Valve’s VR Expert Moves To Oculus, Embraces Facebook

By Nathan Grayson on March 28th, 2014 at 10:30 pm.

You may or may not be super jazzed about Oculus VR’s decision to sell to Facebook for a monetary total so big it’s nearly fictional, but a number of virtual reality luminaries sure are. Count former Valve VR mastermind Michael Abrash among them, as he’s taken the Facebook deal as a sign that it’s time for him to hang up his crowbar and practice a new kind of science: chief science, at Oculus, of course. But why now of all times – especially when Valve is loved by all many some for its free-thinking, open mentality and Facebook is, well, not? Details below.

Abrash announced his big move in a blog post:

“The final piece of the puzzle fell into place on Tuesday. A lot of what it will take to make VR great is well understood at this point, so it’s engineering, not research; hard engineering, to be sure, but clearly within reach. For example, there are half a dozen things that could be done to display panels that would make them better for VR, none of them pie in the sky.”

“However, it’s expensive engineering. And, of course, there’s also a huge amount of research to do once we reach the limits of current technology, and that’s not only expensive, it also requires time and patience – fully tapping the potential of VR will take decades. That’s why I’ve written before that VR wouldn’t become truly great until some company stepped up and invested the considerable capital to build the right hardware – and that it wouldn’t be clear that it made sense to spend that capital until VR was truly great. I was afraid that that Catch-22 would cause VR to fail to achieve liftoff.”

“That worry is now gone. Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus means that VR is going to happen in all its glory. The resources and long-term commitment that Facebook brings gives Oculus the runway it needs to solve the hard problems of VR – and some of them are hard indeed. I now fully expect to spend the rest of my career pushing VR as far ahead as I can.”

That’s quite a bit of faith Abrash is operating on there, but there sure are a lot of smart people who think Oculus’ deal with Facebook is rock-solid. Of course that still won’t mean anything until we see what Facebook actually does over time, but if nothing else it shows that the air hasn’t suddenly “frrrrt”-ed out of Oculus’ grand plans overnight.

The other big question is what this means for Valve, given that Abrash was one of the main brains wired into Valve’s VR mainframe. I’ve mailed Valve to find out what happens next on that front, but they are sometimes, um, not the best at responding. If nothing else, I suppose time will tell. Eventually.

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  1. Runty McTall says:

    Honestly the last week has been like a one-up-manship game of “who did you think was least likely to ever work for Facebook but apparently now is?”

    Dunno, is Gabe Newell next maybe? Or Linus Torvalds? Or Richard Stallman?!

    Or, gulp, Notch?

    • Geebs says:

      Ooh, I’ve got a winner for this one!

      The Winklevoss twins.

      • Runty McTall says:

        Ah, yeah, I think we have a winner.

        Although perhaps I’d go further and say “one Winklevoss twin”, since they seem to stick together like glue.

        • hotmaildidntwork says:

          My money is on the reanimated corpse of Joseph Stalin.

          • HisDivineOrder says:

            He gets a lot of flak for some of his more controversial ideas back in his “alive” phase, but he’s really turned the corner. Years of therapy and a new lady in his life have really helped him. Today, he’s a people person. He’s in HR now. People come to him, he really takes an interest, bites into the meaty parts, and gets to work. Everyone says the same thing. “Once he’s got hold of something, he’s like a dog with a bone. He can’t let go until he’s finished.”

            The Reanimated Corpse of Joseph Stalin is up for Employee of the Year at Facebook. Word is, Zuckerberg hired him personally to oversee Oculus VR’s people directly.

    • Stardog says:

      Derek Smart and Chris Crawford just joined.

    • frightlever says:

      At this stage, Facebook buying Valve would not shock me. Sadden, yes – shock, no.

      • lordfrikk says:

        Valve is not publicly traded, so unless Newell personally sells the company it’s not going to happen.

        • HisDivineOrder says:

          Maybe Gabe’s tired of running the whole show. Maybe he’s heard how wonderful it is over at Facebook where everyone gets to do whatever they want and no one steps on their toes, just flings bags and bags of money at them and says, “Do whatever you like. We don’t care!”

