A letter of concern
Hello, John Carmack.
(1/3) Everyone has had some time to digest the FB deal now. I think it is going to be positive, but clearly many disagree.— John Carmack (@ID_AA_Carmack) March 28, 2014
(2/3) Much of the ranting has been emotional or tribal, but I am interested in reading coherent viewpoints about objective outcomes.— John Carmack (@ID_AA_Carmack) March 28, 2014
(3/3) What are the hazards? What should be done to guard against them? What are the tests for failure? Blog and I'll read.— John Carmack (@ID_AA_Carmack) March 28, 2014
Thank you for being open to public discourse.
I am a passionate believer in the importance and imminence of virtual reality’s effects on our society. I was devastated when I read the news about Facebook acquiring OculusVR, and this is why:
The Oculus Rift was more than a timely piece of clever technology—it was a powerful rallying cry to which hundreds of developers and manufacturers answered the call.
Within two years since Oculus Rift’s Kickstarter, the roots of a new industry took hold. Dozens of VR-related peripherals were put in the market, from haptic gloves to static treadmills to body scanners. Hundreds of demos and “VR Experiences” were published and consumed, pioneering a novel medium of entertainment and immersion. The Oculus Rift was one of the best examples of a successful “grassroots movement” that so many others try to replicate.
With a single announcement, much of this was undone. Numerous game developers abandoned their Oculus projects, the community roared in anger and disappointment. The trust has been broken.
The ecosystem has been broken.
We all acknowledge that Oculus VR was a private company and had the right to do what its leaders feel is necessary, but it’s clear that the expectations of the community were betrayed. The Oculus leadership was even quoted saying that they expected the core community to react negatively, so this was a calculated sacrifice.
I worry that this sacrifice was too big and will set our society back until the community recovers. It’s true that, with Facebook’s funds, Oculus VR could launch the consumer devices earlier, cheaper, and with better parts, but I worry it will land in a much less vibrant and healthy ecosystem than it otherwise could have.
Even with the best intentions from both sides, acquisitions never end quite the way the participants hope they will.
Consider this a concern from my personal experiences, as limited and biased as they may be. I’ve heard of many concrete stories from my entrepreneurial friends of how promises get corrupted with time and bureaucracy. I can’t say I honestly believed it until it happened to me. Sure, none of these anecdotes were massive two billion dollar deals, but various degrees of autonomy and independence were definitely at play.
Mark Zuckerberg may feel like he is making a benevolent investment in society by advancing the roadmap of the Oculus Rift today, but things change. What if Facebook’s stock plummets next year as advertising intent continues to elude the social network? What if a competing VR firm shows success in monetizing the product in less-than-user-friendly ways? What if the SVP who is allocated to oversee your division disagrees with your vision and the slow-yet-steady political pressure erodes your founding team’s ideals? What if Instagram gets merged into Facebook Photos, WhatsApp gets merged into Facebook Messages, and you’re next on the cutting block?
What are the hazards? What should be done to guard against them? What are the tests for failure?
I don’t know.
While I trust the intentions of the founding team, I feel that too much of the future is in the hands of the Facebook brand and leadership.
If trust is lost, how will you regain it?
If autonomy slowly slips through your fingers, how will you notice?
If you’ve failed to uphold your vision, what will you do?I admit it—I initially overreacted to the acquisition news. Many of us did.
I hope my immediate reaction was completely wrong. I want to believe.