Facebook’s courtship of Oculus VR got off to a rocky start, nearly preventing the blockbuster deal for the virtual reality company from becoming a reality.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg tells Vanity Fair that his initial discussion with Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe about the Oculus Rift, the company’s virtual reality headset, left him less than impressed. After hearing that the headset’s primary market would be the gaming community, Zuckerberg says he lost interest.
By that time, Oculus was at the center of a seeming sea change in the video game industry as companies large and small began showing interest in the device, which transports users to a computer-generated world. Once confined to the realm of science-fiction movies like Walt Disney’s “Tron,” virtual reality has grown into a real-world industry worth an estimated $7 billion.
Mark Zuckerberg says Oculus’ focus on the gaming market didn’t really interest him at first. James Martin/CNET
Acknowledging that he didn’t want to miss out on the next big computing platform, Zuckerberg eventually invited Oculus to demonstrate the headset at Facebook’s Mountain View, California, headquarters.
While that first demo seemed to go very well, a trip to Oculus’ Irvine, California, headquarters to see a more advance version left Zuckerberg a bit stunned and perhaps a bit offended by his first meeting with Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey. When Zuckerberg arrived at Oculus’ offices, Luckey introduced himself and then promptly walked away.
“I’m a big fan,” he said, “but I actually have to get back to work.”
Vanity Fair says Zuckerberg was initially taken aback by Luckey’s brusque manner but was also charmed.
“They definitely have the hacker culture that we have,” he says. “Those shared values were what attracted us to each other and made us comfortable.”
Zuckerberg and Iribe eventually hammered out their $2 billion deal over pizza at Zuckerberg’s Palo Alto, California, home. The closing of the deal in July 2014 placed the world’s largest social-networking company squarely in the consumer electronics industry.
While Oculus’ focus is on gaming, Facebook is also dabbling in computer-generated films with its in-house production division, Oculus Story Studio, and bringing real-world captured video to the Rift that could transport users to far away places on Earth or even elsewhere in the solar system.
The Facebook founder said he believes VR has the potential to even change the way we interact with computers, and the way we communicate with one another. “With Oculus,” he said in a conference call last October, “we’re making a long-term bet on the future of computing.”
The startup, which initially launched as a Kickstarter project in 2012, has been steadily updating its prototypes with new features such as higher-resolution images and better sensors to interpret user’s movements.
Oculus plans to launch its Rift headset early next year but has declined to say how much the headset will cost. Oculus executives hinted in the spring that it may cost around $1,500 when bundled with a PC costing $1,000 or less. The company has also announced a partnership with Microsoft that will tie the Xbox One game console to Oculus’ device.
While the video game industry is expected to get an economic boost from virtual reality, the broader tech industry sees other applications for the nascent technology. In the past year, nearly every major tech company has announced or hinted at plans to take real steps into the emerging VR market. Google unveiled its “Cardboard” VR headset for smartphones. Apple filed and was awarded a patent for VR technology .