And really it doesn't matter whether the community was betrayed—it's all about perceptions. Just look at how hard Microsoft has struggled to regain trust after last year's disastrous Xbox One reveal, and still the PlayStation 4 is outstripping Microsoft's console in sales every month. Oculus might release a stronger consumer Rift than originally planned, only to find the market has turned away out of spite.
Partnership with Valve?
Earlier this year, Valve and Oculus stood united to announce another, far better-received partnership: Valve, with its infinite, Steam-funded war chest, would handle VR research and then pass on the fruits of that labor free of charge to Oculus to include in the consumer Rift.
What happens to that deal now that Facebook has entered the picture? If Valve cuts off Oculus, what does Valve do next? Does it partner with yet another company? Make its own headset? This merger doesn't just affect Facebook and Oculus—it leaves some other major VR players twisting in the wind.
Patents stifling the competition
Speaking of other VR players, the piece of the Oculus buyout news with perhaps the most far-reaching consequences is that Facebook now owns the Oculus trove of patents.
Now, I want to stress again that we have no idea how any of this acquisition will play out, and Facebook isn't known for raising a ruckus in the courtroom. But what if Facebook does decide to be a corporation and go after the other VR competitors with legal threats? Up until now, the VR community has been remarkably collaborative: Competitors in name only, with many companies helping each other out and trying to develop cross-platform standards for the good of the medium as a whole.
Will the Facebook acquisition squash that spirit? Will the VR space start to look like the cell-phone space, with companies suing and cross-suing and suing themselves and all sorts of craziness? If so, that'd be a damn shame.
We just don't know what will happen
Now, we wait and see. Facebook could prove to be the most benevolent of dictators, or everything could go up in flames tomorrow. Or the world could end and we'll never even see a consumer-release Rift. Who knows?
But virtual reality is the future even if the Facebook-led Oculus falters, and it cannot be stopped just because the lead horse went down with a cramp. None of the VR competitors I saw at GDC this year match the Oculus Rift's quality, but that will change. The market wants VR, and companies are listening, investing, and building. Whether I'm wearing an Oculus Rift or Sony's Project Morpheus or a Nintendo Virtual Boy V2 or a Valve Superfly (name entirely invented by me) or whatever in two years—well, does it really matter? It's not like I can see the branding when it's over my eyes anyway.
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