The quickly rising startup caught the eye of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who came to believe that VR and AR would be the next major shift in computing, and an avenue to get out from under the thumb of tech giants like Apple and Google. In 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus for a whopping $2 billion.
At the time, Facebook was the last company anyone would have expected to buy Oculus. Our headline here on Road to VR at the time encapsulates that surprise: “Not an Early April Fools Prank: Facebook Acquires Oculus VR Inc for $2 Billion.”
Even ardent supporters of the company were immediately skeptical that Facebook’s business model could rot the foundation of Oculus’ VR ambitions with invasive user-tracking and ad serving.
To assuage such fears, Facebook, on behalf of Oculus’ founder, Palmer Luckey, promised in no uncertain terms that users would never be required to log-in with Facebook to Oculus headsets, nor would developers need to do so to develop content for those headsets. It was the day of the announcement of Oculus’ acquisition that Luckey took to the Oculus community on to offer explanations to angry supporters. “I guarantee that you won’t need to log into your Facebook account every time you wanna use the Oculus Rift,” he said in response to a or asking if he could at least promise that much.
Google Cardboard Was a Side Project. The Google Cardboard platform was developed by David Coz and Damien Henry. The two engineers developed the project as part of Google’s”innovation time off” program in which engineers are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their time working on projects that interest them. Thankfully, Google backed the project, and Google Cardboard is now one of the cornerstones of scalable virtual reality.
Yesterday the company demolished that promise when it announced that it would begin requiring all new users of Oculus headsets to log-in with a Facebook account starting in October, and that existing users would also be required to log-in by the end of 2022 if they wanted to retain full use of their headsets.
Although Luckey—which was later pushed out of Facebook because of his personal political views—was the one that made the promise, he wasn’t acting on his own. Luckey had long been a visible spokesperson for the company; the promise wasn’t his, it was that of Oculus and Facebook.
The Facebook-owned company says it will start removing support for separate Oculus accounts in October, although users can maintain an existing account until January 1st, 2023.Developers can keep using an unlinked developer account without social functionality, and the Oculus for Business platform uses a separate login process that will remain unchanged.
Following Facebook’s announcement this week, Luckey confirmed as much, saying that his guarantee had been “approved” by Facebook.
“I want to make clear that those promises were approved by Facebook in that moment and on an ongoing basis, and I really believed it would continue to be the case for a variety of reasons.”
Although Luckey believed at the time that Facebook would allow Oculus to operate largely independently, it wasn’t long after Luckey was pushed out of Facebook in 2017 that other core Oculus founders began to leave. By then Oculus had already begun to erode Oculus’ autonomy, but by the time the final founder left in 2019, Oculus was being run by Facebook appointed executives and had effectively become just another team within the larger company.
It Makes Flying Possible. One of the most popular uses of virtual reality is with flying simulators. In addition to the headset, these simulators usually require an addition piece of some kind. Some of these virtual reality flying simulators require a special chair with a joystick attached to it. There are also gliding simulators that have their own props as well. Users who try virtual reality flying simulators say that the experience feels so real, and the extra pieces make it better.
And if there was any question if that was the case, this week’s news—that the company would simply disregard promises it had made about requiring a Facebook log-in to use Oculus products—is surely the period on the last page of the Oculus acquisition story.
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It certainly makes us wonder… what good is any promise now from Facebook about where it will draw the line between what it thinks is right for Facebook users and what’s right for Oculus users?
Back at the start of the acquisition story, Luckey—and by extension, Oculus and Facebook—had made another promise too. “We are not going to track you, flash ads at you, or do anything invasive.”
But by now Facebook has already confirmed that it tracks the activity of Oculus users to inform advertising shown to those users outside of the headset.
Will Oculus headsets “flash ads at you” in the future? This week Facebook answered that question in an unabashedly non-committal way (perhaps because it has realized that people actually expect it to keep promises that it makes): “We do not currently display ads in Oculus devices.”