          And he’s like, “Dude, if there are bags of money being thrown around, I want me some of that!” So he’s signing up as we speak to join Facebook, too. As part of that, he’s not even selling Valve to Facebook. He’s just GIVING it to them. For free. He’s like, “Since Carmack and Abrash and Luckey are all telling me how Facebook is the new place to get money free of obligation or worry of little things like making profits, I’m on board. Effective today, I’ve given every bit of my control of Valve and Steam to Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. After talking with him about the future of gaming, I realized that social is truly the only place it can go. Just like VR. And when he promised me nothing would ever change ever at my company if I gave it to him, well, what was I going to do?

          “I was never going to get an offer that good anywhere else. Microsoft wanted to take Steam and make it the new Games for Windows (Live). Sony wanted to take Steam and starve out any PC titles. Nintendo didn’t want it at all. Apple wanted to take Steam and make it Apple-centric with in-app purchases on the front page. And Google thought I should make every game free.

          “But strangely enough, only Facebook was willing to tell me up front that there would be NO changes. No alterations. No management from the top. No directives or overriding my decisions if I would stay on and lead Valve and Steam post-integration with Facebook. Only a few stray mentions of adding social to the discussion, integrating only Facebook ID’s as replacements for your Steam ID’s, requiring Facebook info be filled out to buy games, requiring you let Facebook advertise your gaming habits on your Timeline and Wall or else. You know. Little things. He promised there’d be only a little movement toward social in the short term! And I didn’t bother to ask about long term because, ha!, long term is so long and far away, who cares!? I might be dead. You might be dead.

          “We all might be dead. Long term cannot be predicted. Why try? So this is me. Gabe Newell. New middle manager at Facebook.

          “PS: Oh, and one more thing. Half-Life 3. Confirmed. Exclusively on Facebook Steam. As a headcrab salesman, you must farm your headcrabs up to a ripe size and then sell them on the open market. Enlisting your friends’ help, you can plant Headcrab juice to make your headcrabs grow, but you can only do it so many times a day. Your friends can help you out, though, so you want to make sure they sign up. You also need to check in every hour to be sure pesky physics geniuses do not come through and wreck your headcrabs with their crowbars of horrible killing.

          “Best of all, Half-Life 3 is eschewing the tradition of the franchise of first person shooting in favor if an isometric 2d engine built in Java that will enable more players than ever before to enjoy the wonders of Half-Life. Now that Facebook owns us, I can admit there are also big things coming soon. Franchises like Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, Ricochet, Left4Dead, and Portal are all going to see similar expansions into realms of gaming they’ve never seen before. With the limitless freedom of Facebook behind us, Valve and Steam have never been more free to do whatever they want.

          “Don’t let the tears I’m crying or the gun pointed to the back of my head fool you, friends. I’m really terribly excited about these new prospects. Facebook is the most open, generous corporate environment to work in and I’m so, so, so happy… so very happy to be here. Thank you.”

  2. Reefpirate says:

    I still have the ‘wait and see’ variety of reaction to the Facebook acquisition… But I think this VR Science Guy from Valve probably knows more about the subject than 95% of the anti-Facebook crusaders that were running around screaming the other day. This is very reassuring if you ask me.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      I dunno. If you just want to see VR happen no matter what, Facebook is a sure bet. If you want to see it happen in an open, uncynical way that’s not obsessed with turning people into spreadsheet numbers, maybe not so much.

      • Reefpirate says:

        I’m sure Oculus will turn people into spreadsheet numbers whether Facebook gets involved or not. Spreadsheets are very useful for business planning.

        Like I said I am ‘wait and see’ on the acquisition… And while there are risks associated with the Facebook brand and their past behaviors, there’s no denying what the smart man quoted in the article said: This is a very capital intensive venture if you really want to do it properly. They’ve now landed in capital paradise and can get to work on making it completely brilliant.

