though – they took a bite.

But those who have supported Oculus since the beginning, contributing to their cause on Kickstarter, are asking, what was the point of all that if you’re just going to sell out to a giant company like Facebook? Since the news broke, its strongest backers have been dropping like flies.

The uncertainty is not only too high, but it’s Facebook! These developers will be the first to tell you that social media and gaming don’t mix. So, just what is going on here?


Before Facebook came along, Oculus VR was immersed in the world of hardware for interactive 3-D gaming. The Oculus Rift gained a big niche following and then BAM! Facebook buys it up. Now they’re saying they have plans to extend the Oculus platform, reaching into communications, media and entertainment, education and beyond.

That may be well and good, but for a company like Facebook who largely makes its money from advertisements; it’s hard to see how the two can interact. And for gamers, this is the last thing they want to see.

The Oculus Rift has some pretty neat games out there already. Some of them exploit the immersive experience with big scares in fear-based games, while others provide huge, beautiful scenery to amaze and impress.

As for those who are criticizing Oculus for its use of Kickstarter, those aren’t entirely accurate. After it got itself off the ground, in large part due to Kickstarter, the company began raising large sums of money from venture capitalists. Before Facebook bought it, Oculus was able to raise $90 million on its own. Nobody was saying a word about that.

But the Facebook deal changes everything. Right up until Tuesday, Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson was working with Oculus to create a slimmed down version of his hit game.

He says that the Oculus Rift “… presented a lot of design problems. It made me nauseous. It was signed by the entire Oculus Rift team. I got super excited and worked on a couple of prototypes before moving on to other things. Perhaps I would pick it up again closer to the consumer version release.”

By the time he saw the new and improved Rift, all the bugs had been worked out, and all that remained were design and software challenges. But he was excited to start on a Minecraft version for the product, and that’s when Facebook got their hands on it.

Needless to say, Mr. Persson and Oculus have since parted ways, so don’t be expecting an official Oculus Rift Minecraft game.

VR at a Glance

Virtual reality became a cultural sensation in the early 90s. The possibilities for interactive alternative worlds captured the imagination of a lot of creative people well outside of the tech community. In addition to ficticious representations of VR, a gaming machine first produced by the Virtuality Group turned the technology into a theme park-like experience. But like our fashion trends in the 90s (thank God), it all fizzled out. In reality, it was a virtual dud because of the poor hardware power and cumbersome heads-up displays.

Eventually, many of these systems were sold to corporations like Ford (NYSE: F) who eventually would go onto create a virtual reality system that included the Ford Galaxy. IBM (NYSE: IBM), Mitsubishi (TYO: 8058) and Olin (NYSE: OLN) also bought in.

But it never did take off. The technology wasn’t there. But it is now. That’s why Oculus Rift has revitalized the movement, and why countless gamers were excited for the first time in a long time about VR.

Facebook outwardly knows nothing about VR and gaming. Sure, there have been games built on Facebook’s platform, but every time they make changes, the games suffer the consequences. Hardcore gamers can’t live with that. That’s why they’re not handling this acquisition well.

Gamers want to work with games, not social media, and definitely not Facebook.

Can VR and social media go hand-in-hand? It could eventually work out splendidly. Imagine hanging out with your Facebook buddy; seeing him as an avatar, and being able to play games – socialize – whatever.

The good piece of news for the gaming industry is that since Oculus jump started a revitalization in VR, there are competitors emerging. There is a long way to go, but competition is good, and it looks like VR will only get better.

In a Virtual World

Like with most things that get taken away from us, we don’t react well to the change, and that’s the same case here. WhatsApp fans didn’t like hearing that Facebook was buying them out either. I don’t particularly like people trying to change the name of my beloved Redskins (that’ll never happen), but we endure it anyway, and we move on.

It’s still way too early to know where Facebook will take VR, but I’ll tell you what, we’ll never go another 20 years without talking about it like we’ve done since the 90s. VR is back, and it’s here to stay.

The dust will settle. Other companies will emerge, and eventually gamers will get the kind of VR experience that they’ve been waiting for.

You might even become a fan of social media.