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Facebook’s Virtual Reality Play: Oculus

Facebook buys Oculus VR for two billion dollars and makes a big bet on virtual reality.

In this Jan. 7, 2014 file photo, show attendees play a video game wearing Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets at the Intel booth at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Facebook purchased the startup company for an estimated $2 billion this March. (AP)

In this Jan. 7, 2014 file photo, show attendees play a video game wearing Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets at the Intel booth at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Facebook purchased the startup company for an estimated $2 billion this March. (AP)

Strap on the Oculus Rift and you’re in another world.  A big headset – goggles – covering your eyes.  A huge spread of virtual reality filling your field of vision.  Another world.  Less than two years ago, Oculus was a Kickstarter campaign and a dream.  This week, Facebook announced it will buy Oculus for $2 billion.  Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg says virtual reality is key to social media’s future.  Virtual presence.  Hanging out with people who aren’t actually with you.  You might think Facebook is a virtual reality already.  This hour On Point:   Facebook’s virtual reality play with Oculus.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Eric Limer, writer and editor for the technology blog, Gizmodo. (@ericlimer)

Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. Author of “Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution.” (@StanfordVR)

James McQuivey, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. (@jmcquivey)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Wall Street Journal: Facebook to Buy Virtual Reality Firm Oculus for $2 Billion — “Like Facebook’s $19 billion purchase last month of text-messaging service WhatsApp, the deal is part of the social-networking company’s vast ambition to connect people across all kinds of devices and modes of communication. The deal also highlights the intense competition among big technology companies for promising startups, even when those startups, like Oculus and WhatsApp, have little revenue.”

TechCrunch: A Brief History of Oculus — “To write the words ‘A Brief History Of Oculus’ is a bit funny — because really, the company’s very existence has been brief. From the launch of their Kickstarter campaign to their massive acquisition, just 601 days had passed. The company has definitely generated its fair share of buzz in its short lifespan — and yet, many, many people are hearing about the team for the very first time this week.”

Gizmodo: Facebook Is Buying Oculus VR, The Incredible Future of Virtual Reality –”Facebook’s plans for the totally rad VR headset aren’t immediately apparent, and the social media giant’s announcement of the acquisition does little to clear it up, citing the possibility of using the totally righteous future headset for things like communication and education along with more obvious things like entertainment. ”

King Digital Entertainment And One-Hit Wonders

James Surowiecki, staff writer for the New Yorker, where he writes the Financial Page.

The New Yorker: One Hit Wonders – “Development costs in the game-app world are very low. Angry Birds was made for just a hundred and forty thousand dollars, and Candy Crush was created by a team of fewer than ten people. Established companies have some advantage when it comes to marketing power, but hits can come from anywhere. Flappy Bird, a game that was recently downloaded fifty million times in a couple of weeks, was created in a matter of days by a single designer. “

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  • AliceOtter33

    How about second-person film & tv series? Cosplay on steroids:)

  • Maya

    Hi Tom, This sounds amazingly fun! Its like seeing your imagination before your eyes! How much more education could we have by making things so imaginative and fun! I want to try it. I don’t care about the video games, I am more interested in the educational aspect, just think of an astronomy class and exploring a supernova, or Magic School bus style entering into the body in an anatomy class. I love it!

  • rievler

    Call me a curmudgeon, but VR scares the hell out of me whether Zuckerberg or some other billionaire oligarch owns it. We citizens need to spend our time and effort improving real society, not living in a virtual one.

    • colbertfan

      Well, we get to decide how and where we spend our time. For some, reality bites.

      • rievler

        I think the choice will be a superficial one.
        Reality will bite even more when VR is sucking people in. I see more Wall-E, than bright shining future. As citizens become more marginalized consumers, the real world will be ever more controlled by oligarchy.

        • colbertfan

          Real life is superficial. Walk through the world not looking like Ryan Gosling or JLaw and you are painfully aware of that. The oligarchs already control everything. I agree in that as horrible as real life is, I’m in. I’m one of those parents who made the kids go out and play. But if there were a choice, for an adult (and many of us have minimal face to face contact with anyone outside of work), things could not be worse.

