Is virtual reality the future of gaming? Oculus VR, creator of the much-hyped Oculus Rift headset, certainly thinks so, and their wildly successful crowdfunding campaign indicates that many gamers agree. The technology's been praised by developers like Doom guru John Carmack (who joined the company), and Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson who pledged $10,000 to the Oculus Rift's initial Kickstarter campaign. Almost everyone who's tried the Rift at a convention or trade show raves about the experience, and highly anticipated new games announce Oculus support practically every day. We have a few dev kits here after falling in love with it after trying it at E3.
Facebook thinks Oculus is on the right track, too; last spring, they bought the company for $2 billion. That didn't go over quite as well with the public. Some Kickstarter backers felt betrayed, and many - including Notch again - publically denounced the sale, citing privacy concerns stemming from Facebook's "creepy" user data-focused business practices.
On the other hand, Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe thinks that Facebook is the perfect home for the Rift; in fact, he can't imagine working with anyone else. In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Iribe says that Oculus never considered deals with Microsoft or Sony, because they already have game consoles; according to Iribe, the Oculus Rift "really needs to be a new platform."
It's not just existing consoles, however. At a company like Google, which has many projects, the Oculus Rift might get lost in the shuffle. Facebook, however, is primarily dedicated to bringing new technology - including virtual reality - to the widest possible audience. As Oculus founder Palmer Luckey said:
As Facebook has grown, they've continued to invest in efforts like with the Open Compute Project, their initiative that aims to drive innovation and reduce the cost of computing infrastructure across the industry. This is a team that's used to making bold bets on the future.
Oculus' refusal to partner with traditional console manufacturers hasn't deterred Microsoft or Sony; both companies have pushed ahead with their own virtual reality projects. Sony's Project Morpheus headset will be playable by the public for the first time at this weekend's Las Vegas-based PlayStation Experience. Earlier this year, Microsoft signed a $150 million deal with the Osterhout Design Group, a wearable tech developer, fueling speculation that they're working on a VR headset of their own.
Of course, the two console manufacturer's previous attempts at augmented reality interfaces, the PlayStation Move and the Xbox Kinect, didn't exactly set the world on fire, leading many analysts to question whether virtual reality is anything more than a niche market. Analyst Michael Patcher came out against Project Morpheus, while Xbox co-founder Ed Fries expressed similar concerns regarding VR headsets.
But $2 billion is hard to ignore, especially when it comes from a successful company like Facebook. It seems inevitable that Microsoft and Sony would want a piece of that action; how big that piece ends up being remains to be seen.