You’re careering through the city at breakneck speed, whilst the concrete jungle scattering your periphery blurs past.
You look to your left to glance at the wing mirror and see the car that’s chasing you is catching up quickly. Too quickly. You need to lose the heat, so you brake sharply and take the sharp right out of the city. The sun burns through the clear sky and hits your eyes. You instinctively drop the visor.
The second it takes you to do that leaves you distracted you from the road. Your brand new Porsche smashes into a wall. The city disappears and you’re presented with a new screen. “Oh no, you crashed! Race again for 50 pence or buy FIVE lives for only £2! Brought to you by Kwik Fit”.
OK, so maybe this isn’t what Facebook’s buyout of Oculus entails. But it is the kind of experience dreaded by fans of virtual reality (VR) gaming. Fans like the many Oculus supporters who supported the rise of the idea. Some contributed their own savings, others played their part by creating new experiences, whilst countless many more simply talked about it and spread the word.
A real community had grown purely from this idea. And it wanted to see Palmer Luckey and his crew succeed. The story of a large group of people helping only a few to change history.
Now, the same supporters are disillusioned and possibly even heartbroken. If you had any idea about Oculus before reading this article, you’d probably think the same.
But why? What makes us react so negatively to this? Is there not any good that Facebook could do?
Let’s think about the situation broadly and how Facebook fits into today’s technology world. Facebook is the most successful business of its kind (it is the social network). This is not only in terms of financial ability but also its massive membership base. That’s Facebook the “website”.
Facebook the “company” is more than just what you see on your news feed. It is primarily about the connections between people. Regardless of how you view Facebook and the approach Zuckerberg has taken with it, Facebook has learned and knows a huge amount about the way we work, what we like doing and how we communicate. Facebook understands people.
You might snort at that, and I appreciate the sentiment, but let some figures sink in. There are nearly one billion people using Facebook and about 10% can be accounted for as multiple accounts or fake.* That’s nearly 15% of the world’s population interacting with one another one a single platform. It’s a significant figure, notwithstanding the fact that many people don’t have access to the Internet. Even still, it’s the sheer number of interactions happening daily, albeit virtual, that all come back to the one source: Facebook.
That is the most important thing to focus on here. Virtual reality, or even VR games, will not take off just because everyone can play an Elder Scrolls game or the next big shooter with magical goggles. It doesn’t matter how amazingly realistic it looks. VR will tank just like it has before. Just as 3D did, even if the Oculus experience is a thousand times greater. So what virtual reality was missing wasn’t just better technology.
It was missing a way to bring together truly unique experiences. Like the past few years have shown us, we need to be constantly connected to others around us. And Facebook could deliver that, in the same way that Xbox Live raised the profile of online gaming (a form of social interaction in itself).
Granted, Facebook is due some of the hate it gets for its practices and vagrant pokes into our privacy. But put the pitch forks down for a moment.
Oculus and the industry that it’s single-handedly reinvigorated may have been perfectly fine without Facebook coming to the fore. And we may have been just as happy happy with the end product.
But to achieve the unthinkable, you have to be open to what seems unacceptable.
The success of virtual reality won’t just be about technical advances in resolution, depth, field of vision and so on. For it to truly become its own medium, we should realise that there has to be something to connect all those incredible experiences in a way that’s unimaginable.
So, whilst Facebook may not be the best place to connect with the future, it’s a risk I think is worth taking.
*Source: USA Today