Oculus sale meets mixed reactions from developers
Notch bows out, CCP remains on board, Carmack keeps coding
An acquisition by Facebook is always going to make you unpopular in some circles, but if your company has close ties with developers, you might feel the backlash more keenly than most.
And so it is for Oculus, which has lost prominent developer support in the form of Mojang after last night's news. Mojang had been considering a "slimmed down" version of Minecraft for the VR device, but soon after the deal went public, Notch tweeted that he would no longer be working on the platform, stating that "Facebook creeps me out."
We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus. I just cancelled that deal. Facebook creeps me out.— Markus Persson (@notch) March 25, 2014
Notch had been an early and prominent investor in the Rift project, dropping $10,000 of his own money into the Kickstarter fund which catapulted Oculus into the public eye. In a more detailed explanation of the decision to step away from the platform on his blog, Notch expressed his admiration for the company and its technology, but disappointment that his investment had been used to "build value for a Facebook acquisition."
"Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts," the developer wrote. "Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers. People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build.
"Don't get me wrong, VR is not bad for social. In fact, I think social could become one of the biggest applications of VR. Being able to sit in a virtual living room and see your friend's avatar? Business meetings? Virtual cinemas where you feel like you're actually watching the movie with your friend who is seven time zones away?
"But I don't want to work with social, I want to work with games.
"Fortunately, the rise of Oculus coincided with competitors emerging. None of them are perfect, but competition is a very good thing. If this means there will be more competition, and VR keeps getting better, I am going to be a very happy boy. I definitely want to be a part of VR, but I will not work with Facebook. Their motives are too unclear and shifting, and they haven't historically been a stable platform. There's nothing about their history that makes me trust them, and that makes them seem creepy to me.
"And I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition.
"I have the greatest respect for the talented engineers and developers at Oculus. It's been a long time since I met a more dedicated and talented group of people. I understand this is purely a business deal, and I'd like to congratulate both Facebook and the Oculus owners. But this is where we part ways."
Whether or not other developers are put off by the involvement of Facebook, this marks a massive step out of the company's comfort zone in terms of hosting gaming content - Farmville this ain't. That said, gaming is also almost certainly not Facebook's key motivation here anyway, so I doubt that Zuckerberg is going to be posting many begging letters to Sweden today.
Notch's rejection is unlikely to sting quite as much when you've got $2 billion burning a hole in your back pocket, but it's nonetheless reflective of the thoughts of a number of early backers of the Rift, who felt that their investment was emotional as well as fiscal. A significant portion of the public's reaction has been dismay married to shock, alongside a burgeoning resentment. Many doubt the ethical standpoint of the social network and concerns, albeit premature and currently unfounded, are being voiced about incursions into privacy and the harvesting of data and content transmitted through the device. That many of these fears have been expressed through the medium of Facebook itself is an irony which does not go unnoticed, although the device's Facebook page is itself awash with negative feedback.
The disappointment is far from universal, however. Facebook's commitment to honouring Oculus' current gaming commitments and the pursuit of further gaming applications has to be taken at face value, and there are likely to be plenty of developers who are happy to stay on board with a globally recognised multinational. One of those developers, and the deal's highest-profile industry supporter at the moment, is CCP.
CCP's Eve Valkyrie has been the title which has been trotted out whenever someone with VR tech has really wanted to wow a player. It was undoubtedly the star of the short line-up of demos on display for Sony's Project Morpheus at GDC last week and has been developed from the ground up as a VR experience, planned as a day one PC title for the consumer launch of Oculus Rift. David Reid, CCP's chief marketing officer has issued a statement of support.
"We're very excited for our friends and colleagues at Oculus," Reid told Engadget. "We share their vision about the future of VR and gaming and are looking forward to participating in the consumer launch of the Oculus Rift with EVE: Valkyrie."
John Carmack is another figure which people have been gauging to test the waters on the deal, but he's remained in full diplomacy mode, indicating that his work is unaffected and that he sees the deal as solving some major issues going forward.
For the record, I am coding right now, just like I was last week.I expect the FB deal will avoid several embarrassing scaling crisis for VR.— John Carmack (@ID_AA_Carmack) March 26, 2014
As a technologist first and a game developer second, Carmack might be expected to welcome a sudden growth in R&D budget - he's almost certain to be involved with the top level decision making on how Facebook will be putting its newest acquisition to work.
nDreams is another studio with a heavy VR investment. CEO Patrick O'Luanaigh told GamesIndustry International that his outfit has a specially dedicated internal VR team and is working on multiple VR projects, for both Oculus and Sony's Project Morpheus. He was surprised by the deal, but sees a positive future for both parties.
"I must admit to be pretty shocked about the news today," O'Luanaigh wrote. "I'm not surprised that Oculus sold, as launching a new piece of hardware globally is a big ask, and having a large partner makes this much easier for them. But I am surprised that Facebook are getting into the hardware business.
"Tech-geeks are up in arms, but I strongly suspect that the mass-market don't feel the same way about Facebook.
"Palmer Lucky's Reddit post is interesting - for him, it's about 'bigger, better and quicker'. I just hope that Facebook focus on giving Oculus the money to do it right, make it easy to share experiences and games with friends, but leave it at that. I've been fortunate enough to visit Oculus's HQ in Irvine, and they're an incredibly talented and fast-moving company. If Facebook are smart enough not to change anything else, this could be a great deal for both parties. Put it this way - Oculus's launch budget just went up tenfold..."