TIME technology

Now You Can Explore the Star Trek: Voyager Deck With the Oculus Rift

The virtual reality headset Oculus Rift already allows users to enter far-flung lands such as Tuscany, Game of ThronesWesteros and Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment. Now Oculus owners can beam up to the famous spaceship from Star Trek: Voyager as well.

The new demo, created by independent developer Thomas Kadlec, features an incredibly detailed recreation of the Voyager’s bridge, complete with computer monitors lit up with buttons and windows that offer a view out to the stars. The demo was made using Unreal Engine 4, a new game development engine that should allow more complex worlds to be built for the Rift.

Oculus VR, the company behind the Rift, has released multiple iterations of its headset to developers, who have tinkered with the technology in fascinating ways. The company, which was bought for $2 billion by Facebook in March, has yet to announce when the Rift will see a release as a consumer product.

[The Verge]

TIME Technologizer

Jaunt Wants to Help Hollywood Make Virtual-Reality Movies

Jaunt Jaunt's 360-degree virtual-reality camera

Last week, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg made a $2 billion dollar bet that virtual reality is going to be a big deal, by acquiring the maker of the Oculus Rift VR headset. In explaining the deal, he referenced some of the technology’s potential applications beyond gaming: spectator sports, education and medicine. And though he didn’t say anything about VR changing moviemaking, he might well have.

I recently wrote about Zero Point, a documentary about virtual reality, which is designed to be experienced as virtual reality on Oculus’s headset. It was created using a proprietary camera system that captures 360 degrees’ worth of 3D video and then stitches it altogether. Now a startup called Jaunt is talking about its own similar technology for what it calls “cinematic VR.” It plans to sell it to moviemakers in Hollywood and elsewhere who want to capture, edit and distribute movies for viewing on the Rift and other VR headsets, such as the one Sony is developing for use with the PlayStation 3.

Jaunt started experimenting with 3D VR cameras by building a tiny prototype using Lego parts. It’s moved on to more ambitious designs and now has a model–no Lego involved–with which it’s created some demo footage. The company let me sample the results at its offices, using the HD version of the Oculus Rift developer kit. The demo included several short scenes, including a horror-movie like bit set at sea, involving what seemed to be a monstrous octopus. That part had me spinning around in my seat to see the action all around me.

The company’s current hardware is a fixed camera setup, which stays in one place and captures almost everything around it, with the exception of the area directly below the cameras — basically, where your feet would be in the virtual-reality world. It also captures 3D sound, which is an important storytelling tool: In a VR movie, your ears will know there’s something going on behind you before your eyes do.

Of course, capturing 3D video and sound is only the start of the VR movie-making process. Jaunt is also developing the technology necessary to assemble raw footage into polished movies using industry-standard software such as Apple’s Final Cut Pro video editor. It’s also working on the question of how these movies will be distributed to consumers who have VR headsets–a necessary factor nobody has yet figured out.

Basically, VR movie-making is so new a concept that the company has to build an end-to-end system, a task it compares to what IMAX had to do when it was a startup. “After we starred, we realized it’s a much bigger project than we ever imagined,” says co-founder and CTO Arthur van Hoff.

Jaunt isn’t yet talking about when movies using its technology might arrive. That’s O.K. Oculus Rift and Sony’s headset aren’t yet commercial products, so it’s going to be a while before consumers will be ready to enter virtual worlds from the comfort of their own living rooms.

TIME Opinion

Xbox Co-Founder Is Skeptical About Virtual Reality. Me Too.

Oculus Rift headset
Courtesy of Oculus VR

Virtual reality's as inevitable today as it was two decades ago, but getting the timeframe right for wide-scale adoption is still a guessing game.

Most of what you’re reading right now about virtual reality is hype: more the wishful thinking of an industry looking for its next fix than an imminent phenomenon — an industry hoping to resurrect some very old ideas about reality manipulation and wish fulfillment scenarios whose time was always bound to come, but probably isn’t now.

