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Flush with Facebook cash, Oculus is going after VR games

Hayden Dingman | June 13, 2014
When Oculus VR announced it was being acquired by Facebook for $2 billion, the response was...well, "contentious" would be an understatement. Some very vocal VR fans were not happy to see the scrappy start-up gobbled up by the social media giant. But let's be honest: The acquisition has a ton of upside potential, too.

Hiring PC gaming's best and brightest

And then there's Jason Holtman, formerly the head of Steam over at Valve. Holtman comes to Oculus after a very brief stint at Microsoft. "He had a big hand in Steamworks and a lot of the stuff they put in place to have an awesome developer ecosystem. We're doing a lot of that same stuff at Oculus," says Mitchell.

"He's looking at when you buy a Rift and take it home, how are you getting to your content? How are you signing in? How are we doing cloud saves?" Mitchell continues. "There's really interesting stuff like, we would love to know your IPD — your interpupillary distance — because it changes how we do our rendering. That's stuff we're going to toss up to the cloud, so you measure it once, [then] log in from any computer and snake it back down."

Holtman's not the only ex-Valve employee at Oculus nowadays — a situation that's becoming even more notable month to month. Michael Abrash, a VR guru and former Carmack cohort at id, is another recent key Valve-to-Oculus defection, along with Aaron Nicholls, former Valve VR lead Atman Binstock, and others.

Prior to the Facebook deal, Valve and Oculus were basically working in tandem, sharing research. That deal is (surprisingly) still in effect, but Mitchell says it's becoming less important these days.

"A lot of the people on the Valve VR team have come over to Oculus. There's still a really talented group of people at Valve working on VR, but a lot of the people we were working most closely with are at Oculus now. A lot of those guys are heading up R&D for us, which is similar to what they were doing at Valve — looking five to ten years off."

Allaying Facebook fears

And what does five to ten years mean in the post-Facebook era? That's everyone's greatest fear — that Facebook takes the Rift and turns it into an ad-ridden piece of social networking garbage. It's still a valid fear, and one we won't really have an answer to for years, potentially.

But for Oculus's part, they still consider the Rift a games headset first and foremost.

"If you look at our team, it's 90 percent industry veterans," says Mitchell. "We set out originally to transform gaming. We want this to be the best platform for VR games. I think longer-term we're all excited about the potential of everything you can do with VR, whether it's education or film or training or even communication. Over time I think you'll see more about that, but for now it's about games."


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