Facebook likes Oculus Rift a lot. Facebook likes Oculus Rift so much, that it is willing to pay $2 billion to acquire the VR tech startup as part of a 3 tiered goal over the next 10 years. The purchase was announced today and an investors conference call later on gave investors a chance to ask Mark Zuckerburg and David DeMartini about the details of the purchase.
The purchase of Oculus Rift by Facebook came as a surprise as the VR gaming technology was thought to be largely centered around the gaming hardcore, but both Oculus VR and Facebook have ideas that transcend the gaming world which led to the acquisition by the largest social media company in the world.
“Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow,” said Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. “Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”
During the public conference call for investors, Zuckerberg detailed the three high level goals that Facebook has in mind. The first is to connect everyone with “free, basic internet services available to everyone in the world.” Phase 2 is understanding the world with an ambitious AI research group whose goal is to see how every person and thing on the Earth is connected which is currently being done with search and news feed analysis.
The third high level goal, which is where the Oculus Rift purchase comes in, is building the knowledge economy. The goal is to build this off the latest computing technology and that is where Oculus Rift is a “ambitious, long-term bet.” Citing how mobile technology has become the standard after a 5 – 10 year adoption window that started in 2003, the adoption of VR tech beyond gaming is predicted to take a similar amount of time. The goal goes beyond gaming as the possibilities are unexplored and Facebook is excited to explore those waters.
The theme behind Oculus VR tech is to “experience the impossible.” While gaming is an obviously starting place for for the technology, the reach of Facebook can be drastically enhanced with the VR headset. Many different applications for the technology has already been voiced and some have already built prototypes. Figure Digital, a UK ad company showed an example of a grocery store completely realized for advertising purposes using the Oculus VR tech that Facebook has purchased. At Sundance, festival goers were given the opportunity to experience Oculus VR tech by being put int he middle of a Beck concert.
Mark Zuckerburg stated on his Facebook page that the tech can be used for seeing a game court side, studying in a virtual classroom with other students and teachers around the world or even consulting with a doctor “face-to-face” just by putting on a VR headset.
The gaming universe, one of the most connected social demographics, took the news and it has spread far and wide with may notable game developers already showing excitement, apathy or plain dislike from the announcement.
Imagine getting a facebook poke. Now you’ll actually be able to see the poke coming towards you. Or maybe BEHIND you? Exciting times.
— petermolydeux (@PeterMolydeux) March 25, 2014
We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus. I just cancelled that deal. Facebook creeps me out.
— Markus Persson (@notch) March 25, 2014
When questioned about the potential competition from Sony’s Project Morpheus and a rumored Microsoft VR product, the response was confidence in Oculus being far ahead of the Sony product. Citing the dedicated console environment that Sony’s VR helmet offers as a limitation, investors were told that when considering the mobile audience 40% of mobile usage is spent in gaming and another 40% in social communication. In order to leverage the the Oculus VR tech into Facebook, the two have to be used together.
Another aspect of the Facebook purchase of Oculus VR is the advertising. Zuckerburg spoke during the investors call that virtual goods and shopping for physical goods in a virtual environment could be a part of the future of VR tech. While the hardwired will not be sold at a profit in long term, Facebook doubtlessly has an advertising plan in mind for the technology once it rolls out to consumers.
The dust will take a while to settle on this news as developers, gamers and other tech outlets try to digest and sift through the shakeup Facebook has given the tech world by buying Oculus. One thing is clear, Facebook is betting billions that VR will have mass market appeal beyond gaming. Time will tell if this will come to pass, or if VR will go the way of Lawnmower Man.