Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR back in 2014 came as a surprise to near-everyone in the virtual reality (VR) industry. Many predictions of a large company moving on the hardware developer had been circulated prior, with the likes of Microsoft and Sony Interactive Entertainment banded about as potentials, but as a company with no prior involvement in hardware manufacturing it seemed almost unbelievable that Facebook would make such an investment, and for such a large sum of money.
However, as the months went on the reasons for Facebook making the move became more obvious. The social media giant has made many acquisitions to strengthen its position as a leader in the field of social interaction and innovation, and expanding horizons into what CEO Mark Zuckerberg suggested was ‘the future of computing’ made sense. But now however, Oculus VR is in a position fraught with tough competition, and using hardware as a loss leader to bring people onto the Oculus Home platform – or Facebook’s internal VR platform – may not be part of Facebook’s strategy for much longer.
The Oculus Rift has arguably kept pace with its most direct competitor, the HTC Vive, since the two launched within a few weeks of each other back in 2016. However, the adoption rate of high-end VR on PC has been much slower than many expected (conversely, console consumers have been quick to snap-up the PlayStation VR). While Oculus VR are making continued efforts to push into new territory with the forthcoming Oculus Go all-in-one mobile VR head-mounted display (HMD) and the untethered high-end Santa Cruz, many believe that the once industry-leader is falling behind the curve.
This surely would be a consideration for Facebook as, while no specific figures are available, it’s easy to join-the-dots and come to the conclusion that hardware research and development costs continue to greatly exceed the profit margins being made on sales of the Oculus Rift HMD, especially given the constant stream of aggressive price cuts seen in 2017.
Last month, Facebook opened-up their leading internally developed VR application, Facebook Spaces, to HTC Vive users. A seemingly odd decision to repurpose what was once considered the possible future ‘killer app’ of VR from an Oculus Rift exclusive to being available for the most direct competitor. Furthermore, the official statement suggests that, in time, Facebook Spaces will essentially become platform agnostic.
“Facebook Spaces is going cross-platform for the first time, making it possible for even more people to spend time with their friends and family in VR. Starting today, HTC Vive owners can use Spaces with a Vive headset,” read an e-mail from Facebook’s PR correspondent. “This is our first expansion onto a new platform, and we’re working to bring Facebook Spaces to more VR platforms and devices in the future.”
This statement openly states that Facebook Spaces is already being considered for compatibility with other HMDs, though it would be trivial to suggest which hardware the social VR platform would arrive on at this point.
What is most important to note is that Facebook and Oculus VR, despite outward appearances and public presentations by Zuckerberg, essentially continue to operate as two separate entities. If the time should come when the two merge and Facebook incorporates Oculus VR’s software and middleware into its own model, where would that leave the hardware arm of the company?
UPDATE: Since the publication of this article Oculus VR’s PR team has contacted VRFocus to clarify that Facebook Spaces ‘was always intended to be across other platforms‘. A quote from a press release dated April 2017 reads as follows: “We also plan to bring the experience to more platforms over time. We’ve only just scratched the surface of social VR technology.”
Furthermore, Oculus VR’s own Jason Rubin, VP of Content, tweeted a response to the article, embedded below, stating that; “Rift is still a top priority at all parts of the company.”
You talking about the @Oculus I work at?? Rift is still a top priority for all parts of the company. My team has multiple Multi-million dollar Rift titles in the works, our largest investments yet. And FB Spaces was designed to be cross-platform from Day 1. No strategy changed.
— Jason Rubin (@Jason_Rubin) January 18, 2018