Facebook snuffs out Oculus VR

Eyeball tracking, feh!

Careful not to glance at the “like” button next to those, ah, sensitive videos.

1975: Mattel purchases Nolan Bushnell’s Atari Inc. All work on the 2600 is canceled save the joystick, which sees use in cheap R/C cars.

1998: America Online acquires id Software. Quake 3: Arena is reworked into a chatroom game. a/s/l? Wanna frag?

2003: Valve goes public and EA buys a majority stake. The Steam project is shelved in favor of new in-game ad delivery services.

Nope, can’t do it! I can’t come up with a buyout scenario as surreal and alarming as the one that I and so many others awoke to this morning.

Facebook has agreed to acquire Oculus VR, producers of the nascent Oculus Rift, for $2 billion. It’s the gaming news of the year, even though it doesn’t really affect the state of the market at all today. It does, however, significantly narrow our vision for the future.

most guys I know who are in Mergers and Acquisitions really don't like it.

“So what do you do?” “I’m into, uh, well, murders and executions, mostly.”

I spent some time searching through comment threads for the nugget of insight that might help me to see this as good news. No such luck; in fact it turned out many of the pro comments were from paid astroturfers, which speaks well to Facebook’s intentions.

Facebook sees Oculus’ gaming potential as tangential to its real goals. Its shiny new bauble is simultaneously an effort at diversification, a hedge against Google Glass, and above all an attempt at entrenchment for its core social-network (i.e. advertising) business. I’m no teenager but I sympathize with the millions who view Facebook much as I did AOL back in the ’90s. People have soured on it. They’ve closed the door, and now the company needs an alternate way in.

Mark Zuckerberg sure talks a good game:

After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home. […]

Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together. I can’t wait to start working with the whole team at Oculus to bring this future to the world, and to unlock new worlds for all of us.

But read carefully and you’ll see this isn’t about remaking the world into The Jetsons. The following image headlines a now 4,000-strong r/gaming complaints thread entitled “Why Oculus pissed us off”:

One wonders if Carmack was fed the same line.

Hey John, I hear id’s still keeping your seat warm.

Zuckerberg’s slightly more extemporaneous comments from a conference call earlier today express precisely Oculus’ new role:

About 40 percent of the time that people spend online on computers is on gaming, Mr. Zuckerberg said, and 40 percent is on social communication.

“You need to fuse both of those together,” he said.

Fusion. Games and Facebook joined forever at the hip. That’s the objective here. If the Oculus Rift does amount to an iPhone-esque disruptive technology, Facebook will have found its way back in, if not to the hearts and minds, then at least the eyeballs of gamers. And in Facebook’s line of work, it’s the eyeballs that count.