The news about virtual reality company Oculus, makers of the Oculus Rift, being bought up by Facebook for a whopping $2 billion yesterday has garnered some very important reactions across the video game industry. In a recent Polygon article, many developers seemed to be excited, but skeptical. That seems to be the solid general consensus across the board, but there is more to it than that.
Let me be blatant: I am very happy that Oculus received the money they did to make their product, and I think that it will boost the advancement of virtual reality technology a large amount. Those folks are hard-working people, and they deserve a handsome sum like that to continue their work. The problem lies in where the money is coming from: a huge company that isn’t in gaming. Facebook is in the social media industry, focused on connecting people together through that medium, not through games.
Not to mention that Facebook is losing popularity among the largest gaming demographic (from 15- to 30-year-olds), which means that Oculus was bought by a company that will be dealing with people who aren’t gamers. Palmer Luckey, co-founder of Oculus, acknowleged this in a Reddit thread about the purchase. His response was in favor of gaming, saying that “virtual reality will certainly be led by the games industry,” but that “in the long run, though, there are going to be a lot of other industries that use VR in huge ways, ways that are not exclusive to gamers.” I’m in favor of VR branching out eventually, but who is to say those industries won’t become Oculus’ top priority? Do we just have to blindly trust Oculus?
As much as I hate to admit it, the video game industry is pretty narrow for Oculus. There isn’t a lot that a VR company can do with us except make games and the hardware and software for them. With a financial backing from Facebook (who will undoubtedly take at least some control over the decision-making process) and a different demographic, the possibilities are much broader. Wanna make an in-house VR program for a business? Wanna get into the education sector with virtual classrooms? How about a VR social network? If you’re not a huge gamer, there’s no reason to stay loyal to the gaming market.
But this is the boost that gaming needs. Many industry professionals agree that virtual reality is the next big thing in gaming, but it won’t get there without a solid, dedicated product for it. The best companies are the ones that focus on money along with their consumers, and put both of these on an equal platform. I want to see VR be led by a company that wants to better the gaming industry, and I’m not seeing that anymore in Oculus.
The icing on the cake was the last statement in Luckey’s Reddit response: “There is a lot of related good news on the way. I am swamped right now, but I do plan on addressing everyone’s concerns. I think everyone will see why this is so incredible when the big picture is clear.” A huge deal was just made for one of the hottest companies in gaming right now, and they’re telling us that it’s really good, we’ll just have to wait a bit and we’ll see. They’re asking for faith, which is not something I have when a company I’m excited about gets bought out by another company I’m not nearly as excited about.
VR has huge potential to change gaming, but it needs to be focused on gaming. I can’t say that Oculus is taking their goals elsewhere, but I’m very skeptical of how committed they are to the games industry. I wish them the best and I look forward to seeing what they’re going to do, but for games, I’ll be keeping my eyes on Sony’s Project Morpheus and any other competitors that surface in the wake of this.
Editor’s note: This article is the opinion of the writer and doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinion of Indie Game Insider as a whole.