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.
But I’m not experiencing these problems simply because my genetics are predisposed to making me blind. In fact, I’m convinced this VR tech is here to stay in projects like Morpheus and CastAR. What I dislike about the Oculus is the fact that the screens inside the thing are terrible. They’ve gotten better, but they’re still obviously computer-backed due to jaggies and problems with anti-aliasing.
It just comes down to the fact that the Rift was, until now, built on a budget. That budget was alleviated last year when the project took on investment, but it’s still not been long enough to fix the problems of the initial design.
Compare this to Sony’s Morpheus, which has beautifully clear screens, so much so that my graphics-quality and VR-obsessed friend (he had shutter goggles back in the 1990s!) almost jumped out of his chair during the tech demo at GDC. Morpheus is the horse to bet on. It’s the headset with the tech and experience behind it to become a truly immersive device.
The only problem is, it’s tied to the PlayStation 4. But don’t fret: Sony has finally given up on its curated game store model and has built a self-publishing system for developers. Now, you can add your games to the PlayStation 4 store just as you would add them to the Android Play Store. That’s a huge change, as it used to take weeks to get approval for sale on that store.
Don’t worry about the Oculus Rift. If it fails, there will be plenty of other devices to take its place. And when Carmack and Oculus chief scientist Michael Abrash finally leave, there will be some hot talent up for auction for the other VR companies.