Facebook, virtual reality, and $2 billion worth of kickstarter woes


Facebook announced Mar.25 it’s purchasing virtual reality technology start-up Oculus Rift for $2 billion.

The move rocked the Twitterverse and a slew of tech publications. Skeptics smack-talked the acquisition, including the company’s emotionally — and fiscally — invested group of Kickstarter backers. Here’s why some are ticked.

First, What is Oculus?

Five things to know about Oculus Rift:

    • it’s a virtual reality headset announced as a Kickstarter project in Sep. 2012
    • it received $2.4 million from crowd-funding (of its $250,000 goal)
    • it’s being used for video games and other virtual reality experiences
    • it’s currently still in development with no consumer unit available for sale
    • it’s way more sophisticated than cheesy virtual reality games from the 90s

source: Oculus Rift promo video

Backlash, Backlash, Backlash.

Backers are ticked because, well, for a lot of reasons. Facebook as a service is great, but as a “physical” tech platform it’s unproven. Scary even (see the Facebook phone).

Backers and believers in the Oculus VR are afraid Facebook will ruin their beloved tech-toy dream. Passive-aggresive tweets were envitable.


It’s natural – when a company gets as big as Facebook expect to see dissenters emerge from the-money-envy-woodwork. They want to see such a rich company fail, as trivial as that might seem. But this time there’s more than just whiny misplaced criticisms at play.

The Kickstarter Connection

The crowd-funding model is still new. The ethics surrounding it as an avenue to finance businesses are loosely defined. Is it moral to ask for money from the average Joe to fund a company only to sell that company for billions — billions that Joe won’t see any return on? This is only part of it.

Sure, it sucks backers are missing out on a massive amount of money but what about the product they backed? They got on board because of the original idea, because of the original product and the people behind it. And now there’s new people behind it.

They are now backers by association, backing a different company, a different vision and a different group of people. Facebook can completely change the product and even trash it if it so desires. Crowd-funders have no say in the matter, no influence.  Cue the outrage.

Backers To The Stage

“I’m glad I backed this so you could sell out to Facebook. Nicely done!,” said a backer in Oculus’ Kickstarter comment page.

“You selling out to Facebook is a disgrace. It damages not only your reputation, but the whole of crowdfunding. I cannot put into words how betrayed I feel by this,” said another backer.

Markus Persson, creator of the popular game Minecraft,  was considering bringing his game to the platform. He helped stir the pot with his comments.


The Facebook Angle

Okay, okay, enough with the Facebook hate. It’s difficult to fault a company once known for changing the world, which is clearly looking to do it again. And for what it’s worth its intentions seem sincere. Definitely ambitious.

“Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a press release. “Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”

It’s a logical acquisition, really. Research and development done on the community’s dime. A good idea, a functioning product literally prepped, packaged and already working awaiting a company like Facebook to scoop it up.

Deals like this will continue to prompt the dialogue on crowd-funding ethics. It isn’t complicated when ten people donate to your neighbour’s basement podcast, but throw $2 billion and a big company like Facebook into the mix and expect fiscal backers to question where exactly their money went. Justifiably at that.


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