          • rievler

            RL is only superficial if you let it become so. I don’t know who Ryan Gosling is-better for me I guess. No, the oligarchs don’t control everything, yet. But if citizens continue to lap up the Bread and Circuses, they will be. And things can always get worse, the more important question is how can we make them better?
            VR seems like shadows on the cave wall to me. Turn around and see who is shining the light and who acts out the play. There are the real power brokers.

            BTW-thanks for a thoughtful exchange. So rare here for the trolls not to distract.

          • Alchemical Reaction

            How can you be sure RL isn’t virtual?

  • Scott B

    The gamer that called, worried about facebook locking it up. Microsoft tried locking up the Kinnect, after people hacked it, with cease and desist orders and lawsuits, but the hackers won as MS saw that people were applying the Kinnect technology to things, and in ways, they never imagined; sometimes with abilities MS didn’t even realize the Kinnect could even do.

    I’m more disturbed that this was a Kickstarter project and sold out to FB, and with no apparent regard to their online backers.

  • pete

    My concern is as a Facebook investor. What makes OR a billion $ investment? Seems to me that the fundamental technologies of small hi-res monitor screens, and 3D viewing technology are well understood and widely available. What is the moat that prevents Samsung from coming out with their own version of these things for 1/2 the price? Are there patents? What do they cover that will keep out competition?

    • tbphkm33

      Next time I’m at my cabin, I’m going to check in the outhouse – there should still be some MySpace stock certificates out there, unless they have already been used to wipe with. You might want to frame those next to your FaceBook stock.

  • Scott B

    I worry about the tracking. If you have Ghostery or Disconnect on your broswer, head for Facebook and you’ll see a list of trackers as long as your arm; all getting your info, all selling it to someone else, and that’s without the NSA nosing around.

  • Scott B

    What happens when you get the Star Trek: TNG plot, where someone figures out what will get a hold of our brains’s attention and keep it?

    • dust truck

      Wesley Crusher will save the day! FTW!

      • Scott B

        I’m hoping for Katherine Heigl, myself. ;)

  • ian berry

    After Zynga spent 180 million for the company OMGPOP and their sole hit “Draw Something” no one else is going to make the same mistake buying or investing in an App company. Those days are over.

  • colbertfan

    Sad. Oculus sounds cool, but FB is not. Zuckerberg is a loathsome child who disrespects users by limiting our view of what we want to see–postings by friends and pages we CHOOSE TO FOLLOW and forcing us to see more and more ads and sponsored posts from vile corporations and mom and pops ponying up cash to make Zuck more billions. FB will ruin the Oculus experience by using it to sell us corporate crap. Boo. Hiss.

    • Alchemical Reaction

      I don’t think Zuckerberg is useless. But I agree that Facebook is mostly a fecal stain.

  • Tod Larke

    We seem to be so disconnected from our “real” reality, already, Now, another media to intrude- I could see a nation of haves, and have nots, those who can afford to zone out for hours every day, and those who have to keep the whole sorry mess running… on the other hand, there are a lot of jobs that are done every day by people trapped at workstations in cubicle farms that could just as easily be performed at their home, and VR would still give the overseers the sense of power they require.Save lots of gas. Put fast food out of business.

    • The poster formerly known as t

      or in a third world country. The only reasona those jobs still demand a on-site presence is because of two reasons.
      1. The managerial class believe in synergy. The service economy functions on proximity. If we made it more practical for people to make their own coffee and cook their own meals, it would cause a lot of unemployment. It’s not just the fast-food workers that would be put out of work, but the corporate staff that would be put out of work. I have the impression that a good portion of cubicle jobs are make-work jobs , like the fast food jobs, to keep certain people employed, because they have no social utility.

      2. Employees have insisted on the physical workplace as a place for them to meet new people and the managerial class seems to embraced because they think the increased productivity from synergy makes it all worth the.physical costs of maintaining a physical office location for 100s to 1000s of people. When people start seeing co-workers as family members or requiring deep emotional intimacy from co-workers, I think that social and community life outside the workplace has decayed. I wish I could say that this because of 80 hour work weeks but I see this tendency at standard 40 hour jobs.

