Facebook on Tuesday announced the acquisition of yet another beloved company, Oculus, adding to its varied—and expensive—tech portfolio. Mark Zuckerberg previously parted ways with billions for Instagram ($1 billion), and WhatsApp ($19 billion), seemingly on an unstoppable quest to make the world more open and connected. Oculus, a young company based out of Irvine, Calif., had most recently won acclaim for its Crystal Cove prototype at CES, and it seems Facebook’s honchos were equally as convinced that VR technology is where the future lies. So what does this mean for Oculus, and what business does Facebook have with virtual reality?
No: Facebook isn’t going to make its social network into a dystopian virtual world where we only communicate through VR. I shudder at that thought. Ads won’t get pushed into your virtual eyeballs. Oculus is actually going to operate independently of Facebook in the immediate future, as Zuckerberg said in his announcement, and continue to focus on creating immersive gaming experiences. Facebook said it will use its enormous resources to accelerate Oculus’s plans while helping the team develop a more convincing VR, and even open more development opportunities to support more games.
Oculus acknowledged that the acquisition seems odd on the surface. We were left scratching our heads when the news broke. But the VR company explained that Oculus and Facebook are “culturally aligned,” reiterating Zuckerberg’s message that “communication drives new platforms.” Like Facebook, the Oculus team said it, too, envisions a more open and connected world, and believes virtual reality is the obvious platform to achieve this. More succinctly, Facebook will give Oculus the opportunity to do more, and explore territory beyond gaming.
“Mark and his team share our vision for virtual reality’s potential to transform the way we learn, share, play and communicate,” Oculus wrote in its own announcement post. “This partnership is one of the most important moments for virtual reality: it gives us the best shot at truly changing the world.”
Made-for-VR games will still be part of the equation. But as Zuckerberg explains, the long-term goal is to create a platform that will open up a different kind of communication. Rather than talking to someone through a screen or on the phone, Oculus will be used to create that feeling Zuckerberg calls “feeling truly present.” Imagine a virtual reality street view.
“You can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life,” Zuckerberg said. “Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures. We believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.”
Zuckerberg has a kind of eerie and exciting vision of the VR future, where merely putting goggles on will allow people to be court side at a basketball game, or studying in a classroom, or even consulting with a doctor face-to-face. If that’s what Zuckerberg has in mind, then consumers will essentially have the ability to be present in any scenario anywhere in the world without actually being there. Run with the bulls in Spain. Stand on the precipice of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Perform a space walk on the ISS. There’s a limitless future being pitched.
Oculus wrote that Facebook’s acquisition is “one of the most important moments of virtual reality.” And it could be! We’ve already seen what the technology can do for gaming. If that can be applied for other potential use cases, virtual reality will indeed be the transformative technology we’re being led to believe. Facebook has the resources, and Oculus has the technology. Put two-and-two together—the users of Facebook and the cool-factor of Oculus—and we could get something truly great.
Facebook underestimated the mobile market, and as a result was really late to the game. Now it owns an enormous chunk where most of its traffic takes place. Looking ahead, it obviously sees the potential in virtual reality, which is why Oculus was the perfect opportunity for Facebook. (Plus, Facebook is now essentially early to VR, ensuring it doesn’t make another mobile blunder.) Oculus has already drummed up hype for VR, and this acquisition further legitimizes the fledgling industry, which, by the way, Sony just entered last week.
“The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together,” Zuckerberg said.