In case you haven’t noticed, developers and backers of the Kickstarter-funded Oculus Rift are furious over the company’s sale to Facebook. I’m convinced a good portion of this vitriol is specifically coming from the Internet’s tendency to hate change, particularly in things that were, at least in theory, created by the Internet.
But it is the upset developers that I am striving to understand. Don’t get me wrong: I completely get why people like Notch have canceled their plans to build games around the Oculus Rift. But what I’m trying to comprehend is exactly what could go wrong here that folks are predicting.
(Related: Did Facebook make a mistake with Oculus?)
John Carmack asked specifically what people were worried about via his Twitter feed. My first take on why people are worried is purely related to him: After an acquisition of any kind, talent flees like rats off a sinking ship.
Carmack himself left id Software almost immediately after it was purchased by Zenimax. That’s a big worry, and no amount of “Don’t fret, I’m staying put” can alleviate those fears. Every famous developer says as much when their company is acquired, then runs off into the sunset before even a single year has passed: Rod Johnson at SpringSource. Marten Mickos at MySQL. Mike Olson at Sleepycat.
It’s just the way the industry works: If you built a company and made your own rules for a number of years, it’s tough to suddenly be reporting to someone who’s in charge of what you’re doing. My father taught me the only way to be free is to work for yourself. I’m not exactly living up to that message, but it’s completely true, and once you first go independent, it’s tough to come back.
Of course there are other potential pitfalls of the Oculus buy. Facebook could plaster ads all over everything. Oculus games could be doomed to in-game transactions, like Farmville. Or, worst of all, Facebook could be planning to build some sort of Second Life/Facebook mash up. If so, expect Facebook to buy Linden Lab for a song, then find just as much success as Linden has had with the project; which is to say, absolutely none.
I, however, am not worried about Oculus Rift. Frankly, I’ve been a bit disappointed with it from the start. I cannot wear the thing because it’s not compatible with glasses. Or at least, it’s not compatible with 90% of glasses. It comes with some prescription lenses, but they’re nothing like my own. When I use Oculus, it’s a muddy, blurry experience that still manages to make me motion sick.