The source of all this hype involves a pair of largish scuba-like goggles, dubbed Oculus Rift, that you clap on your face and tether to a computer. What it’s not: a sensation-gifting body mesh, nor a virtual retinal laser mounted to a pair of stylish lightweight glasses, nor the holy grail of holy grails that eventually makes any of this moot: a neural interface, probably using cell-sized nanobots, that’ll offer the option to engage any reality you like, anywhere you like, any time you like.

Getting the timeframes right for these things matters, and VR’s track record leaves a lot of be desired. If you’re not skeptical about Oculus’ technology or Facebook’s claims about what it means, you should be. And I’d recommend listening to former Microsoft guy and Xbox co-founder Ed Fries, who offered saner, more skeptical comments on Yabbly last week about the probability that VR is going to be a mass market force anytime soon.

Here’s Fries responding to a question about Facebook’s purchase signaling the advent of VR-as-mainstream:

Hardcore gamers love new technologies and experiences and are willing to do almost anything to get them so that’s a good market for Oculus. General users however are a different crowd. Given how little success the consumer electronics companies have had with 3D TVs with glasses, I am skeptical that general users are going to be strapping this thing onto their face any time soon.

Bingo. Oculus Rift is technology for enthusiasts, whether that’s playing games or having more visually reified social experiences all the way up to hypotheticals (use your imagination) involving virtual erotica. It involves relatively crude body-plus-plus technology that’s as cumbersome and restrictive as it promises to be liberating. It’s not a natural baby step forward from carrying a phone around in your pocket, it’s a radical shift toward wearing something unfashionable and subtractive (unlike augmented reality, Google Glass style, which treats VR as supplemental). It’s a somewhat more advanced version of a very old form of wraparound reality simulation, in other words, a clever trick that still employs a reductive sensory interface. It is, as TIME’s Lev Grossman poetically writes, the end of the frame, but I’d add not the end of the picture.

Tim Sweeney, who founded Epic Games and built the Unreal Engine, evangelized the tech in a Polygon brief yesterday, saying “It’s technology that I think will completely change the world,” then adding “I think it’s going to be a bigger phenomenon than smartphones.”

For some reason that got attention instead of the more interesting part of the interview in which Sweeney talks about shareware and 1991 and selling direct to gamers. But “completely change the world” sounds bolder and sexier and somehow imminent, and people like to dream, even if the notion that virtual reality’s going to change everything (for better or worse) has been in vogue with sci-fi writers and futurists since at least my 1980s childhood.

I’m not a VR luddite, I just see the timeframe for wide-scale adoption differently. I don’t think the tipping point for VR is putting scuba-gear on your face so you can pretend to sip virtual coffee with virtual friends, or use it to train to be a virtual helicopter pilot in a virtual flight sim. Someone’s going to want to do that, sure (and plenty already do using wraparound simulators), but this notion that Oculus Rift is going to be the iPhone of VR…it’s just wishful thinking.

I’ve already invested in Oculus Rift (you’re welcome, Zuck). I put my $50 payment down on a $350 devkit 2, due this summer, a few weeks ago. I can’t wait to dive in, but then I’ve been sampling virtual reality technology all my life, from kaleidoscopes and View Masters to Virtual Boys and amusement park one-offs (like a crude, fully-helmeted game I played two decades ago at the Mall of America in which I stumbled around a boxing-style ring firing virtual laser beams at another helmeted opponent). I get the excitement, I just don’t see these mass adoption timeframes at the same pace as companies like Oculus, or new-minted $2 billion VR proselytizers like Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuck says VR is the next big thing after mobile. But a year from now? 10? 100? VR’s one of these things we can talk about like solving aging, or eradicating superstition, or curing cancer and use words like “eventually” or “inevitable.” You can’t be wrong. But you can be wrong about the timeframes, and for all the excitement building around Oculus’ spendy scuba-gear, I don’t see smartphone/tablet levels of consumer adoption on VR’s menu anytime soon.

TIME Virtual Reality

Like It or Not, Virtual Reality Is Big Business Now

Oculus DK2
Oculus VR Oculus Rift Crescent Bay The latest Oculus Rift prototype, Crescent Bay, marks one step further before the commercial release of the virtual reality handset. Crescent Bay features upgrades like 360-degree head tracking, a lighter weight, and high-quality audio. Lucky participants in the demos recalled the mind-boggling immersion in the scenes they were watching. The consumer version, Oculus Rift, is expected to launch as early as April 2015.

