When Oculus sold themselves to Facebook, many vocal gamers were quick to show their dismay. And for good reason too; our industry is haunted by stories of great developers being bought and crippled by larger publishers. So with Facebook's motives here being less than obvious at first glance, it's easy to perceive this as a hit and run type of deal. Combined with the perception of Oculus as the scrappy underdog fighting for a better gaming tomorrow, then ”dismay” is probably putting it mildly.
Yeah, that just about captures it
But let's just back up a bit here and look at what happened. Facebook, a company built on selling communication services to its users in exchange for their personal data, just bought Oculus Rift, a company built on cutting edge optics and motion tracking technology. This doesn't make sense unless we look at Mark Zuckerberg's statements on the deal - namely that he believes VR to be the next big step in communication technology, bringing an unprecedented level of immersion and presence to the ways we interact with everyone and everything that isn't physically present with us at a given time.
That's not just the people we want to communicate with on a regular basis, but parts of the world or indeed fantasies we cannot hope to reach as well. Taking history lessons? How about just visiting history instead. In need of dire medical attention, but the doctor who's best suited to treat you is hundreds of kilometers away? We'll just let him inspect you virtually. This is all a pretty grand vision which requires good mainstream acceptance of VR (as well as plenty of time), and Oculus will play an important part in getting there.
Remember how psyched everyone was about this?
Video games belong in the 'fantasies' group, and many gamers seem concerned that Oculus' new owners may want to focus more on the stuff that's in the real world (games haven't been Facebook's strongest suit so far after all). But there's little reason to think that gaming is going to get shafted in this deal; it's safe to assume that the virtual worlds out there will remain the prime application for VR for a long time to come, as real world equipment will have a hard time replicating the full ”presence” that a game can give. Alternatively, the "real” applications for VR will have to be recreated virtually to work, and then it doesn't make much sense to seperate them from gaming. In fact, there's very little reason to fear that this deal will hurt VR, games, or any of the potential they possess at all. Because even if Facebook decided to completely ditch games for VR, many of the challenges to overcome would still be the same.
Getting better feedback and controls is an essential challenge for VR, regardless of how you want to use it. Indeed, just about any interaction you want a VR user to have will be relevant for games, and so it matters little where the research and knowledge about these interactions comes from; it will still benefit VR in games.
Facebook and Oculus' vision is remarkably similar to Sony's: Start in games, conquer the world
You can be mad about this deal for a number of reasons. Maybe you feel betrayed that Oculus went from community support to ”selling out”, maybe you don't like Facebook and their modus operandi, or maybe you just care a lot about whose logo is on your hardware. But for this deal to make any kind of sense for Facebook, they need a very clear aim: getting VR to the masses, which means high quality experiences at affordable prices. And unless they have no clue what they're doing, there should be little doubt that this deal will benefit VR and video games as a whole.