With the recent and almost literally overnight acquisition of VR Kickstarter darling Oculus by Facebook for $2 billion earlier this week, the wide reaction of the internet has been far from positive. With this one business move, Oculus has drastically switched its mindshare with those vocal on the internet from being one of the most exciting crowd-funded projects to one of the most disappointing. This comes, without much shock, from Facebook being their acquirer, and the fear of what that could mean for the product and for its Kickstarter backers.
The gut reaction upon hearing of the acquisition lead to many see something similar to the worst case scenario seen above as Oculus’ future. A product now filled with Facebook integration and ads. While I see the likelihood of the Oculus Rift having outright no Facebook features or integration is slim, especially now after their acquisition, I believe it won’t be to the dreaded extent the internet is foretelling in their images and gifs. At least I hope not, that would be awful. Facebook’s other acquisitions like Instagram tend to operate with a fair amount of independence from their parent company, and it would be strange to think otherwise with this new acquisition. While there will definitely be ideas thrown around between the two companies, this should definitely still be the Oculus’ baby.
Regardless of their level of integration, Facebook has done a number on the public image of the Rift, to the point that Minecraft creator Notch rescinded his wish to talk about adding Oculus integration to Minecraft, citing that Facebook creeps him out. He elaborated later on his blog that he feels that their focus on caring about building user numbers and little else throughout their history gives him little reason to trust them and therefore little will to work with them. This didn’t seem to deter most other developers currently working on Rift games who, although express more caution now, have, if anything, redoubled their efforts after seeing Oculus DevKit 2 builds at GDC over the weekend.
Thene there’s the issue in change of stance that Oculus now seems to have upon their acquisition. Before, their focus was strictly on games and offering a tool fairly to completely open to people to mess around with to create VR experiences and utilize it in ways they wouldn’t have thought of. However after Facebook acquired them, statements from both Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe focus on the use of the Rift as the future of social media and technology. This is a little disheartening to the more die-hard gamers and technology enthusiasts who appreciated the openness the Rift was offering. Hopefully that openness will remain undisturbed from now until its commercial release, but this is one area where I am more worried than others.
However, the biggest issue with this acquisition is the implication it brings with the company and product being Kickstarter-backed. There are nearly 10,000 people who backed the product and company for over $2.4 million to see them release their product before Facebook acquired them for over 100 times that. Where does that leave the backers? Did they fund the idea they wanted made, or did they fund the company to get that product to the point where they could get acquired for all that money, and if so do the backers deserve some payment for giving them that seed money? This is a very grey area when it comes to Kickstarter, which has no guidelines in place for when things like this happen, which are likely to happen more often as Kickstarter becomes even stronger of a force than it already is. This aspect of the merger definitely make me feel the most shaky, as it feels weird that a crowd-funded company can get bought before the product people supported them for is released. I don’t think that they should receive a portion of the acquisition money, as profiting off of your contribution doesn’t seem to be the point of Kickstarter (although this should be addressed by the people who run Kickstarter for future issues such as this), but the fact that they are now in a position where their use of the backer money can be seen as seed money to get them attractive enough to be acquired doesn’t sit well with me.
The swell of backlash against the merger is slowly receding as the week reaches its close, but it still remains to be seen what the lasting effects will be. Hopefully, there will be none, but time will tell.