Yesterday, Facebook announced its plan to acquire start up Virtual-Reality hardware developer Oculus VR for $2 billion.
Last year, I wrote a short post for Dallas Observer’s Mixmaster about id software John Carmack joining Oculus VR in producing its flagship product, the Rift. I was fascinated by the dream of an immerse virtual reality environment the Rift promised, like the ones that are featured in 1990’s sci-fi films and books like Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
This comes among a year of privacy concerns about gathering data from users by governments and private companies such as Facebook and Google. The fear from consumers is that the Oculus Rift will be another means to gather information for targeted advertisements. The exaggerated fear is that advertisements will appear in the virtual environment.
Since Oculus VR started as a Kickstarter project, this large-scale acquisition by Facebook, and involvement by investors after the Kickstarter, raises doubts about the power of the crowdfund model that was all the rage a few years back. What does a raindrop of funding from fans mean when Facebook and Google can provide a rainstorm? Does Oculus, or any crowdfunded project, owe anything to early adopters once it grows past its fanbase and into the general consumer market?
I’m cautious about the direction of Oculus moving forward after this acquisition. I’m less concerned with Facebook changing the nature of the Oculus Rift –Facebook has been hands-off so far with its aquisitions Instagram and WhatsApp. As a reluctant user of Google and Facebook and Steam, among other digital services, I’m concerned with how the data I generate is being used and if my more sensitive data is secure. In light of YouTube monetizing game footage developed by fans, It stands to reason that Facebook may profit somehow from a the Oculus experience. How the profits affects the users and control over their information remains to be seen.