Facebook has bought virtual reality firm Oculus VR for $2bn, as the social network continues its investment in future technologies.
Watch this BBC report looking into the Oculus Rift’s potential here:
The start-up’s flagship product, the Oculus Rift, is a goggle-like “immersive” headset for video gaming.
A statement released by Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said Oculus’ technology opened the possibility of “completely new kinds of experiences” in communications, media, entertainment and education.
“After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court-side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on goggles in your home,” the statement said.
“One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.
“Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together.”
Future operating system for Facebook?
Commenting on the deal, one Oculus investor said the Facebook purchase is like ‘Google buying Android in 2005’.
Speaking to The Verge, Oculus investor Chris Dixon, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, says the best way to think of the deal is to compare it to a big acquisitions from a decade ago. “The way to understand this purchase is to think of Google buying Android in 2005. That confused a lot of people at the time. Facebook believes that virtual reality will become the next major platform, the same way mobile computing did, and they want to make sure they have a big stake in that.”
Opportunities for brands
Brands such as O2 have been experimenting with Oculus Rift, with the mobile network operator letting fans experience a session with the England national rugby team. Created using nine GoPro Hero 3 cameras on a custom built gimble, around 160 hours of footage was taken for development using Oculus Rift’s virtual reality technology.
The resulting experience lets users step onto the training field and turn their heads, with the view and content responding in unison around them. Users can engage in drills alongside the real players from the squad.
Watch this video from T3 below showing how the experience worked:
Watch this video from Brand Republic showing how brands could use the Oculus Rift:
Some critics have pointed out the ideas presented by Zuckerberg bring back memories of Second Life, the virtual world that was the darling of dotcom brands at the turn of the century. Many companies and agencies bought land in the three-dimensional explorable environment, but the idea ultimately failed to catch on with mainstream consumers.
From Kickstarter campaign to social media success
The $2bn deal includes $400m in cash and some 20 million shares worth about $1.6bn.
As part of the Facebook deal, Oculus employees are eligible for a $300m bonus if the company achieves certain targets.
Facebook’s purchase of Occulus follows the company’s $19bn deal to snap up messaging service WhatsApp in February.
Formed in 2012, Oculus VR ran a crowd-funded project on Kickstarter to create Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset mainly used for 3D gaming. The campaign raised $2.4m (£1.5m), 10 times the amount originally sought. It subsequently received a further $75m from investors.
The company was founded by Palmer Luckey, Brendan Iribe, Michael Antonov, and Nate Mitchell.
The Oculus Rift has yet to be released, but more than 75,000 orders for development kits have already been placed, according to the social media giant.
“We are excited to work with Mark and the Facebook team to deliver the very best virtual reality platform in the world,” Oculus VR co-founder and CEO Brendan Iribe said in a statement. “We believe virtual reality will be heavily defined by social experiences that connect people in magical, new ways. It is a transformative and disruptive technology, that enables the world to experience the impossible, and it’s only just the beginning.”
Oculus will maintain its headquarters in Irvine, California, and as Zuckerberg says with all his recent major acquisitions, will continue to operate independently.
Read the official Facebook blog here