“Remember,” as I was heard to say on Twitter earlier today, “that time when eBay bought Skype for reasons?” That’s my initial reaction to the news that Facebook has purchased Oculus Rift. For reasons. Some vague ideas about the future of social and presence and other sci-fi-ish ideas that few can readily express. You know: the future or something. Mark Zuckerberg wrote Palmer Luckey a big check for reasons. Palmer Luckey then went on Reddit to explain why this was a good thing and got roundly yelled at. And he still is.
Because it makes absolutely zero sense. I mean I know the technology press loves to enthuse, and my good friends over at TechCrunch are doing that in force. But it still makes absolutely zero sense. Like eBay buying Skype on some half baked notion that people might use the conferencing service to pay for stuff, it’s just a wonky fit.
One possible angle is that the move to purchase Oculus is defensive. To keep Amazon or Google or Microsoft or someone away. To estabish a wedge. But that begs the question: A wedge in what? Purchasing Instagram and WhatsApp made sense because they were essentially large-scale purchases of users. Those services were very much in Facebook’s wheelhouse. But purchasing Oculus Rift? A technologist’s technology that still has major questions hanging over it and its use case? It makes about as much sense as Google announcing it was making robot cars. A bit of fun perhaps, but come on. It’s not a serious thing.
And then there’s the untold damage to Oculus itself. There’s a a thing that’s emerged about Kickstarter-funded technologies. Their initial supporters feel very much a part of the adventure. They become the biggest evangelists and supporters, the ones who cheer through thick and thin. Marketing stories. Unless they sense that you’ve sold out. Then the opposite happens, and in every sentence about the project you hear the word “disappointing”. It’s very hard to come back from that.
Indeed I’m currently of the mindset that Oculus is now, to all intents and purposes, dead. A while ago I wrote that there are some big questions facing VR because it’s reliant on PC, and the PC may be going away. I found it hard to see a market beyond the enthusiast set for what amounted to a very fancy sounding peripheral. Nonetheless I could see it doing something. Now, not so much. Now it’s a technology without a tribe, just another back-pocket project in Zuckerberg’s long list of things-that-are-supposed-to-reinvigorate-Facebook.
Perhaps Oculus did need a partner, but if so it clearly should have been Valve. Indeed I’m somewhat shocked that it isn’t. Valve and Oculus together would make amazing sense because they naturally complement each other. As a second place choice maybe Microsoft would have been good. But Facebook? With its terrible reputation in games and its increasing tendency toward short termism and such? Luckey could not have made a worse choice.
Oddly enough the main beneficiary from all this will be Sony and its recently announced Morpheus. I doubt the folks at Sony would have seen that coming two weeks ago, but there it is.