        I see no reason to assume that they will let their brainchild get perverted by a mandatory Facebook log in or other such ridiculous notions. It’s a piece of hardware so I don’t even know why people think you’ll have to log in to anything…

        WAIT AND SEE and all you damn crusaders just calm down. The more you flail around saying Oculus is now dead the more I tune out and lose interest in what you are saying.

        • The Random One says:

          If you lose interest when people say that a company known for completely disregarding their customers’ privacy may cause a company they bought to completely disregard their customers’ privacy, your interest probably isn’t worth much in the first place.

          • zbeeblebrox says:

            And if you go around making knee jerk reactions just because you don’t like a company, your opinion isn’t worth much either.

      • DrManhatten says:

        Right to the point here. If you read Michael Abbrash blog you can really see he wants it to happen badly. Even if it means destroying the whole reputation of it again by going clearly for the absolute wrong approach.

    • aepervius says:

      On my side i am on the I-do-not-care-as-I-get-sick-with-all-those-VR-glasses mode. But I find it quite amusing to see all the reactions of people to the facebook buy.

    • orochi_kyo says:

      LOL at you, it doesnt matter if this guy is some king of VR god or something. None of these guys, Carmack and Abrash are lawyers. So we dont know what could happen when OR is finished and ready for commercial use, with facebook in the middle we cant know what would happen. Some people arent concerning about the OR development but legal implications that would bring the deal with facebook.

      • SuicideKing says:

        Do you seriously think that the CTO of the company being acquired (and this is a small company, mind you), wouldn’t know the details of the acquisition? Or that Oculus wouldn’t have their own lawyers looking into it? Seriously?

        • tobecooper says:

          The deal was made by Brendan Iribe. The guy that was the brain behind selling Gaikai to Sony. Hype a new tech as ‘the future’, and sell it to the highest bidder – that’s probably at the very top of his CV right now. So the lawyers were there to make sure the money is right.

          You think Carmack or Luckey had much to say in the matter? They are not there for money, or for company management. They are there for the dream, and the dream will live on for many years. VR is not ready yet, they will make it ready with all that money. And then… Then we will see with our old eyes.

      • frightlever says:

        If Facebook fucks up an acquisition by screwing the main players of the company they’re buying it’ll make their next acquisition a little more awkward.

        This is tech, not gaming. When big game publishers buy up developers I doubt anyone is thinking beyond having their debts paid off and guaranteeing the workforce a pay check later in the week.

  3. Lemming says:

    I would’ve put ‘former Valve’s VR..’etc in the tite, but then I’m not trying to cause people heart-attacks.

  4. Axess Denyd says:

    I’m mostly interested at this point in whether the VR relationship between Valve and Facebook is intact.

  5. karthink says:

    Whatever Facebook will inevitably do to alienate half the Internet comes later. Right now they’re still working on the tech, and everyone’s incentives (including Facebook’s) are aligned: Push the tech as far as you can and make the best possible VR hardware.

    I can get behind that.

  6. Jalaman says:

    I don’t understand exactly what the “faith” Abrash is “operating on” is?

    • Premium User Badge

      Jackablade says:

      The faith that comes from being handed several million dollars.

    • oldfart says:

      “In go(l)d we trust” kind of faith ?

    • RichardDastardly says:

      The faith of his years of work in the industry vs. the angry of a bunch of consumers irrationally screaming at their screens?

      • rhubarb-crisp says:

        The most interested I’ve been in all of this VR stuff has been because Facebook has spent 2 billion bucks on it. I don’t think I could possibly care less about it otherwise. I wish I could share in someone’s angry or joyous enthusiasm, but I feel nothing at all.

        Just sayin’ so that other disinterested folk don’t feel alone.

      • Pliqu3011 says:

        This.

      • Thants says:

        If this thread is anything to go by, there’s about 10 people complaining about the complainers for every 1 actually complaining.

        • Josh W says:

          Yeah, we got it out of our system with the last two articles, I assume we’re taking turns.

          Join me next oculus article for the return of the outrage! And probably some complaining about the complaints about the complaints.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      I don’t know about faith, but Michael’s statement is quite A brash thing to say.

