Now that the news has come to pass of Facebook's acquisition of Oculus VR--makers of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset that is currently in development--the inevitable hand-wringing that is typically associated with any major acquisition in the tech sector has begun in earnest. Perhaps the most outspoken critic of the acquisition was Markus Persson--known for creating the popular Minecraft videogame:
Don’t get me wrong, VR is not bad for social. In fact, I think social could become one of the biggest applications of VR. Being able to sit in a virtual living room and see your friend’s avatar? Business meetings? Virtual cinemas where you feel like you’re actually watching the movie with your friend who is seven time zones away? But I don’t want to work with social, I want to work with games.
Persson also made this interesting statement:
And I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition.
Quite frankly, the feelings conveyed in both of Persson's quotes are very common in the message boards, forums, and social media sphere in the wake of this news.
They are also examples of overreactions and non-critical thinking.
It is, of course, understandable that people would feel wary of a small, up and coming company being acquired by a considerably larger and more established company (particularly when the acquiring company is not in the same business). It is also understandable at some level that people would feel frustrated by the way that Oculus VR built its business on the money acquired via its Kickstarter project.
First, let's start with the statement of not wanting to work with social but rather with games. This is rather presumptive. Social networking is one possible use of VR technology just as games are one possible use of VR technology. The belief that Facebook will 'ruin' or 'corrupt' the Oculus Rift by turning it into a shallow extension of Facebook is not supported by the facts of the recent history of Facebook acquisitions. Take, for example, the acquisition of Parse--the backend as a service for mobile apps--last year. At the time of that particular acquisition, I wrote about the trepidation that I felt when considering whether to continue to support the Parse platform due to the uncertainty around how Facebook handles its relationship with developers. Likewise, many people felt uncertain about how Facebook would handle its ownership of Instagram after acquiring the rapidly growing social network roughly two years ago.
In both cases, the acquiring companies are better off in the post-acquisition era than they were before being acquired. Even the most cynical of critics must admit that the companies are, at the very least, the same after being acquired. Therefore, it is illogical to assume that Facebook will ruin Oculus VR when Facebook clearly did not ruin Parse or Instagram.
Next, let's consider the statement about not chipping in ten thousand dollars to seed an investment round for an acquisition. This has no factual basis in terms of law or in common sense regarding the Kickstarter platform. The Kickstarter project for the Oculus Rift revolved around producing development kit versions of the Oculus Rift. That project's goals were successfully achieved and the development kits were delivered as promised. The people who 'chipped in' were aware, or should have been aware, that their money was intended to produce the development kits and that Oculus VR's obligations ended once they delivered those development kits. Any belief that Oculus VR would forever remain independent or that supporting their Kickstarter project was akin to donating to a 'cultural revolution' is misguided at best and childish at worst. The terms of the Kickstarter project clearly do not provide backers with any equity in the company nor any voting interest in the company no matter if the backer provided one dollar or ten thousand dollars. Let the buyer beware, indeed.
Folks, it is too early to tell whether Facebook's acquisition of Oculus VR will turn out to be a success or a failure. It's entirely possible that Facebook will mishandle the ownership of Oculus VR. It's entirely possible that Oculus VR may not pan out as a cultural phenomenon regardless of Facebook's influence (positive or negative). With this sort of thing, especially if you are committing your own money, it's important to keep your mind clear and your eyes open.