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Facebook buys Oculus Rift & why everyone is angry

For those not familiar, Oculus Rift was (is) the next big thing in Virtual Reality & gaming space. When it first launched its campaign on Kickstarter (Link) in 2012 – the imagination & the possibilities took everyone by storm. There were very well known gaming experts like John Carmack (Creator of Doom) associated with the product that attached credibility to the vision.

Below is one of the original videos from that campaign.

Yesterday, Facebook bought Oculus Rift for $2 Billion along with the usual promises to keep the vision independent. Almost universally the acquisition has been received by widespread criticism and dismay. Nowhere is this more evident than the ‘Front page of internet’ Reddit.com (Link to the subreddit) and the most vocal hacker community page – Hacker News.

This was combined with the now famous tweet from Markus Persson (creator of Minecraft) below, who made the first open sign of revolt.



Long story short, there are almost no positive reactions to this acquisition. And there are a number of reasons for that, valid or invalid.

1) Oculus Rift was a wonderful vision for a game changing product (pun intended!). However, what made the vision exciting for everyone was the involvement of independent game developers. The development kit that the Kickstarter project was providing was something everyone wanted to get his hands on. These were the people who were going to make the product transition from good to great. Why do such people work on someone else’s product? Because when something is open, everyone has a sense of ownership. Regardless of who makes the money, there is a feeling of contribution. Plus, Oculus Rift was the underdog in the game of mega players. Everyone wanted this to succeed. Now, with Facebook taking over the product – the community is visibly disillusioned. There is a serious possibility of the product suffering from the lack of independent developers’ participation. Whether Facebook’s humongous resources can make up for it remains to be seen.

2) There is a sense of betrayal by Oculus Rift.

And I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition. – Markus Persson

There is a definite role that Kickstarter plays in the startup world. Yes, everyone understand that the mere fact that you put in some money does not make you an equity holder. Still, there is a feeling of ownership. Here, the team going over to Facebook, and in such a short time, has left a bad taste in the mouth of early backers. Markus has pretty much covered this point in his blog post (link) but in simple words, while the business sense for the team is obvious, the intangible parts & the unspoken words have been left a bit betrayed.

3) Many people do not trust Facebook. I don’t trust Facebook. I feel that the way they conducted their Ad business was pretty pathetic (Link). That might be a small issue not relevant to most people, but the rampant disregard of privacy that is being made the norm by Google & Facebook is sickening. Time for that famous cartoon:

If you are not paying for it and you are not the customer, then you are the product being sold. [Image – geek-and-poke.com]
Yes, I understand that ‘Data’ is the buzzword – and Facebook lives and breathes that word. However, I have real doubts whether what we are gaining by this incessant data grabbing from all corners compensates the loss of privacy and future implications (yes, Edaward Snowden issue among others). In the hands of companies like Facebook, a device that sits in your home, integrates with a camera and tracks your personal behavior might be invaluable or catastrophic – depending on how you look at it.

4) People don’t like big corporations in general. Plain & simple, a small firm with initial co-founders has a specific vision that it is out to achieve. You put them under a chain of command, however informal, and creativity will suffer. Innovation will take a backseat to ‘demonstrable results’. How much or how little this actually happens in this particular case is actually irrelevant at this point of time. The perception is all that matters. And at this point, the perception is highly against a positive outcome.

That said, you have to give credit to the other side. Mark Zuckerburg is not devoid of vision or of taking quick steps to thwart the competition. Taking Instagram as soon as it appeared to be a threat, following it up with Whats App and now Oculus Rift. Whatever may be the outcome, it increasingly looks that the battle of the future is going to be fought between Google & Facebook with Apple as an also-ran.

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