Over the last week or so, I've been asked by half of New Eden what I think about Facebook buying Oculus VR, the makers of the forthcoming Oculus Rift, the platform on which EVE Valkyrie will be a launch title. I was even asked a couple of times if Garth wanted to weigh in on the subject, which was such an intriguing notion that I sat around for a few days to see if Garth felt like doing so. Apparently he doesn't. ;-)
For myself, I come at this topic from three different perspectives: my perspective as a business person, my perspective as a gamer, and my perspective as an old person. ;-) Let's talk about them in reverse order.
As a gamer in my 40s, I'm a generation late for most of the social media thing. I have a Twitter account because I felt like I should start a Twitter account for my first CSM run. I have a blog for the same reason. Would I be doing those things without EVE Online? Probably not. I don't have a Facebook account, I didn't have accounts on its predecessors, and I've never felt much of a need to share my personal life with the Internet. I don't feel like I have anything to be ashamed of or anything. I just grew up at a time when there was enough concern about the Internet that it was accepted that one should try to "stay off the grid" a bit to prevent identify theft, fraud, et cetera.
On that level, Oculus VR being bought out by Facebook concerns me. My feel for the closest approximation to the coming reality of the future has generally been Minority Report. And that is both on the level that I feel like human society is going to become more controlling as the 21st century moves on and advertising and customer outreach is likely to become more pervasive. For those not familiar with the scene that I'm thinking of, at one point, the protagonist of the flick walks down a street and every advertising billboard starts talking to him... where they don't deliberately change to advertise products that some online database thinks the protagonist might buy.
It's a disturbing image of where I think we're going to be in another decade or two.
And so on that level, yeah, I can admit to being a bit concerned that the biggest current purveyor of that image of the future now has its hands on what is likely to be an important -- and very personal! -- piece of hardware. Does this mean I think we're going to have advertisements spinning up before Valkyrie launches? No, almost certainly not. Does this mean I think some database somewhere is going to keep track of the fact that I buy Valkyrie and Star Citizen and use that to start suggesting other games to me when I'm not playing one of those two?
I think that's pretty likely, actually. And as an old person, that scares me a bit. Call me a codger if you must, but you 20-year-olds can have that bit of the future, thanks.
As a gamer, though, I'm actually not all that concerned. Lots of people have said this and I agree with them: it could have been a lot worse. Facebook is going to want to retain "game neutrality" and try to cast the net pretty wide looking for titles. Imagine if Ubisoft or -- God forbid -- EA had bought Oculus VR. This way, we have a good chance of eventually getting both an Assassin's Creed game and a Battlefield game on this platform. As well as, you know, some good games, too. ;-) Kidding, I'm kidding, put that away.
As a gamer I'm also encouraged because the one thing that can help a gaming company out late in their development process is an infusion of cold hard cash. We've all heard stories about games or hardware allllmost completing their development process and then running out of money and the awful jokes that have come out of such a development process. Getting money late in the development process will ensure that Oculus VR puts out a quality product, and Facebook marketing behind it after that can only help. If you get a lot of money too early in the development process, that can disort the vision of the product and ultimately hurt development but the vision of Oculus VR has been locked in for a while now. So a big ol' cash infusion is only to the good here.
As a business person, my feelings run along similar lines. Oculus VR was going to get bought out. It was inevitable. Kickstarter money is cool but there are probably a lot of guys looking to actually get paid out of their efforts and sooner or later, someone was gonna come up with a number that they'd accept. In a way, hopefully this can start to put to rest a lot of concerns about Kickstarter money in general. It's fantastic, don't get me wrong. But I think we're mostly going to see it used to -- *cough* -- kick-start development with the real money coming in later to projects and developers that prove they have a real product.
This kind of mirrors the healthy skepticism that surrounded a lot of the speculative plays during the later years of the dot-com boom of the 1990s. Small loans got a lot of the late dot-coms off the ground but to really break markets open, the people taking the money eventually had to show their ideas made real business sense. Late in the era, it was only these companies that got a second wave of funding that allowed them to actually expand their operations into real empires. I'm thinking here of companies like eBay which essentially started with Kickstarter-level money and only after they had proven themselves over a couple of years were given a large infusion of venture capital.
Oculus VR should go a ways toward quieting those that complain that Kickstarter-funded initiatives are either fraud or fad.
So overall, call me cautiously optimistic. I'm concerned about the back-end use cases of the Oculus VR data, but there are way more potential positives out of this announcement than negatives. That also seems to be the feeling of most of Oculus VR's partners, including CCP. I think we can see there's good reason for them to be so, at least for the moment.