Because of Facebook and Oculus, top talent and huge investments are now table stakes.

Allow me to juxtapose a couple new developments following Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR. For much of Friday, the top post in Reddit’s technology section — and one of the top posts on the front page — has been a link to a new Oculus Rift competitor called the Totem.

Never mind that Totem’s creators, True Player Gear, have not yet shown a working prototype, let alone given a price or a release date, either for developers or consumers. The post linking to True Player Gear’s website had, at my last count, more than 3,000 upvotes and 1,600 comments.

Clearly, there’s a desire for some sort of Oculus reboot — a fresh start at building virtual reality through grassroots efforts. I can only imagine what would’ve happened if Totem’s creators had a Kickstarter campaign in place today.

But elsewhere on the web, something different was happening with virtual reality: Michael Abrash, an industry legend who, according to TechCrunch, was leading Valve’s own virtual reality efforts, is moving to Oculus. In a blog post, Abrash specifically cited the Facebook acquisition — and the vast resources Facebook can provide — as a key factor in his decision. “I now fully expect to spend the rest of my career pushing VR as far ahead as I can,” Abrash wrote.

No disrespect to True Player Gear, but at this point, anyone who thinks a small startup — let alone a crowdfunded one — can take on Oculus is deluding themselves. Thanks to Facebook, the minimum buy-in for virtual reality has grown immensely, just over the last few days.

As a reminder:

  • Oculus can now afford to create custom hardware, and doesn’t have to settle for off-the-rack phone and tablet components.
  • Facebook can afford to hire top talent and invest in tackling major engineering challenges.
  • Oculus can sell its eventual product for cheaper, attracting a larger base of users, in turn attracting more developers.

At the moment, there are lots of smaller projects trying to stake a claim in the virtual reality business. I predict that many will wither away, and those that don’t will either be snatched up by larger companies or live on as tiny niche projects. Without considerable resources, it’s going to be nearly impossible to compete on a large scale.

I see this as mostly welcome news. Oculus Rift in its current state is so far removed from what it could become. (Imagine, for instance, a fully wireless device light enough to slip on like a pair of glasses.) The sooner virtual reality gets taken seriously by consumer-facing companies with gobs of research and development money, the faster it can improve into a viable a consumer product.

Do I have concerns about Facebook leading the charge? Absolutely. And on some level, I’m sad that virtual reality is dashing past its geeky, grassroots phase at a faster clip now. But Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus increases the odds that virtual reality won’t stay in that phase forever, and that’s a good thing.

TIME Innovation

Raph Koster on Facebook-Oculus: You’re Just Another Avatar in Someone Else’s MMO

A gamer uses an Oculus virtual reality headset at the Eurogamer Expo 2013 in London.
Leon Neal—AFP/Getty Images A gamer uses an Oculus virtual reality headset at the Eurogamer Expo 2013 in London, September 26, 2013.

The Facebook-Oculus deal, for all the good it might do, requires that we all start paying much closer attention to ownership and control of virtual spaces.

Former Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies lead Raph Koster has the most insightful and incisive piece I’ve yet seen on the Facebook/Oculus VR deal. Instead of worrying about Mark Zuckerberg’s gaming cred or the integrity of Oculus’ Kickstarter or whether Google should have swooped in first or what $2 billion means relative to anyone else’s VR war chest, Koster zooms out to offer a perceptive overview of the underlying currents defining near and future computing trends, and the problematic artifacts that accompany those trends.

In Koster’s view, computing’s near-future is essentially “wearable” versus “annotated.” You’re either plugging stuff into your person to augment (or simulate) your reality, or carrying stuff around that places interpretive brackets around it. The difference between the two notions is academic, of course, and Koster says both camps — currently shaped by competing commercial visions that have as much to do with molding consumer interest as tapping it — can’t escape the black hole tug that’ll eventually draw them together.

About this, Koster says:

One is the mouth, the other the ears. One is the poke, the other the skin. And then we’re in a cyberpunk dream of ads that float next to us as we walk, getting between us and the other people, our every movement mined for Big Data.

