I can’t help but to be both excited and concerned about the recent acquisition of Oculus VR by Facebook. Many of the initial reactions were kneejerk, and a bit over the top, but at the same time they should not be written off. Once we get over the feeling of betrayal from backers due to the sense of entitlement for getting the Oculus project off the ground, there is a lot to consider.
I get the sense that people are afraid that Facebook will completely dominate the social VR and virtual worlds segment and leave even less room for smaller companies to make any progress. The facts behind these fears are pretty simple, and well founded. Facebook is an absolute juggernaut of a company. They have the technical prowess as well as the people power and money to pull off just about any engineering project they put their collective mind to. I may not be a fan of the way they make their money, but to write them off is a total mistake. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have the chops and the resources to pull off virtual reality at massive scale even if they have to start from proverbial scratch.
Working at InWorldz, I know that the limiting factor is not the size of our imaginations, nor a lack of determination or skill, but very simply a lack of people power. We have a lot of goals and vision, but we have to limit our scope to what we can finish in a reasonable amount of time with the staff and contractors we have. If we had more people, I’d have at least 2 more very out of box projects running in development right now. Every day more and more ideas are developed and we have to choose but a small few to work on during the course of a year. As I begin to extend this time out, I realize that I need to continue to work as hard as I can to realize my dreams within the next 10 years and see if I can truly make a difference.
There is a very fine balance between accomplishing a goal as fast as possible and burnout. A VERY fine line.
Facebook on the other hand has infinite resources in comparison to our little company. They can put more people on a single part of a project then I have ever had working on the entirety of the InWorldz source code. They can do the scaling and performance research in parallel with developing the plans for more elaborate uses of the VR tech. They can afford to have a ton of failures on their way to success knowing that time is on their side.
So where is the good in all of this for companies around InWorldz’ current size? The research and ideas behind whatever technologies are developed will undoubtedly be shared over time. In the way that BigTable and Dynamo were the flagships of the NoSQL movement, it is entirely possible that a bunch of new techniques will be developed pertaining to virtual world scaling and rendering. These ideas will be shared because companies need to show that they’re at the top of their game. This helps everyone.
A second, and potentially larger benefit is that right now VR and virtual worlds are still a very niche segment. We just don’t have the user base we need to sustain a lot of successful companies in the space. A big company like Facebook highlighting the various uses of VR and virtual worlds may bring desperately needed attention to our little niche and bring it into its own. Everyone isn’t going to like the Facebook vision of VR, but that leaves room for people to find alternatives they can grab onto.
Facebook also will not conceive of every good idea that comes with a virtual world and virtual reality. More important than the tech is how the tech can be used to enhance people’s lives and/or give them more enjoyment in their day. There is room for everyone to come up with great use cases in the VR/VW space and then use whatever implementation they think best serves the purpose.
My vote on all of this from a virtual worlds perspective? Net positive effect on VWs.