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Facebook purchasing Oculus was an unprecedented acquisition. No Kickstarter company has ever been bought out by a large corporation prior to their crowdfunded project being released--at least not on the immense scale of $2 billion.
The surprising acquisition has spurred a lot of animosity from virtual-reality enthusiasts, most notably from the original Kickstarter backers.
Several Scumbag Oculus memes have gone viral.
Is the hate unwarranted? Perhaps some of it, but many of the Kickstarter backers have a right to feel betrayed.
Take a moment and imagine that you’ve always dreamt of going sailing, but never had the means to obtain a boat. One day you meet and befriend a passionate and intelligent boat builder, Ted, who shares the same dreams of sailing as you do. Ted says that once he builds his boat, you’ll be able to go sailing on it, whenever you please. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? But because Ted needs funds to build the boat, he asks you for a donation. Because you fervently believe in his vision, capabilities, and promise, you comply. After several months, Ted takes you out on some test runs. You find the ship to be shaping up nicely and can already imagine yourself sailing the seven seas with it. Then, all of a sudden, some rich executives walk by and throw a boatload of cash at Ted to acquire it.
The original Oculus Rift Kickstarter video
Ted, by textbook definition, just sold out. And in doing so, crossed the boundaries between the trust and vision that you guys shared together. Still, Ted assures you that once he’s done building the boat, you’ll still be able to take it out on joyrides whenever you want, but deep down inside, you know the execs hold the keys to the ship, and you can’t help but fear that they may wreck it.
This is analogous to how Oculus says no changes will be made to their original vision, though it’s difficult to imagine a future where Facebook won’t try and integrate their services into it, pester you with annoying ads, or steer VR away from its original open-source/mod-friendly gaming intention.
If that’s not an infuriating situation, I don’t know what is. Is what Oculus did illegal? No, but Oculus did break a gentleman’s agreement. They violated an unwritten rule. It’s like a friend who asks to borrow five bucks, wins the lottery, and doesn't pay you back.
Now, to be clear, as a VR enthusiast, I am not entirely against the Facebook acquisition myself. I do think that a lot of good can come from the situation. Up until this point, Oculus has had to rely on off-the-shelf parts, but with the backing of Facebook, Oculus should have the capital to actively design, develop, and manufacture the parts they need.
As it stands right now, however, the original Kickstarter funds are no longer needed, and Oculus has benefited greatly from the initial investment. In the process, a great deal of trust has been violated from the community that put Oculus on the map. Now does Oculus have to do anything to rectify this? No. But if they want to win back some goodwill, they should. What could the company do to make amends? For one thing, they could give every Kickstarter backer an Oculus Rift, no matter how much they originally donated. But I believe that the most obvious method to solving a problem is often the best way to solve a problem: Oculus should give the original backers their money back.