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.