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Oculus Co-Founder’s Departure Could Mean Bad Things for Facebook VR

Illustration for article titled Oculus Co-Founder’s Departure Could Mean Bad Things for Facebook VR
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Facebook made a splashy entrance into VR when it purchased fledgling startup Oculus back in 2014 for $2.3 billion. However, even after putting out the first consumer-ready Oculus Rift in 2016, which was followed up by this year’s Oculus Go and the upcoming Oculus Quest, today’s departure of Oculus co-f0under and former CEO Brendan Iribe casts doubts on the future of Facebook’s VR efforts.

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Alongside Palmer Luckey, Michael Antonov, and Nate Mitchell, Iribe helped produce the first Oculus Rift prototype, while attracting big names in tech like current CTO John Carmack and spurring one of the most successful projects in Kickstarter history along the way. However, following Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus, Iribe stepped down from his role as CEO in 2016 to become vice president in charge of the company’s PC VR division.

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Where things start to get spicy is that, according to TechCrunch, one of Iribe’s main projects was overseeing work on a second-gen Oculus Rift, an effort that reportedly was canceled last week after some “internal shake-ups.” Sources who spoke to TechCrunch claim that Iribe and the Facebook team had “fundamentally different views on the future of Oculus that grew deeper over time,” with Iribe apparently not wanting to participate in a VR “race to the bottom.”

In an email, Facebook pointed Gizmodo to a post from Iribe with a far different tone, and refuted the claim that Iribe left over clashing views.

While many VR aficionados including myself acknowledge that the future of virtual reality most likely rests on a mobile platform, allegedly cancelling development of a PC-based Oculus Rift 2.0 in the interim would seem quite premature. Currently, mobile VR headsets suffer from a number of limitations, most notably short battery life and a lack of on-board processing power, and without more substantial hardware to push the limits of VR tech, Facebook could be limiting itself when it comes future breakthroughs.

When asked for comment, an Oculus spokesperson told Gizmodo, “while we aren’t quite ready to talk about the next version of Rift, PC VR is still a category we are investing in. It’s still a part of our strategy – we’re continuing work across product and content and you’ll see this manifest next year. Additionally, Nate [Mitchell] continues to lead the Rift/PC team and there are no changes there.”

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Now that Iribe is gone, Oculus’ trajectory largely falls upon the shoulders of Mitchell and CTO John Carmack. But with potential changes in both strategy and investment, the real interesting thing will be seeing how Facebook approaches VR in the future with the release Oculus Quest and whatever PC VR developments Facebook still has in the works.

[TechCrunch]

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Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

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DISCUSSION

I feel like with the resignation of Systrom and Krieger of Instagram from Facebook, and WhatsApp founder Koum earlier in the year, it pretty heavily points to a pattern: Facebook acquires an independent, successful property and then evidently attempts to shift direction or micromanage (but isn’t that the way of all acquisitions?) in a way that alienates the creators.

It seems like, if anything, Facebook is putting out a tighter rein on its properties in the wake of stagnating growth or even user loss for Facebook itself, with public relations debacle after scandal after incident.

Iribe wants to make VR that’s immersive with high-end gaming at the forefront, Facebook sees its future in system-on-a-chip and low cost of entry. Feels safe to guess?