      • Tod Larke

        “I have the impression that a good portion of cubicle jobs are make-work
        jobs , like the fast food jobs, to keep certain people employed,
        because they have no social utility.” I am concerned that you have a rather egalitarian view of the world, if you can decide that any group of people have,”no social utility”. Most cubicle jobs are probably viewed as “waste” jobs, as they contribute little or nothing to the bottom line, but the Law, or economics, mandate that certain procedures and purchases be tracked, certain emissions be monitored, certain reports get filed, and certain taxes get paid.

        • The poster formerly known as t

          “The Law, or economics, mandate that certain procedures and purchases be tracked, certain emissions be monitored, certain reports get filed, and certain taxes get paid.” Those things are only done some of the time and those weren’t the jobs I was referring to. I was referring to the glut of low paying retail jobs that we have and the white collar office jobs that those retail jobs help create. My post was anything but egalitarian since I was implying some work has no widespread social utility.. Please read my comments more carefully before responding.

          • Tod Larke

            You’re right. I just don’t understand your concept of “widespread social utility”. I just check circuitboards for a living. After all, there’s not a lot of “Social Utility” to checking circuit boards, other than keeping the Combines running, so the masses can eat. Furthermore, if these low paying retail jobs didn’t exist, what exactly would these workers be doing for a living? I suppose we’d just be “those who have to keep the whole sorry mess running.”

          • The poster formerly known as t

            Retail jobs were not meant to be living wage jobs, aside from the managerial jobs–and encouraging mindless consumption of industrial products that cause health problems is not good for widespread society. I understand that you may not care about wider society or you’re especially fond of the status quo, but don’t pretend you don’t understand the concept of social utility.

          • Tod Larke

            you’re way off topic, sir. I’m done

          • Alchemical Reaction

            LOL

          • The poster formerly known as t

            “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

  • dust truck

    Adam Lanza didn’t need it; his mother took him to the shooting range.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    I’m not afraid of VR: many, many people live in a self-generated reality of their own making anyway.

    • Alchemical Reaction

      Redundant much? Are there any other self-generated realities besides those of one’s own making?

  • tbphkm33

    I can’t see virtual reality being much more than a niche market, much like gaming is today. Look at how a non-direct competitor, the iPad, upset the gaming console market.

    From a business perspective, this investment by FaceBook, much like WhatsApp, does more to underline the FaceBook’s management team failures to develop a robust long term business plan. FaceBook remains a flash in the pan, with declining membership as people tire of the social media hype. These fads come and go, each one hyped up to rewrite the world, whereas the reality is that a few years later, no one remembers them.

  • SlackerInc

    Does anyone else think there’s something not quite right with the idea of making a class appear to be full of black females to make a black girl more comfortable? I would be okay with everyone looking grey and neutral; but this seems dishonest and even Orwellian.

    • The poster formerly known as t

      The thinking is that people associate and socialize most frequently with people who are similar to themselves in real life and it might be be monetarily beneficial to exploit this tendency. Sure , this will accelerate the social fragmentation we already see but who cares about the larger society, anyway? Most people only care about people who are LIKE themselves.

  • The poster formerly known as t

    “Choosing personal reality over real reality is not good.” This already happens very extensively in irl. Most people don’t thrive by dealing with people who are very different from themselves or what they are comfortable with.

  • Alchemical Reaction

    The most advanced form of slavery. A global economy with taxes and a centrally controlled bank. Siphon money and workers to build secret projects, while convincing them limited discretionary spending is the same thing as freedom. Then give them a virtual world to be the king or queen of. Brilliant, but flawed design.

  • ExcellentNews

    The neurologist who called at 33 min into the show had it absolutely right – if VR takes off, it will be like unlimited heroin in solitary confinement. Going out a little bit further along the “long view”, evolution will prune out those who are susceptible to VR…

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