What does it mean when companies as vast as Facebook or Google or Apple have this level of access to and control over the way we interface with anything, conventional notions of reality or otherwise? It means…well, trouble, because it’s already causing trouble via the pre-VR, pre-“presence” social network-driven personal desire assimilation engines that live in our cars, houses, workspaces and pockets.

I’m not a libertarian privacy-at-all-costs wingnut committed to a wildly idealistic impossibility. I see the philosophical cracks in some of these very old, culturally bound presumptions about what privacy ought to be, as if humans were self-sustaining islands in some mythic state of equilibrium capable of inhabiting this planet without imposition of any sort on another (ultimate privacy is, in fact, another way of describing a form of sociopathy). Mark Zuckerberg isn’t wrong when he’s said that privacy as we know it (or ideally expect it) has to change, and that that’s symptomatic of a technology-fueled (which is to say fundamentally us-driven) paradigm shift.

But the most important question in this barrier-cracking worldview, where we inject all that we are into someone’s calculating server farm, is this: Who has ultimate ownership of that technology?

In an ideal world, virtual reality would probably be open source, broadly distributed, and all this looming virtual turf would be owned (or data-mined, or suffused with overt or subliminal ads) by no one. But suggest as much and you’re basically ringing a bell for arguments about the so-called risk-takers and venture capitalists and entrepreneurial geniuses necessary to make all that looming virtu-topia possible, because true or no, that narrative’s drawn from as old and deeply embedded a cultural playbook as exists.

That question’s at the crux of the issue Koster’s getting at when he says the Facebook/Oculus deal isn’t about rendering (that is, geeky cool visual stuff) so much as it is about “placeness.” It’s about ownership, specifically ownership of cloud-space.

Virtual reality in that sense is going to be as boundless as a processor farm’s prowess and a design team’s imagination. It’s perhaps most poignantly the vision Tad Williams shares in his Otherland series, but it’s also there in Neal Stephenson and William Gibson and Bruce Sterling and all the countless others, in particular post-1980s-VR artists and thinkers, who’ve grappled with the question in one form or another. It’s a vision of the future in which extremely powerful, functionally opaque institutions compete for our attention in unfathomably vast virtual emporiums that, yes, may well start with something as innocuous-sounding as mountain climbing and concert-going (say in Facebook’s case). But how quickly does that move on to wish fulfillment (which is where it risks becoming narcotic), where it’s simultaneously mining our hopes, dreams, desires and eventually every measurable detail of our lives?

“It’s about who owns the servers,” says Koster. “The servers that store your metrics. The servers that shout the ads. The servers that transmit your chat. The servers that geofence your every movement.”

And then:

It’s time to wake up to the fact that you’re just another avatar in someone else’s MMO. Worse. From where they stand, all-powerful Big Data analysts that they are, you look an awful lot like a bot.

Paranoia about what companies are doing with your data today may be overstated, in that I’m pretty sure no one cares what I say on the phone or send through email in the here-and-now. But healthy paranoia, if such a thing exists, involves educated hypothesizing (that is, extrapolating based on historical precedent). There’s certainly precedent for virtual reality, since the latter’s still going to be constrained by our imaginations. In this 21st century pre-singularity moment, we’re still as human as we’ve ever been. The problems we’ll have to deal with when we strap things on our faces and start to reify what we’re already capable of doing when we close our eyes and dream are going to be the same problems we’ve been dealing with for millennia, however amplified or fetishized or distorted.

Grappling with something as far flung (and yet simultaneously present) as global warming isn’t about solving those problems today, it’s about considering a tomorrow many of us won’t see. It’s about understanding the scale involved with addressing those problems, about thinking longterm instead of excusing inaction based on human ephemeralness. The kinds of things Koster worries about won’t happen overnight, but gradually — so gradually that the shifts can be imperceptible. The dystopian futures that seem so reprehensible in the best speculative fiction don’t arrive like fleets of hostile aliens, galvanizing us to action, and Koster’s future in which we’re an avatar in someone else’s MMO is already partly here. In a 2007 interview about his book Spook Country, William Gibson said “it’s hard to write science fiction anymore when reality is so unbelievable.”

