Well, Facebook bought Oculus Rift for a cool 2 Billion dollars. I can't say I expected this to happen, and neither did a lot of other people apparently. Facebook has been in acquire mode for quite a while, but this is a surprising step into the physical world, even if it's in the form of a gateway to the virtual world.
Let’s hope that the increasing levels of funding on Kickstarter doesn’t create an ecosystem where people start projects not with the intention of actually completing them...
There's a back and forth between a lot of opinions on the subject, but in all the noise a much more concerning (at least to me) issue doesn’t seem to be getting its fair share of the discussion. The people who Kickstarted the Occulus Rift didn't likely hand over their money to help a start-up become attractive for a Facebook buyout. You know what that sounds a lot like? The Dot com bubble. A good friend pointed out this correlation, and it is one of the more interesting viewpoints on the subject I've heard. Amidst all the cries that Facebook is going to destroy everything, no one is worried that this kind of thing could literally ruin an entire funding model. Let’s hope that the increasing levels of funding on Kickstarter doesn’t create an ecosystem where people start projects not with the intention of actually completing them, but with the goal of being taken under corporate wing. The first time I remember thinking that Kickstarter wasn’t being used as it was intended was when the Veronica Mars movie was getting funded. The fans all eagerly pledged money to help a cult-favorite get a big-screen debut. Then, after seeing that people were willing to pay money for Veronica Mars, WB said they’d fund the film, and all the Kickstarted funds became a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the capitol that WB said they’d throw behind the project.
This shouldn’t be much of a concern if you’re just hoping they make a Veronica Mars movie. They’re probably going to get that taken care of at this point. The issue is likely to lie in the fact that some projects are now treating Kickstarter kind of like a public interest poll where you have to pay money to be counted. That’s a dangerous road to go down, because it removes most of the risk for a financial backer by placing the onus of initial funding on a public who believes they personally will be responsible for the creation of something that interests them.
If a company wants to make a widget, and I want to help them make that widget because a traditional funding model just isn't going to work for this particular project, that's where crowd funding comes in. They can tell me what they need, and what they will give me for my contribution. Assuming everything goes according to the plan they make the widget. Stretch goals are a really popular part of a lot of Kickstarters, but for me I'm often just as happy to see the group NOT scale the scope of a project, because it leads me to believe that they're not biting off more than they're prepared to chew. Often it seems like the increased scale taken on during stretch goals can create new obstacles to the creation of the project. Goals you can achieve are always going to trump moonshots, because the odds of delivering on a long shot promise is... a long shot. The biggest stubling block for great ideas like the OUYA is not being clear about what is really in the relam of possibility.
...in a lot of ways the result of acquisition can create great results.
While writing this post another friend brought up a valid counter-point. As long as the backers get the backer rewards they were promised, the obligation has been fulfilled and the creator is free to be assimilated by whichever company wants to buy. While deep down something feels squidgy about a project that started with small indie spirit being acquired by a monolithic company, I realize that in a lot of ways the result of acquisition can create great results. Portal is one of the most beloved franchises of the decade, and if Valve hadn't absorbed the team that created Narbacular Drop we'd never have a chance to do Testing.
Maybe the real issue with an acquisition is that the new overlords are going to have a lot of influence over the direction a project will take. If that overlord happens to be Valve, there is a good chance that you're going to be fine. When Facebook acquired Instagram, there was also a strong public outcry. There were a lot of concerns that Facebook was essentially going to absorb Instagram, and in doing so, totally ruin it. Did they totally ruin it yet? Not really. They're still trying to find ways to monetize the platform, and their initial efforts at introducing ads seem to show that while they want to find a way to make some cash, they realize it needs to feel native to the platform or the users are going to hate on it with the appropriate amount of nerd rage.
I say let's wait and see where the Oculus Rift goes. Maybe the Scrooge McDuckian funding Facebook will be able to throw at the challenges of VR is going to have us all hanging out in virtual space a lot sooner than if we gamers were left to our own devices.
Until next time,