Carmack Speaks: Blindsided By Facebook Deal But Oculus Needed To Partner

This isn’t about cool virtual reality games anymore. When the news first broke of Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR, the knee-jerk reaction from many fans of the Oculus Rift was to feel betrayed that this grassroots tech company, funded in part by its individual supporters, was going to be part of a huge, lumbering entity that mines data and sells it. People were worried that the Oculus Rift would no longer be “cool”, like if your favorite band signed up to exclusively write commercial jingles.

But with some time to process things more, it’s clear that although the above is still true to an extent, this is about ideology in the age of data more than anything else. You can see that evidenced by Michael Abrash's exit from Valve, for instance.

Musician and techie Peter Berkman penned a blog post discussing what he felt were the right and wrong reasons for being upset about this acquisition. He makes some really great points, actually, and he articulates quite well the dangers of how a data miner like Facebook could cull some deep, intimate data from our VR endeavors such as “tele-conference meetings, games that portray our deepest desires, fears and fantasies” as well as all the other myriad information it has on us.

John Carmack
Oculus VR CTO John Carmack

He’s concerned about an “information monopoly”, which is certainly something that should legitimately be discussed. He also has a bee in his bonnet about how all too often companies are created, develop some momentum, and then sell themselves off to the highest bidder for a huge payday, which is how many people view this Oculus VR acquisition. (Note that Facebook is one company that did the opposite, refusing multi-billion dollar offers for the social network. Now it's an empire.)

To that last point, Oculus’ John Carmack replied directly to Berkman’s post with some thoughts about the whole situation.

He started off by acknowledging that he agrees on the point that companies often exist only to be acquired and stating “There is a case to be made for being like Valve, and trying to build a new VR ecosystem like Steam from the ground up. This is probably what most of the passionate fans wanted to see.”

But he also pointed out that Valve had no real competitors in its space for years, so they had time to grow and develop and create. It was something of a slow burn to get to where Valve is today. “VR won't be like that,” he wrote. “The experience is too obviously powerful, and it makes converts on contact. The fairly rapid involvement of the Titans is inevitable, and the real questions were how deeply to partner, and with who.”

In other words, a partnership of some kind was inevitable. However, he said he was surprised that an acquisition happened this early on and also that Facebook ended up being the one to do it. He wasn’t involved in any of the negotiations, either. “I spent an afternoon talking technology with Mark Zuckerberg, and the next week I find out that he bought Oculus,” he said. (Oh to have been a fly on the wall that day.)

Carmack, it should be noted, is also less concerned about data mining. In another comment on Berkman’s blog, he said he “just can't get very worked up about it” despite acknowledging that there are still some serious privacy and data issues to address. “I have never felt harmed by data mining, and I rather like the recommendations that Amazon gives me on each visit,” he said. “Educate me. What terrible outcome is expected from this?”