Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
I don’t have an opinion about Facebook acquiring Oculus for $2 billion, because I don’t know enough to be confident of how it’ll play out, and that’s usually when I stop having opinions about things. But I do have some thoughts about some of the arguments being used on either side.
There’s an argument that goes: if Facebook is willing to pay $2 billion for your thing, it must be worth more than that, so you shouldn’t have sold. I don’t know if Oculus was under or overvalued here, but that logic at least is faulty. It’s possible for a company to only be worth $2 billion to a company who has the other X billion it’ll take to make it profitable. Without the X billion, what they have might be less valuable. There are other ways to raise money, but it doesn’t follow that $2 billion is automatically too little.
There’s another argument that goes: mass-producing a piece of hardware like this is insanely expensive, so this or something like it was inevitable. That doesn’t follow either: if you invent a device, you don’t have to be the ones to manufacture it, nor do you have to be owned by the company that does.
This should be a reminder that backing a Kickstarter is not like being an investor. In both cases you might not get the rewards you’re promised, but with a Kickstarter the rewards are things like ‘an Oculus Rift’ and not ‘a controlling interest in Oculus Rift’. That means you have no control over what they do with the thing you funded them to make, and if the thing they do with it is sell it for $2 billion, you don’t get any of that.
Since the rewards are small and you might not get them, a Kickstarter campaign is more like a charity. Give to it if you trust the people and want to support the cause, and the rewards are a perk if they happen. You might have backed Oculus because you had faith in them to find the best way to achieve their stated goal of making good VR affordable. If you think this deal is their honest attempt to do that, then even if it’s a bad idea, it’s not a betrayal. If you think they’re doing it for personal profit, after your charity helped them get this far, that’s a betrayal.
If they promised to remain independent when you backed the project, that’s also a betrayal. I actually didn’t see that mentioned on their Kickstarter, but I don’t know if that was promised at some point before it ended.
Facebook is a very large public company that acquires things. Very large public companies ultimately act in the interests of the very large public company, or the whims of their shareholders. Sometimes, and perhaps right now, the interests of the very large public company are served by letting their acquisitions run themselves. That’s cool, as long as you’re not in an industry that changes a lot.
Valve VR guy Michael Abrash has joined Oculus. His post explains why the $2b is key: engineering, not manufacture.
“For example, there are half a dozen things that could be done to display panels that would make them better for VR, none of them pie in the sky. However, it’s expensive engineering. And, of course, there’s also a huge amount of research to do once we reach the limits of current technology, and that’s not only expensive, it also requires time and patience.”
What’s interesting about this is that Valve must be one of the few private companies with the resources to do it. They researched the tech and developed their own solution, which by most accounts was better than at least the first iteration of the Oculus Rift, but decided to share their research instead of developing a competing device.
I think their conclusion must have been that a) taking this on themselves would require too large a shift in what their company is currently set up to do, and b) someone else is probably going to do it anyway, and Valve will profit greatly from it when they do. As Abrash said in his talk (below), you get such great gains in the ‘presence’ effect of VR with beefier hardware that it will take off first, and progress faster, on PC.
So it might not be a case of “Abrash abandons Valve’s VR project for Oculus,” it might be “Valve decide not to do VR themselves, but Abrash still wants to work on it.”
Either way, when John Carmack and Michael Abrash bet their jobs that something’s a good idea, there’s at least hope that it might be. Here’s Abrash’s talk:
RetiredSphinx: That's a thing? Huh. Maybe we'll be able to walk around virtual worlds with all our friends, WALL-E style! Kidding, of course. I doubt it's the end of the world, no matter the case. I'll remain cautiously optimistic about the Rift as always.
Jesus H: You were nominated for a BAFTA alongside GTA5
incase you dont know
tetracycloide: While they have no control legally given just what had happened so far it's perfectly reasonable for a backer to be utterly outraged they and their money were used to build interest in a Facebook venture.
I Ain’t: Mad props to you for being an actually reasonable voice of reason, but there's one thing I'd like to add. The people who crowdfunded an Oculus Rift intended to get an Oculus Rift in exchange for the amount they've already paid, a monetary cost. Now there's a likelihood that using the Oculus Rift will also require an informational cost, in forming a Facebook account and/or letting them collect metrics on your VR habits. Informational costs are being hoisted on us alongside economic costs pretty much everywhere, but some of us still like to fight it. And even if we do accept informational costs, being charged an additional informational cost after the point of sale is offensive on the principle of the thing. (Personal pride is, apparently, a principle, judging from the common use of the expression "the principle of the thing.")
Jason L: Mm. 'When Carmack hires on with some VCs who then in turn sell him on and Abrash bets his job that something's a good idea', but sure.
Shaun: Jesus, I think Tom may have already been aware of that since he was actually at the BAFTAs.