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John Carmack: Oculus Facebook acquisition "the correct thing"

John Carmack says "all in all" the Facebook Oculus acquisition was "the correct thing for the company"

The Facebook Oculus partnership has some supporters, and one of them is former Facebook consulting CTO John Carmack.

The Oculus Facebook acquisition has divided the Oculus fanbase down the middle. Some fans see it as a betrayal, while others see it as virtual reality's path into the mainstream.

The Facebook Oculus partnership has some steadfast supporters, and one of them is former Facebook consulting CTO John Carmack.The Facebook Oculus acquisition split the fanbase down the middle. (Credit: Amy Osborne, AFP/Getty Images)

After it acquired one of the most beloved virtual reality (VR) firms of all time, Facebook surprised pretty much everyone by making unpopular decision after unpopular decision.

Sam Rutherford of Gizmodo declared late last year that "the biggest fears about Facebook's acquisition of Oculus are coming true." The responses in VR Final comment sections and responses probably indicate that Rutherford's is a popular sentiment.Yet, we'd be remiss to pretend that everyone thinks Oculus-Facebook has been a total disaster. One general supporter of the decision, even if it has been tinged with a critical realism, is former Oculus CTO John Carmack. Maybe if we take everything into consideration we might admit he has a point.

Its not just about the fun and games. Other than providing action-packed, fun-filled entertainment for the entire family, VR plays a big role to help humanity as developers use it to help those in need in ways that were unimaginable 20 years ago. Some use it to cure phantom pain among amputee victims, while others rely on VR to provide therapy for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. VR has also been proven to help children with autism by teaching them social cues and real world lessons. It is being used as a practice board for surgical students before they make the first cut. There is even a VR content targeted at young adults that simulates their physical condition when they get to their 60s, and thus encourages them to save for the future.

Last month, Carmack explained that the "FB login [requirement] isn't going away." At the time, it didn't much sway my view that the mandatory Facebook account was little more than Facebook consolidating its data monopoly. But Carmack threw a bit of nuance into the discussion, explaining that Facebook was actually series about protecting its users data.Now, in a blog comment posted on Hacker News, Carmack has given us a bit of a peak behind the curtain of the Facebook Oculus acquisition. In response to a post about the tech culture inside Google and at large, Carmack takes the opportunity to reflect on his time as chief technology officer at Oculus from 2013 to 2019. In the process, he indicates that Facebook's acquisition may have helped more than hindered the company's internal dynamics:
Perhaps unusually, I actually wanted FB to impress itself more strongly on Oculus post acquisition because, frankly, Oculus was a bit of a mess. Instead, Oculus was given an enormous amount of freedom for many years.

"Oculus was a bit of a mess", Carmack writes.

I have to admit, when I think of the Facebook-Oculus acquisition I tend to focus primarily on the effects on us, the userbase. But considering some of the newer information we're getting about the internal politics inside Oculus, perhaps it'd pay to put petty gripes over the account requirement into perspective:
I could only lead by example and argument, and the arguments only took on weight after years of evidence accumulated. I could have taken a more traditional management position, but I would have hated it, so that's also on me. The political dynamics never quite aligned with an optimal set of leadership personalities and beliefs where I would have had the best leverage, but there was progress, and I am reasonably happy and effective as a part time consultant today, seven years later.

The VFX-1. We can’t do a list about the history of Virtual Reality and not include the VFX-1. Released in the middle of the 1990s, the VFX-1 system was one of the most capable virtual reality headsets released on the market at the time. With stereoscopic 3D, multi-axis head movement detection and rotation, and the ability to play games that were not truly supported by the system, the VFX-1 was the true Virtual Reality deal at the time. Furthermore, their price tag was relatively cheap compared to other products on the market, coming at a mere $600. However, the VFX-1 was too advanced of a technology and it didn’t really take off. Later on, the company Vuzix that made the glasses was bought by Forte Technologies, which released a more expensive VFX 3D version, but it also didn’t manage to achieve huge success.

However, as usual Carmack doesn't hide away the complexity of the situation. He describes the acquisition as bringing a shift to a communications environment which is "a bit passive aggressive." He describes this to being a symptom of working inside any large company.

Carmack concludes: "All in all, not a perfect fairy tale outcome, but I still consider taking the acquisition offer as the correct thing for the company in hindsight."

And this isn't the only time Facebook Oculus have made headlines this week, Facebook VP this week hinted at a higher 120Hz coming to Quest 2 in the future.

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