What All the Outrage Over the Oculus Deal Says About Facebook, the Brand

Hostility Toward Facebook Seems More Deeply Felt Than Ever

By Published on .

Credit: Bloomberg

When a start-up gets swallowed whole by a global conglomerate, there's always going to be moaning and groaning. We're all used to that now -- and so is Facebook (see, for instance, the reaction to its mid-2012 acquisition of Instagram).

But since Facebook announced yesterday that it's buying Oculus VR, the maker of Oculus Rift, an upcoming virtual-reality headset, the outrage online has been completely off the charts, with Facebook-haters wielding their virtual pitchforks in scary, mob-like formations.

Why? Part of it has to do with the fact that Oculus VR scored a big chunk of cash with a hugely popular Kickstarter campaign. On Aug. 1, 2012, Oculus VR set a goal of $250,000 for itself to create a ''developer kit for the Oculus Rift -- the first truly immersive virtual reality headset for video games." Thanks to the hype surrounding an Oculus Rift prototype shown off earlier that year, the gaming community fell in love, and Oculus surpassed its $250K target within the first four hours, and ultimately pulled in nearly ten times its goal when the fundraiser ended a month later with $2,437,429 banked. (The developer kit was actually released, but the consumer Oculus Rift headset has yet to hit market.)

That Kickstarter had 9,522 backers -- which means a lot of passionate gamers felt both emotionally and financially invested in the start-up. So it shouldn't be a surprise that Oculus VR's Kickstarter comments section is being flooded this morning with comments like "I'm glad i backed this so you could sellout to facebook. Nicely done!" (posted by Kickstarter member ingognito), "What a disappointing decision to cash out even before getting first consumer version out" (Kert Tamm) and "Glad you guys were able to sell out with a product build on our money. I can understand that you guys need more money to be able to compete with Sony, but Facebook?? Come on!" (Sander van Rossen).

And it's also not a surprise that posts like this are all over Twitter:

Over on the Hacker News message board, there's a lot of discussion of the optics of the deal, like, "The whole thing betrays a certain lack of ambition. It's like if the early Microsoft had said: 'Microsoft in every home? Nah, fuck it, let's just get acquired by IBM'" (AlexandrB).

More pointedly, there seems to be plenty of fear about what Facebook intends to do with its shiny new toy: "Those of us salivating over the prospect of Oculus for gaming never wanted it to be subject to Facebook's 'vision'" (EpicEng). And "Facebook is the kind of company that wants to control their market and their platform. The Oculus Rift was an exciting piece of tech that was untied to any platform, giving an open opportunity for software developers to explore VRUI. Now, it gives Facebook the opportunity to explore VRUI. Of course, I'm afraid they're going to tie the hardware to their awful, invasive Web platform. I'd be upset if it were Google, but Facebook is about as bottom-of-the-ethical-barrel as it gets" (pfraze).

It's not just anonymous hackers who are shitting on Facebook, though. Last night "Minecraft" creator Markus Persson, who'd made a low-level investment in Oculus and was planning an Oculus Rift version of the game (now suddenly canceled), wrote on his blog,

"I definitely want to be a part of VR, but I will not work with Facebook. Their motives are too unclear and shifting, and they haven't historically been a stable platform. There's nothing about their history that makes me trust them, and that makes them seem creepy to me. And I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition." (Emphasis his.)

Over on Reddit, where one thread about Facebook-Oculus has attracted 8,879 comments as of this writing, there's a lot of discussion of what Facebook even stands for these days, like:

"A company who has a core business model of spying on people for advertisers buying a gaming hardware accessory company instills about as much confidence as the NSA installing your television" (sir_sri).

And, "I'd prefer EA, Monsanto or the fucking Russian Army had bought it. Words literally fail me on a concise expression of just... disapointment, best I can do is: i've gone from 'definite buy in 1-2 years' to, 'annnndddddddd im not buying it'. Zuckerberg is a fucking hack. What consoles me is very few 'tech giants' actually manage to stay on top. IBM for example is a exception not the norm. And his core product (as i've said elsewhere) is a steaming pile of shit I use as little as possible, only exists due to a lack of viable alternatives and sheer market dominance. The attempts to diversify facebooks portfolio scream of desperation. They are going to turn this shit into a datamining pile of crap where you get invited to look at fucking cars every 20 minutes. What captainfucktard fails to realise, is that I'm not going to put something that collects data on me and spams ads into my fucking eyes. ON MY FUCKING FACE" (LordMondando).

It's bad enough for Facebook that hackers and game designers are up in arms, because Facebook needs to continue to attract top-flight engineering talent, which will become harder and harder to do as the company keeps making acquisitions that are perceived attempts to compensate for an innovation deficit. But increasingly it seems like there's a nonstop Facebook hatefest going on on even mainstream forums like Reddit (the site attracts more than 100 million monthly unique visitors).

As a culture, we're not exactly abandoning Facebook, of course. We put up with it because of "a lack of viable alternatives and sheer market dominance," as LordMondando put it on Reddit.

But it seems to me that various sentiments being expressed over the past 20 or so hours in the wake of the Oculus announcement -- that Facebook is creepy, untrustworthy, unethical, predatory and vaguely desperate -- have gone mainstream.

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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