You might have heard: Facebook bought Oculus Rift for $2 billion this week. And many people who loved the virtual reality headset, on say, Sunday don’t anymore. Perhaps the most notable schism this purchase created was between Minecraft creator Markus Persson and the coming device. Persson tweeted Tuesday: ”We were in talks about maybe bringing a version of Minecraft to Oculus. I just cancelled that deal. Facebook creeps me out.“
Later on his blog, he explained in more detail what bothered him about Facebook. It is a very reasonable explanation rooted in an understanding of how gaming on the largest Social Media platform walks shaky ground. How it’s not a gaming company but rather a user-generator that leverages games to grow. He makes several good points. But you can tell — and he admitted it on Twitter — there is also an emotional reaction:
And I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition.
As my colleague Jay McGregor notes, Persson was not exactly lonely in that thought. Social chatter erupted in all corners to condemn the purchase, but the real angst came from people who helped Oculus Rift be more than a virtual reality via Kickstarter. It is in the comment section of that site that you really find the most interesting conversation about what crowd-anything does to a user. Here’s an example:
The whole idea of Kickstarter is to support people in making the world a better place through original ideas and technology, not selling out to corporate America. We already have enough politicians that do that – and you see how good that’s worked out for the country. A shame and dissapointment to everyone who backed Oculus; it’s a damn shame.
This echoes much of the ethos of the early Internet, when pioneers envisioned a new order but knew dangers lurked. For example, when John Perry Barlow wrote, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” now 18 years old, he was fighting off early advances on the old order:
I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear. …
In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.
Barlow was clearly thinking more about ideas than devices. His was first an attempt to ward off government incursion while this week’s laments point toward corporate subsumption. But at the heart is an ethos that has survived two decades despite the corporatization of the popular web: a “commonweal” (as Barlow put it) where ideas exist for more than to “only have the maximum profit” (as Persson put it).
But the ideas of new world are powerful ones, perhaps even more powerful than its ideals. The makers of Oculus Rift did not ceed their rights to be businesspeople when they opened their Kickstarter. Two billion dollars is not only an eye-popping payday, it is a big downpayment on virtual reality that really, really works. Whatever the primary motives of its founders might have been: They owned it.
This is the source of the pain. In some meaningful way, investing in a Kickstarter project confers a sense of ownership that only transfers in moral equity. When you open up Kickstarters homepage, you read “91,585 people made this happen.” “Made this” — that’s the rub.