Talking tech since 2003

Less than a week ago, Facebook stunned the tech world by spending $2 billion to acquire virtual reality start-up Oculus, and the company’s in-development headset, the Rift. The backlash among former Oculus fans was swift and immediate, pretty perfectly encapsulated by the just-as-sudden announcement of Marcus “Notch” Perrson’s cancelation of the also in-development Rift port of Minecraft. A few days ago, alpha-nerd and Doom creator John Carmack—the Chief Technology Officer of Oculus who left his longtime position at the studio he cofounded, id Software, to join the start-up last year—weighed in on how he feels about the fact that he’s now an employee of Facebook.

oculus1Carmack responded to a blog post written by Peter Berkman of the chiptune band Anamanaguchi all about his concerns with Facebook’s acquisition. To summarize, Berkman is wary of the potential for the company to mine for user data in a virtual reality environment, giving Facebook more access than usual to what a user is doing or looking at. But even more concerning to Berkman, it seems, was the idea that business in the tech world today means many “companies exist and operate only to get acquired.”

“Instead of Oculus being their own specialized operation that could create it’s [sic] own goals and emergent desires, we now have a massive cultural force whose energy is being funneled (along with many others) to a singular entity,” he writes.

Carmack, however, offered his own view on the role of Facebook in the acquisition, and the reasons behind Oculus’s decision to be acquired in the first place:

“I share some of your misgivings about companies “existing and operating only to be acquired”. I am a true believer in market economies, and the magic of trade being a positive sum game is most obvious with repeated transactions at a consumer level. Company acquisitions, while still (usually) being a trade between willing parties that in theory leaves both better off, have much more of an element of speculation rather than objective assessment of value, and it definitely feels different.

There is a case to be made for being like Valve, and trying to build a new VR ecosystem like Steam from the ground up. This is probably what most of the passionate fans wanted to see. The difference is that, for years, the industry thought Valve was nuts, and they had the field to themselves. Valve deserves all their success for having the vision and perseverance to see it through to the current state.

VR won’t be like that. The experience is too obviously powerful, and it makes converts on contact. The fairly rapid involvement of the Titans is inevitable, and the real questions were how deeply to partner, and with who.”

Carmack also shed some light on the process by which Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg came to buy the company—or at least, the process from Carmack’s perspective and experience:

“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting Facebook (or this soon). I have zero personal background with them, and I could think of other companies that would have more obvious synergies. However, I do have reasons to believe that they get the Big Picture as I see it, and will be a powerful force towards making it happen. You don’t make a commitment like they just did on a whim.

I wasn’t personally involved in any of the negotiations—I spent an afternoon talking technology with Mark Zuckerberg, and the next week I find out that he bought Oculus.”

Carmack is regarded as a pretty important pioneer in the word of technology, computers, and gaming. His words carry weight—dare I say far more weight than those of Notch, who, to date, has made one huge game, and not much else since then.

Carmack is certainly speaking from a biased position, now working for the company he’s discussing. That said, he also isn’t the kind of person who operates out of fear. The fact that he left id Software at all is proof enough of that. If for whatever reason he was suspicious of Oculus’s future now that it’s owned by Facebook, we’d probably know about it.

In the end, I still think that the acquisition will end up being far more of a positive than a negative—at least, where amazing virtual reality gaming is concerned. As to the rest—handing Facebook access to greater and deeper data mining while we ride around in virtual space fighters—well, that’s certainly a deeper question. But suffice it to say, anyone who gives you a VR headset and a fantasy reality to enjoy, be it Oculus, Facebook, or Sony, is probably going to collect your data to sell you better stuff. The real question is whether or not that idea is enough to keep you away.

[Source: Peter Berkman via Polygon]

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