Why Facebook Buying Oculus Is Good News for Gamers

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

The company might have started small, but Oculus, the maker of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, is a startup that thinks big. So when Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) came to it to discuss acquiring the company, it had a choice to make. Should it stick to the path it was on, which meant using their VR headset mostly for gaming, or could the device have more widespread applications? As Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe put it at the TechCrunch Disrupt NY conference recently, the question came down to this: “Do we want to be Game Boy, or iPhone, or Android?”

“I think Game Boy is an awesome platform,” Iribe said. “But I think you’ll see handheld gaming largely disrupted by the mobile market … And for VR where we want to go, connecting a billion people, do you want to be building a platform that has a billion people on it, or 10, or 20, or 50 million people?”

When you look at it like that, it’s no surprise that Oculus sold to Facebook. Despite the loud outcry over the deal from some segments of the gaming community, Iribe considers the acquisition good for gamers. “For game developers, they’re going to a have a lot more success shipping their content into … a platform that has a billion users,” he said, as opposed to the 25 or 100 million units that most successful game consoles sell in their lifetime.

Iribe told TechCrunch that, “The acquisition actually convinced big developers that Oculus was a stable platform they could confidently build for.” He doesn’t mention which companies, exactly, have signed up to make games compatible with Oculus since the acquisition was announced, so we’ll have to wait and see.

But it makes sense. The worst thing that can happen to a new piece of gaming hardware is that it fails to get off the ground. Oculus had lots of initial help from its successful Kickstarter campaign, which brought in nearly $2.5 million. But even that figure pales in comparison to the $2 billion Facebook spent to acquire the company. For large game makers to invest time, money, and talent making a game for a fledgling system, it doesn’t hurt to have some assurance that the investment will pay off. Facebook’s money and reach could easily help the hardware get into more hands, which could make for a lot more potential gamers.

It all comes back to Iribe’s comparison between the Game Boy and smartphones. It’s really a question of what Oculus wants its headset to be. If it kept it as a gaming device like the Game Boy, it would mainly allow users to play games. But if it made it a more open platform like a smartphone, that opens it up to many other applications as well. With the help of Facebook’s deep pockets, Oculus can become whatever its owners want. Surely gaming will still be one of the company’s goals, but now it will be able to achieve more.

That’s the dream, anyway. Just because Facebook is involved now doesn’t make the Oculus an automatic slam dunk. Many are the companies that have been bought out and left to languish until it disappeared. But $2 billion is a lot to spend on a product if you’re not going to do anything with it.

One thing’s for sure. Now that Facebook has acquired Oculus, it’s a lot more likely that virtual reality headsets will become a common piece of hardware for the masses, and not just for gamers.

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