Facebook's acquisition of Oculus VR stunned the game industry. In less than two years, Oculus VR and its Oculus Rift virtual reality headset have gone from (literal) overnight Kickstarter success to subsidiary of a social networking giant. To put it another way: John Carmack, one of the principal creative forces behind the original Doom, is now a Facebook employee. Wild.
The transition of Oculus VR from a $2.4 million dollar Kickstarter to a $2 billion dollar acquisition seems unreal. To put things in perspective, and for the benefit of anyone who hasn't kept up with Oculus VR's meteoric rise, we've decided to retrace the company's story all the way from its humble beginnings in 2012.
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Oculus Rift Crystal Cove Prototype
On August 1, 2012, after generating some early hype at E3, Oculus Rift lands on Kickstarter. The project video, hosted by affable Rift creator Palmer Luckey, is filled with praise from the likes of Id Software's John Carmack, Cliff Bleszinski and Valve Software head Gabe Newell. The Kickstarter promises a virtual reality experience unlike any other, with a wider field of view and better, low-latency head tracking. The Oculus exceeds its $250,000 funding goal within 24 hours, going on to raise over $2.4 million by the end of its Kickstarter drive.
A few days later, Id Software announces that Doom 4 will be compatible with the Rift. Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson expresses his excitement for the device, saying he wants both Minecraft and his upcoming project 0x10c to work with the Rift. Meanwhile, both Joystiq and Engadget get some hands-on time with the Rift, and we walk away impressed. In late September, Oculus puts the Rift dev kit up for pre-order at $300.
Fast forward to March 2013 and Valve throws its hat into the Oculus ring, announcing that official Rift support is coming to Team Fortress 2. Rift developer kits begin shipping in April, inciting a flood of virtual reality projects. Some people modify existing games to work with the Rift, like Skyrim, while others create wholly original projects, like a deep sea diving simulator and a disturbing virtual guillotine. Many Kickstarter projects promise Oculus support for their games. One Kickstarter project, The Gallery: Six Elements, is announced as a Rift exclusive, despite the fact that the headset still has no retail release date.
Someone makes a Virtual Boy emulator, Half-Life 2 gets official Rift support – it's nuts.
Throughout the rest of 2013, Rift projects and mods continue to make the rounds, and Oculus VR begins to gobble up talent and funding. In May, the company picks up former Valve software engineer Tom Forsyth and University of Illinois robotics scientist Steve Lavelle. Forsyth will tackle improvements on the Rift SDK, while Lavelle becomes Oculus VR's principal scientist. In June, EVE VR, a space combat sim set in the same universe as EVE Online, generates a lot of buzz at E3 (enough praise that many Joystiq staff members make a point to set aside time to try it out before the conference is over).
A few days after E3, Oculus VR announces it has acquired $16 million in investor funding, money it uses to hire new staff, mostly engineers. In August, John Carmack, co-founder of Id Software and one of the most influential programmers in the industry, joins Oculus Rift as Chief Technology Officer. By November, Carmack officially leaves Id Software after 17 years with the company. As Carmack's role is solidified, the Rift's road to retail becomes a little clearer as Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe states that the Rift is intended for multiple operating systems, including Windows, Mac, Linux and now Android. Later in November, Palmer Luckey makes it clear that Oculus Rift support on Xbox One and PS4 is unlikely, stating that consoles are "too limited" for the pace at which VR is moving.
Come December, Oculus VR secures another $75 million in funding. The company also hires former EA senior vice president David DeMartini to head up its new publishing arm.
In January 2014, Oculus starts showing off a new prototype of the Rift, which was created with help from Valve. Called "Crystal Cove," the prototype uses LEDs and a camera, allowing for positional tracking in VR. In other words, you can lean around a virtual corner, or bend your knees, and your view will adjust accordingly. The headset also has lower persistence, which – in simple terms – greatly reduces motion blur and makes it easier to focus on in-game objects. The difference between high persistence and low persistence, in our own words, is "astounding." A higher quality OLED screen is also introduced.
The same month, Valve R&D man Michael Abrash, who helped with Crystal Cove, says Valve won't be releasing its own in-house VR headset, but will instead work with Oculus.
In February, Oculus announces plans to co-publish EVE VR, now known as EVE: Valkyrie, as an Oculus exclusive. Meanwhile, stock of the Rift dev kit begins to run out as some of its components are no longer being manufactured. The next month, Valve's head of VR, Atman Binstock, joins Oculus as Chief Architect, and the company reveals that 60,000 dev kits have been sold. The following week, during GDC 2014, Oculus announces that developer kit 2 (DK2) is now available for pre-order at $350. DK2 incorporates the tech used in the Crystal Cove prototype.
And then, it happens. On March 25, six days after DK2 goes up for pre-order, Facebook announces it has acquired Oculus VR for $2 billion. The game industry does its best spit-take and, when everything settles, not everyone is happy. In the wake of the announcement, Notch cancels Minecraft for Oculus Rift, saying, "Facebook creeps me out." Notch isn't the only one bothered by the announcement, it seems, as investor reaction immediately sees Facebook stock drop 7 percent.
Now we're all left wondering just what will happen next. Jokes about the dangers of virtual "poking" abound, while Oculus VR has done its best to assure its proponents that nothing will change. Luckey says that the acquisition won't affect the Rift's development or release date, and Iribe adds that Facebook intends to let Oculus VR operate as it wants.
Whatever happens, the success of Oculus VR – all without having shipped a retail product – is undeniable. The question now is what Luckey and company will do with it.
[Image: Oculus VR]