Another day, another questionable Facebook acquisition, and as engadget.com put it, another instance of the “Facebook” effect. This particular acquisition is the $2 billion purchase of virtual reality headset manufacturer “Oculus Rift.” Oculus Rift is a particularly unique purchase by Facebook because of its crowdfunding roots. Oculus Rift got its start through the crowdfunding website “Kickstarter.” Kickstarter allows individuals to contribute money to upstarts and projects often essentially pre-purchasing the product they are supporting. Oculus Rift was able to successfully get funded and shipped its VR headsets to qualifying supporters. Oculus was deemed to be a device that will change the gaming industry and supporters, many of them developers, wanted to get in on the ground floor. Since its funding the Oculus Rift has improved and has been used for numerous projects, demos, and games by developers, artists, and gamers alike.
The future of the Oculus Rift will now however will be determined by Facebook its new owner to the dismay of many of Oculus’ former supporters. Which poses an interesting legal question that Kickstarter and startups like Oculus have to consider. What happens when your hundreds of investors on a crowdfunding site like Kickstarter think they are funding something like a unique grassroots revolution in gaming and it turns out to be bought by a social media juggernaut who may have intentions to take the company in a completely different direction? Kickstarter has maintained that supporters on their website are not entitled to shares of the company they are supporting, viewing supporters as donators more than investors. Many of the 9,522 initial Kickstarter backers of Oculus are now demanding their money back and expressing their displeasure online through social media such as on twitter and on Oculus’ Facebook page (irony noted). Oculus’ Kickstarter page is riddled with comments condemning the acquisition and expressing their feelings of betrayal believing Oculus received a windfall on the shoulders of their supporters who made them who they are today.
Facebook may be able to now provide Oculus funding much greater than they have ever seen before, but their future in gaming is at risk by a number of factors. The “Facebook effect” for instance, caused by the feeling of distrust of the social media giant by many, is already having an adverse effect with not just their Kickstarter supporters, but also by huge players in the gaming industry the platform needs to rely on. The creator of “Minecraft,” an immensely popular game on a large number of platforms including game consoles, mobile phones, and PC’s tweeted, “We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus. I just cancelled that deal. Facebook creeps me out.” Oculus also will soon no longer be the only game in town as far as virtual reality is concerned, with Sony announcing recently their own headset, Project Morpheus, for their PlayStation 4 game console. Kotaku.com offered a quote by Sam Biddle from the blog Valleywag to offer a strong perspective to sum up the concerns of many in the crowdfunding community, “For me, it’s now simple: post-Oculus, if you back a large Kickstarter project, you’re a sucker.”