Facebook buys the future

Man wearing Oculus Rift headset

There was a swift reaction in my household to the news that Facebook is buying Oculus Rift, the start-up virtual reality gaming business.

"Why would they do that? They"ll ruin it," said my 15-year-old son, a keen gamer.

This is interesting for two reasons. Unlike most adults, he knows what Oculus Rift is, before it has even hit the market (the gaming forums he frequents are obsessed with it) and he has a deep distrust of Facebook. He's not alone. Markus Persson, creator of Minecraft, and revered as possibly the coolest man on earth by young gamers, took to his blog and to Twitter to condemn the deal: "@notch: We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus. I just cancelled that deal. Facebook creeps me out."

Rory meets a games developer working with the Oculus Rift

So Facebook in just 10 years has gone from edgy bedroom start-up to corporate creep, at least in the eyes of some. One suspects Mark Zuckerberg won't be too worried. On a conference call last night to unveil the deal, he once again outlined his grandiose mission to connect the world and open our eyes to a better future.

He has faced criticism at every stage of his journey - first from crusty old social media sceptics, then from Facebook users outraged at any change, and now from young refuseniks wary of the power and wealth of his business. Each time, he has carried on regardless and mostly been proved right.

Mark Zuckerberg Mark Zuckerberg has faced criticism from many quarters

Now, just weeks after spending $19bn on WhatsApp, he's using Facebook's ever more valuable shares to buy another plaything. And while you can just about see the industrial logic of bringing a communications tool like WhatsApp into the fold - even if the price seems insane - it is much harder to see how virtual reality hardware fits in.

Maybe Zuckerberg, like many others of his age, watched 18 months ago as Oculus Rift hit its target on Kickstarter within hours, and thought "that's cool." The deal is certainly another vindication of the crowdfunding platform's ability to provide lift-off to innovative ideas that might otherwise struggle to be noticed.

Two billion dollars still seems a crazy amount to pay for something that's still more an idea than a business, but it does show that Facebook's founder - like his rivals at Google - is prepared to make big bets on the future of technology.

1998 virtual reality demonstration An earlier attempt at virtual reality, in 1998

Certainly, the more starry-eyed enthusiasts for Oculus Rift see it as having applications far beyond gaming, allowing us to enjoy virtual travel, to take virtual trips to virtual stores, creating entire worlds in which we can lose ourselves - or be shown adverts and spend money. The cynics remember the failed virtual reality experiments of the 1990s or virtual worlds like Second Life, and wonder whether VR will ever appeal to an audience beyond mostly male gamers.

So, just as Google has put robotics and artificial intelligence in the spotlight with its recent acquisitions, Facebook could now spark a rush to invest in virtual reality. Whatever the fears of his detractors, Mark Zuckerberg has shown he's an optimist about the power of this technology. From 2004 when he founded his company he has had a clear vision of what the future might look like - and so far, he has been proved right.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

Who has won the social referendum?

Millions on both sides of the Scottish referendum have taken to tweeting and Facebooking their views on the issues - who has come out on top in the social media battle?

Read full article

More on This Story

More from Rory


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    It upsets me that Facebook seem so keen to buy all the cool products and services in a vain attempt to buy their cool, modern allure back. I don't think it will work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Just how are we going to use these for communication? 3-D Facetime? What's the point in a 3-D conversation with someone who has half their face covered?

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    The guy at the top is wearing his headphones the wrong way around haha. Must be very disorientating

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    "129 Alan
    With all the free apps - Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc - you are NOT the customer, you are the commodity!"

    Yes, couldn't agree more. We are farm animals, kept cosy and fed, then harvested. The more you use your Facebook sign in on other sites, the more information you give them to intrude into your life. We have sleepwalked into a digital lack of privacy that is depressing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    still struggling with Zelda but now I have a sword. perhaps if we put our efforts into solving the worlds problems, instead of disappearing into fantasy land, there would be no famine/wars/cancer or fat kids aged 6 to 36. time to wake up people suns rising and there's enough on this planet to amuse you. give it a try

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    @124 That's the saddest thing I've read.

    The truth is that Zuckerberg was incredibly lucky. He might be a genius, but without that initial luck ...

    I doubt Facebook will be the biggest thing. Many people are already distancing themselves from it and the most important fact is what the kids are doing ... hence why FB bought up Whatsapp, because the kids are moving away from FB.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    FB just wants to not loose ground to Google. They had to buy something in big figures to show the world they are around. FB does not make money, will destroy this great gaming company and will endup bankrupt someday. Which I hope it happens as they are a time wasting concept. If people could do something useful in life instead of being in FB, the world would be a better place!

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    These are really cutting edge.......the electronic village gossip........wow I did not know the mayor wears a wig.........my cat is a bit poorly.

    The BBC does a very good job at doing free adverts for US companies.

    Start promoting UK manufacturing because guess what it creates jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    I'm definitely not interested now.. If you want to know why I don't like Facebook; it is because I don't trust them to keep my data private. I do use Facebook, but currently I have enough control to keep me using it. VR is too far.

    As for the Kickstarter. The kickstarters weren't investors, nor donations. They were more like pre-orders for a prototype or some promotional goods.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    GoogleBorg, FaceBorg - same stuff different box.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    With all the free apps - Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc - you are NOT the customer, you are the commodity! Remember this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    By throwing money it Facebook in the IPO professional fund managers handed over responsibility for managing their capital to a guy who was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time with an OK app when the market was ready to fall for it. Let's pray that lightning strikes more than once for the sake of all those pensioners who live off income generated by saving funds... !

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    can facebook stop buying apps/games and ruining them i don't want everything i do/play to do with them

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    124 @Fortune if the right to have an opinion was based on personal success then we would not be living in a democracy. Even a humble person can criticise someone with immense financial power in this country thank goodness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    More gimmicks whilst they steal and sell your personal data..

    Facebook even had the cheek to tell the Obama they didn't approve of snooping on personal data (which is how FaceBook earns its cash)

    Facebook should rename themselves FaceBook Interface so they can use the initials FBI.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Same old jealous people with sad, unsuccessful lives moaning.

    Facebook is a phenom and in 5 years will be the biggest organisation in the world. Zuckerberg is a genius and has one of the greatest business minds on the planet.

    How many of you could be as successful as he has been?

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    This was never about Zuckeberg connecting the world, it is all about Facebook becoming the next google and sucking up all potentially exciting independent projects so as to have as much of a monopoly ove the net as possible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    The web is turning into the old West. First it was wild, frontier-less open to exploration and stake claiming by the little guy and generally exciting.

    Now the great cattle barons have moved in and soon it will be solidly corporate and whats more with corporations that seem to be expert at not paying any tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    What about a HYS on the Farage Clegg debate

  • Comment number 120.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


Page 1 of 7



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.