Facebook has reached a "definitive agreement" to buy Oculus VR for around $2 billion. Oculus is the clear leader in virtual reality headsets—only recently challenged by Sony's Project Morpheus—and though it hasn't yet released a consumer product, the company announced last week that the second version of its Oculus Rift Development Kit will ship this summer.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook (naturally) to explain the purchase. He makes a point to stress that immersive gaming will still be the first experience on the Oculus Rift headset:
"Oculus already has big plans [in gaming] that won't be changing and we hope to accelerate. The Rift is highly anticipated by the gaming community, and there's a lot of interest from developers in building for this platform. We're going to focus on helping Oculus build out their product and develop partnerships to support more games. Oculus will continue operating independently within Facebook to achieve this."
Once it's a gaming platform, Zuckerberg plans "to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences." That might include "enjoying a court side seat at a game" or "consulting with a doctor face-to-face," he writes, all "just by putting on goggles in your home."
Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey and others working in virtual reality have expressed similar visions. "When VR is going to be exciting is when it gets as good as real life at everything," said Luckey during an interview with PC Gamer at CES 2014. "And you start to say, well, why would I travel on a business meeting across the world just to go sit face-to-face with people, if we can just plug in Rifts and get all of the same nuance of communication we could have gotten otherwise."
Reaction to the purchase on social media has been mixed. Reddit commenters sounded their frustration and distrust in a thread Luckey himself posted after the deal was announced. "I am legitimately disappointed by this news," user Soranma wrote in a particularly calm response, citing Facebook's bevvy of privacy issues and concerns for Oculus' direction getting dominated by Facebook desires. Other Reddit users were decidedly less polite about their concerns.
The concern doesn't just come from users. Shortly after the announcement, Mojang's Markus "Notch" Persson tweeted that he had canceled a planned Minecraft Oculus deal , stating, "Facebook creeps me out." Even our own reactions to Facebook buying Oculus are mixed at best.
It's been fewer than two years since the Oculus Rift was first shown off at E3 and funded on Kickstarter. It's come a long way since then, and we really like the thing so far—enough to predict that it won't go the way of the Virtual Boy. But is virtual reality the future of gaming and social media? $2 billion says it is, and whether or not it comes to pass, that's a hell of a bet.