    • BananaMan3000 says:

      Faith that he is an expert in VR/tech with enormous knowledge and experience in the field and actually knows what he is talking – about unlike 99% of the screaming idiots on the internet that are commenting on this matter.

      This is one of the biggest problems with online media – experts that have actual real life experience with the matters in hand get ignored in favour of anonymous people (mostly kids) screaming nonsense at the top of their lungs because they make the most noise.

  7. RPSRSVP says:

    And tomorrow Facebook acquires RPS for 1 billion dollars, 90% in FB stocks, 8% in advertising space and 2% in bot generated likes. Zuckerberg forces John out after he critiques his Walker and Jeremy Laird finds out his first name is Ron. Carmack virtually sees the impending doom and starts to rage and contemplates jumping off a cliffyb but then he calmes down a notch.

  8. TheVGamer says:

    People leaving Valve to technically work for Facebook – what a weird world we live in.

    • Bull0 says:

      This is how it works now. Best get with the program. Why, just this morning I saw several prominent local businessmen reporting for their new jobs as bin men. And what of the bin men? Well, they are the luckiest of all

    • bj says:

      It is weird, but also kind of reassuring.

      People are leaving Valve to work on VR, despite the fact that they’re technically working for Facebook. That shows how much they believe in VR.

      • BlackAlpha says:

        Usually when an important person leaves a big company to work for another big company, there’s a lot of money involved. I’m not sure how that would make things more reassuring for us.

  9. grimdanfango says:

    I thought I’d read somewhere that Abrash had made the decision to move to Oculus long before I read about the Facebook stuff. Is this actually him moving because of the buyout, or just him approving of the buyout after he already decided to move?

    • drinniol says:

      Seeing as it was announced like three days ago, probably the latter. Unless HR at Oculus is ungodly fast.

      • Premium User Badge

        SuddenSight says:

        The way the article is written, it seems he was interested in leaving to work for Oculus for a while, but the Facebook buyout prompted him to switch now (as opposed to continuing to work for Valve for another year or two).

  10. Spacewalk says:

    I hope this doesn’t turn out to be Abrash decision.

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      Give it time to register, I’m sure the options arrayed before him he did it at the right timer.

  11. Shooop says:

    You should consider putting the word “former” in that headline because Abrash had left Valve before the OR/Facebook merger.

  12. Beyond the Sea says:

    So why did Facebook buy Oculus VR? My guess is that it’s Mark Zuckerberg’s insurance policy. Nobody really knows whether Facebook can retain its audience in the long-term because social media is too new for us to know what the long-term will be like. Facebook may fall out of fashion and go into terminal decline like MySpace or Bebo. Therefore the company’s long-term future is very uncertain and the obvious way to reduce that risk is to diversify into new products or services. The most efficient way to do that is to invest in technologies that can be used to enhance the company’s existing products as well as to develop new ones.

    Oculus VR meets that need because their technology can be used to add a virtual environment to the social networking site in the short-term, with the potential to create completely new revenue streams in the longer term. These could include hardware sales, hosting virtual worlds and licensing the technology to other companies. There would also be cross-selling opportunities between the two parts of the business – buy a VR headset to get the most out of your existing Facebook account, or join Facebook because it offers things to do with your new VR headset. Facebook buying Oculus surprised a lot of people, but it actually makes sense!

  13. goettel says:

    It’s been an…emotional week on the Oculus forum and elsewhere. Right now, if you listen carefuly, you can hear the gnashing of teeth of more than a few hysterics, begging Oculus support to reinstate their DK2 pre-orders. Great days ahead.

  14. onomatomania says:

    Abrash and Carmack? Together again? THEY’RE GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER!

    • subedii says:

      Awesome, now we just need to get John Romero back on board and… wait no, forget that.

  15. lomaxgnome says:

    All the original Kickstarter backers should have their full amount paid back to them 10 fold, because this project wouldn’t exist without them. They have a chance to show that Kickstarter backers are investors too and stand to benefit from speculating on interesting projects.

