Why Facebook Bought The Oculus Rift: An Explainer

As you’ve probably heard by now, since the Internet is freaking out about it, Facebook has purchased Oculus for $2 billion. But unless you’re either a Kickstarter or a hardcore gamer, you probably have no idea what Oculus even is. So, what the hell is Oculus, and why did Facebook buy it?

Yeah, what the hell IS Oculus?

They make the finest virginity protectors in all the land. OK, no, seriously, they make virtual reality headsets. The fact that nobody will ever have sex with you again after seeing you wear one is just a design flaw.

Wait, virtual reality? That’s still a “thing?”

It is! Mostly for hardcore gamers, but Oculus’ main product, the Oculus Rift, was widely acclaimed as a step forward in technology nobody really wants and that nobody will actually use. It’s also great at recreating important cultural spaces, like Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment.

I’m detecting a subtle undercurrent of sarcasm towards the product.

Gamers have been hearing about this thing and how great it is and how it’s going to revolutionize everything for, quite literally, years now. This is something gamers have heard before. It becomes tiring.

To be fair, none of that hype is actually coming from Oculus. The company has actually been very up front about how VR is a tough technology to market and that the Oculus Rift may never be more than a niche product. Don’t bother telling that to the guy who is convinced you want to strap a screen to your face, though.

And it’s not like Oculus can’t back up the hype: The current iteration of the Oculus Rift is some highly impressive technology. Which leads us to the $2 billion question.

What the hell is Facebook doing buying a VR company for $2 billion?

We’ll let Zuckerberg’s statement take this one:

“This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures,” said Zuckerberg. “One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.”

In other words, Facebook thinks you want to go to your family reunion by strapping on some goggles some day.

Is Facebook right?

Not even remotely. It was never the technology that was holding virtual reality back, as VR quickly caught on in a number of industries. It’s used for military training, architectural work, all sorts of industrial applications. But it never became a meaningful consumer product because if they use it for about an hour or so, it makes people vomit. Even Oculus itself admits they have not solved the barfing problem. “Give us $300 for a product that makes you sick!” is not a good sales strategy.

Also, Facebook is not a hardware company, as the failed Facebook phone has made vividly clear. That is inevitably going to present problems for Oculus. Also, nobody buys for a minute Facebook spent $2 billion on a company that they’re just going to leave to their own devices.

What else could they be made to work on?

Ten bucks says this time next year, if Facebook isn’t in the process of imploding, Zuckerberg will be announcing Facebook’s version of Glass, the wearable technology with facial recognition software. And then the fun really starts.