I’m excited about Oculus VR’s tech. I can’t wait for my devkit to arrive this summer. But as Koster puts it, “I’m a lot more worried about whose EULA is going to govern my life.”

Me too.

TIME facebook

With Oculus, Facebook Can Reinvent Itself — and Its Reputation

Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images An attendee wears an Oculus Rift HD virtual reality head-mounted display at the 2014 International CES, January 9, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

If there's ever been an opportunity for Facebook to earn some trust back, this is it.

Facebook’s reputation for untrustworthiness came back to haunt the company this week, when it announced plans to acquire Oculus VR for $2 billion.

The reaction from Oculus fans was swift and dramatic. Devoted followers became seething critics. At least one developer has cut ties with the company, and there’s an air of unease among many others.

Basically, Oculus fans have little faith in Facebook not to ruin everything and turn virtual reality into a soulless, activity-tracking ad platform. While it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasons for this general level of distrust, several potential reasons come to mind:

  • Facebook converts people’s “Likes” from across the web into advertisements on Facebook, so you’re constantly reminded of how your friends have become shills. It’s not as invasive as Facebook Beacon, the ad service that tracked users across the web and turned their activity into ads, but it’s almost as creepy.
  • A few years ago, the company made a big push toward sharing with everyone — not just your immediate circle of friends — as the default. Many new users unwittingly exposed their private information to the world as a result.
  • With the arrival of “Open Graph,” third-party apps were allowed to share the details of your activities automatically. This led to instances of oversharing, some of it inadvertent.
  • Core gamers are wary of Facebook for poisoning the gaming well, as it had enabled games such as Farmville to thrive on social pressure rather than solid mechanics.
  • Facebook’s site has gone through numerous, sometimes drastic redesigns, usually to emphasize some new feature that users didn’t ask for. The redesigns rarely go over well, even if users eventually embrace the new features.

These may be the kinds of things Markus “Notch” Persson, the creator of Minecraft, was getting at when he said Facebook’s motives are “too unclear and shifting.” If you view Facebook simply as a place to share photos, links and text with friends, it’s easy to eye the company’s many policy shifts and design changes with hostility.

Yet those feelings haven’t hindered Facebook’s growth. The social network now has more than 1.2 billion active users worldwide, and 1 billion users on mobile. A 2012 survey found that 59 percent of users have little to no faith in the company to keep their information private, and that only 13 percent said they trust Facebook completely — yet they continue to use the service. The reality is that Facebook is the biggest, most centralized way to stay in touch with far-flung friends and family members. Quitting Facebook is akin to withdrawing from a part of your community. Most people don’t do it.

With Oculus, Facebook will not enjoy the same gravitational pull. Virtual reality is young, and there’s lots of competition. And right now, virtual reality’s most vocal supporters are angry at Oculus and Facebook. Granted, they represent a fraction of what is still just a niche community, but they’re the ones who will evangelize virtual reality over the next few years.

That’s a problem for Facebook, but it’s also an opportunity.

After announcing the acquisition, Oculus inventor Palmer Luckey made a lot of promises about the company’s future. He promised that users won’t have to sign into Facebook to develop or play Oculus games, and said Oculus will not spy on users or splash ads in their faces. He pledged to invest more in indie development and stay in close contact with the community. And he said that Oculus development will remain open, so games won’t have to live inside a walled garden.

The response from former fans, on pretty much every Reddit post and comment section, was the same: We don’t believe you.

It’s simply impossible for Oculus’ critics to consider that Facebook would do anything but violate their privacy, their freedom and their trust. They won’t be swayed by any amount of words from Luckey or Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Maybe what they need is action.

Let’s just consider the possibility that all of Luckey’s promises come to fruition — that five years from now, the Oculus gaming product will still support open development, will not require Facebook logins and will still abstain from Facebook’s advertising practices. That might help restore people’s trust in Facebook, but it would only be a start.

The bigger opportunity — and the hardest decisions — will come later, when Facebook looks beyond gaming and into broader applications. Zuckerberg sees virtual reality as the next communications platform — the next step in feeling closer and more connected to people who are geographically far away. In that sense, Facebook’s bet on virtual reality is an attempt to reinvent itself.