    • tormos says:

      This is completely incoherent. If they had wanted investors in the first place, they would have gotten investors. Instead they got kickstarter backers, who agreed to pay a certain amount of money in exchange for a certain reward (assuming the project was successful). Why would you expect to get anything else out of the deal?

      • 2helix4u says:

        I don’t think that kickstarters are precisely seeing return on their investment in the same way that any actual investors are, I mean they don’t get a share of the profits or anything.
        However, I do agree that with an expensive piece of hardware like this the initial kickstarter must have absolutely been launched with getting attention from larger investors as the ultimate goal in mind.
        Its certainly an interesting situation which I think is why you get such passion from backers or oculus devotees from it because it is hard to know what to think. Its undeniably a good thing for the OR, it will be made for mainstream consumption which means maximum usability and has the funds to perfect its engineering. Where it gets murky is because Facebook is a really unexpected company to buy the oculus. We’d all have a lot easier time digesting this if Microsoft or Sony had bought them out, this is sort of no-mans-land – the pure mainstream buying out a PC-gaming peripheral.
        Personally I’m moderately hopeful about how this will affect pricing as well as doing some interesting things to business teleconferencing, Facebook’s MO is maximum users so there is a decent chance of low pricing for basic HD units and then probably premium models for businesses and gamers. The downside is facebook will install reverse cameras to record your face and DNA swabs and then sell it to anyone that wants it.

        • lordfrikk says:

          “I don’t think that kickstarters are precisely seeing return on their investment in the same way that any actual investors are, I mean they don’t get a share of the profits or anything.”

          Of course not, Kickstarter is not a place to invest in anything, that’s why the button says “Back this project” not “Invest in this project”. The return of “investment” is you get what you were promised in the reward you selected, nothing more.

          People are extending their entitlement way beyond what’s been promised in the original Kickstarter (but it’s not an exception, by any means). If someone thinks the backers should get anything returned, not to mention double the amount, he or she is insane.

    • Pliqu3011 says:

      That’s absolutely ridiculous.
      The Kickstarter campaign achieved exactly what it set out to do: get the SDK and the prototype in developer’s hands. Backers did not “invest” anything, nor was that implied; it was nothing more than a risky pre-order.
      The funding platform is named Kickstarter,, not Independentcompanystarter. Oculus fulfilled their promise 100%.

      Have you even thought about the possibility that Oculus would have run out of funds before they could even release the consumer version, had they not been given this huge capital injection? VR is extremely expensive to R&D, and the cooperation with Facebook will result in cheaper and better, custom-made components. Essentially the Facebook purchase guarantees that:
      1. The Rift will actually release one day
      2. It will have better components than otherwise
      3. It will be cheaper than otherwise
      Aside from those things, Facebook taking this seriously means that the rest of the market will also start paying attention to VR.

      I don’t get why people are so upset about this. Take a deep breath and calm down, this is normal business practice. Oculus has done nothing wrong. If anything, I think they made a very smart choice for the future of VR.

    • Tams80 says:

      Backers are not ‘investors’. Backers are entitled in two ways. The first is materially; they back in order to get the rewards stated. These they absolutely should get (provided the project doesn’t go bad). The second is morally. They back the project in the hope of it’s future existance. Morally, the project creators should continue the vision the backer’s backed. However, the creator’s do not have to uphold this entitlement as it was not implicitly promised.

      • ResonanceCascade says:

        I actually think it’s fine for Kickstarter backers to be a little miffed. Many of them were excited that Oculus was a crazy tech geek startup, that basically got its start because John Carmack tweeted about some Palmer Luckey kid’s cool VR tech demo. Had they known that a Facebook acquisition would even be considered, it wouldn’t have happened. Everybody knows this.

        They certainly aren’t entitled to a refund, but I’d say a little internet whining is perfectly justified.

  16. Radiant says:

    What I would want from VR is it for it to not look like I have an ipad strapped to my forehead.
    These nerds have no sense of fucking self image.