So here’s Facebook’s big chance: As the company invents new ways to communicate, it can continue its culture of sharing by default and turning friends into walking banner ads. Or, it can come up with new ways to make money that no one’s thought of yet, and that are altogether less creepy and intrusive than the Facebook of today. Virtual reality is as clean a slate as Facebook’s going to get.

The hate that Oculus and Facebook are getting today isn’t all that significant. What really matters is whether we can look back in five or 10 years at the dawn of virtual reality and say that Facebook didn’t screw it up.

TIME facebook

When Crowdfunding Goes Corporate: Kickstarter Backers Vent Over Facebook’s Oculus Buy

When Carlos Schulte contributed $300 on Kickstarter to an ambitious project called the Oculus Rift, he never expected this day to come. It’s doubtful anyone did—Oculus VR, the company behind the virtual reality headset, was only asking for $250,000 in its crowdfunding campaign during the summer of 2012. Back then, it was a scrappy startup with a small but passionate base of supporters. Now, it’s a multi-billion-dollar company about to be owned by Facebook.

The surprising acquisition announcement Tuesday left many of Oculus’s original backers stunned, and a bit disappointed.

“I felt a little used, I guess,” says Schulte, a 46-year-old gaming enthusiast in California who has backed many projects on Kickstarter. “Maybe I was naive. I thought it was more just like someone doing it for a hobby and just wanted to do something fun for the community. I didn’t know it was going to turn into a $2 billion deal.”

Supporters of Oculus are voicing their frustration at the company’s decision to sell itself to a tech giant on blogs, Twitter, Vine and even Kickstarter itself. They’ve risen like a group of livid shareholders who disapprove of a firm buyout — but Kickstarter donors have no say in a company’s financial decisions. The passionate online response against the Facebook purchase illustrates how the do-it-yourself ethos of crowdfunding sites can clash with the corporate world.

The Oculus deal is a huge win for crowdfunding because it proves the model’s validity. Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey and his team had a lofty idea to bring true virtual reality gaming to the masses. They asked the Kickstarter community for help and were rewarded with $2.4 million in donations from more than 9,500 individuals. They parlayed that funding into a business that drew more than $90 million in venture capital funding in less than two years and a $2 billion valuation from the world’s largest social network.

What more could anyone want from a Kickstarter project? Gordon Burtch, a professor at the University of Minnesota who studies crowdfunding trends, says the rise of Oculus may attract more tech entrepreneurs to Kickstarter. “[They] could see this success story as an ideal outcome for their own companies,” he says.

While a big buyout is viewed as a win for a venture capitalist or a tech CEO, the Oculus deal left a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of Kickstarter backers who are seeking things besides return on investment when they open their wallets. Avram Eisener, a 33-year-old web developer, gave just $10 to the project but said he felt a small sense of “betrayal.” He admired that Oculus had sprung from the mind of Luckey, a 21-year-old who tinkered with virtual reality gadgets in his parents’ garage, rather than a tech giant.

“It wasn’t from a big company. It was just someone who felt passionate about it,” Eisner says. “To me, that made it just all the better. It was like I want this person to do the best that they can with their idea.”

Luckey has taken to Reddit to defend the purchase, arguing that Oculus will have more resources, more autonomy and the ability to offer a cheaper product than it could independently. “We have even more freedom than we had under our investment partners because Facebook is making a long term play on the success of VR, not short-term returns,” he wrote.

Kickstarter backers don’t doubt that Facebook’s support will help bring virtual reality to a mainstream market faster than Oculus would’ve managed on their own. But some worry that the final version won’t look like the product they envisioned when they gave money to Luckey and his team. Oculus has been pitched as a gaming device, but Facebook has much grander ambitions for virtual reality as a communications platform that may one day serve users advertisements.

“You don’t go on Facebook to have a wonderful videogame experience,” says Joel Edelstein, a designer who has spent $650 on Oculus devices. “If Oculus Rift just becomes the next venue for sort of like Farmville, that’s going to be really bad.”

Kickstarter and Oculus VR declined to comment for this story. Facebook did not return an email seeking comment.