    This is what it looks like:
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/65/Camp_x-ray_detainees.jpg

    • Rugged Malone says:

      I don’t think self image means what you think it means.

    • Thants says:

      It’s not like I’m going to sit around using these with my friends. Why should I care what I look like when I’m playing a game alone?

  17. DrManhatten says:

    As much as I respect Michael Abbrash as he is one of the few who really know what they are talking about, he is totally wrong on this one. I guess he wasn’t getting anywhere at Valve as they probably didn’t share his dream there or just were slightly more realistic on the whole thing.

  18. manny says:

    Well Zuckerberg did donate 100 million to the public school system of his town. So seeing as VR tech in education will be huge, I don’t think he will hold the technology hostage.

    Facebook is a typical corporation, not evil or good just callous. If anything Zuckerbergs handling of Facebook confirms he is no visionary in any respect.

    Being a visionary requires absolute power and control, something Zuckerberg isn’t unlike steve jobs and bill gates.

    • DrManhatten says:

      That depends your definition of evil. Both google and facebook’s business model is all about exploiting your personal data (in my book that makes them extremely dangerous and evil) there are not many other cooperations out there which fall into this group.

      • derbefrier says:

        oh for gods sake do you really picture CEO’s sitting in the back of a room twirling their mustaches laughing manically thinking of ways to spread their evil throughout the world? You really need to leave the dorm room.

        • DrManhatten says:

          Nope I don’t the problem is these CEOs tend to be completely detached from reality. They do not see it as something evil at all they even think they’re doing humanity a favour. They so far off just have a look at some of these people at TED conference especially Larry Page recently how easily he brazes over privacy concerns is amazing.

  19. zoombapup says:

    Mike Abrash is a very nice guy and incredibly smart. I think this is a great move for him, puts him at the center of the whole VR revolution (if that’s what it ends up achieving).

    But there’s still a question of the ultimate “ownership” of the VR space. It all boils down to the problem of single monolithic enterprise seeking to dominate a field. Unless another big player goes huge into the VR space, the likelyhood is that FaceBook will simply destroy any form of competition using patents on the technology they develop (as Abrash points out, the hard engineering stuff).

    Think of it this way, do you think celphones would be as popular as they are now if the early companies had stranglehold patents on key technologies? If there is only one player in a space its hard not to imagine that competitors simply couldn’t get into it because of the legal dominance of the early adopter.

    Maybe this will lead Microsoft et al to get into the race. Which would ultimately be good for us all as the VR hardware would likely then become more commonplace (like celphones).

    In this sense, maybe FB are seeing this as a way of hedging its bets in the patent space by being in at the start when these things are developing and relatively cheap rather than having to acquire themselves a patent portfolio later.

    Good luck to Mike though, he’s definitely one of life’s role models.

    • DrManhatten says:

      Don’t worry Microsoft already is there remember the illumi room project. They just the only ones out there that realized that HMD based VR is simply doomed!

    • Premium User Badge

      Continuity says:

      Unfortunately it seems that a single monolithic enterprise is exactly what VR requires. We’ll just have to wait and see how it pans out in the long run, but I’m not going to speculate about VR revolution turning sour before its even begun.

  20. Biosis says:

    Well.. This has been an odd week for vr. I can see the logic behind the acquisition, but most of me wanted valve to be at the forefront (albeit recently I’m not exactly sure why?). It’s exciting to know that vr is guaranteed to happen, but if I have to login to some obscure version of Facebook to even access steam – or anything else that runs on rift – then I don’t think I could bring myself to part with my well accommodating 46″ TV. The idea of an evolved vr advert in the form of an annoying salesperson dancing around me and butting in on my conversations is unsettling.

  21. geldonyetich says:

    Try not to embrace Facebook too much, Mr. Abrash: it’s bound to give you a social disease.

  22. Premium User Badge

    Continuity says:

    So, Abrash and Carmack working together at the cutting edge of video game technology.

    That sounds familiar. Honestly the twists and turns in the tale of VR are flat out mythic at this point.