Backers will have to wait—likely for years—to fully determine Facebook’s impact on Oculus. But the deal may color the way they view crowdfunded projects.

“In the future, donors will be a lot more circumspect and skeptical about putting in money, especially in projects where they could have even an inkling of an idea that this might be bought out by a tech giant like Google, Facebook, or Apple,” says Anindya Ghose, a professor at New York University who studies the crowdfunding sector. “They do not believe in backing projects for financial, commercial reasons. For them it’s a lot about a cause or altruism.”

Eisner, who has backed 45 Kickstarter projects, said this might be the “nail in the coffin” for him funding projects by people he doesn’t know. But Edelstein and Schulte plan to continue backing Kickstarter ideas. “I like Kickstarter as a model,” Edelstein says. “Oculus Rift is still one of the best projects that’s been on there.”

Still, he and other backers will wonder how the virtual reality sector as a whole might have developed differently if its hottest startup hadn’t gone corporate.

“The worry that I and some other people have is really just that the Oculus Rift was originally just based on trying to make the best virtual reality experience possible,” Edelstein says. “I don’t know if that’s their core goal anymore.”

TIME Virtual Reality

7 Promises Oculus Made After Getting Bought by Facebook

Oculus Rift Facebook
Matthew Lloyd—Bloomberg/Getty Images A gamer wears a high-definition virtual reality headset, manufactured by Oculus VR Inc., at the Eurogamer Expo 2013 in London, Sept. 28, 2013.

If you're wondering how the Reddit community is responding to the Facebook-Oculus news, "with skepticism" would be an understatement.

Maybe you’re upset at Oculus VR and co-founder Palmer Luckey for selling the company to Facebook for $2 billion, but give Luckey credit for at least one thing: He spent hours last night answering questions from distressed Oculus fans on Reddit, and went right back to it this morning.

Most of those comments are being downvoted into obscurity. But a glance through Luckey’s comment history reveals a lot of big promises about Oculus’ future under Facebook. Here are some of the most noteworthy quotes from Luckey’s Reddit Q&A:

“You will not need a Facebook account to use or develop for the Rift.”

This was in response to a user threatening to be “done” with the Rift if certain conditions were not met. Luckey made a similar comment last night, when asked to guarantee that users wouldn’t have to log into their Facebook accounts to use the VR headset. “That would be lame,” he said — and it would surely scare off the developers who are sticking around.

“We are not going to track you, flash ads at you, or do anything invasive.”

In terms of Oculus promising not to adopt any of Facebook’s creepier tendencies, this is probably as clear-cut as it gets. It’s understandable to worry that our virtual behavior could eventually be grist for Facebook’s ad mill, though this would likely cause an even bigger backlash if not handled with extreme caution. Many Redditors are choosing not to believe Luckey’s promises. Time will tell who is right.

“None of our gaming resources will be diverted.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made clear that the ultimate goal is to expand virtual reality beyond gaming, eventually creating “a new communication platform.” This has naturally led some Oculus fans to wonder whether the company’s commitment to gaming will be diminished. Luckey says that won’t be the case, because Oculus now has more resources for gaming than it did before. That includes more money to invest in indie developers. A bigger question is for how long Oculus will stay deeply invested in gaming. Again, there’s no way to know right now.

“We are not going to lock people out because they compete.”

Some gamers and developers are worried that Oculus will require all games to go through an official Facebook ecosystem. That’s not the plan, Luckey said. While Oculus is working on its own app store and launcher for VR games, developers won’t have to use it. “Facebook has no interest in changing that, they believe in what we have been doing all along,” Luckey said.

“Our relationship with the community is not going to change, and we are not going to spy on anyone.”

These are two separate concerns, in response to one Redditor. The first concern is that Oculus will stop being so close to its community and become less relaxed with interviews. The second is that Facebook is just using Oculus to reap user data and spy on users. Luckey, in response, gave his word that “nothing will change for the worse.” (See quote number two above.)

“This deal specifically lets us greatly lower the price of the Rift.”

We don’t know what the price of the finished product would have been, but the latest developer kit costs $350, so presumably the first consumer version will be much cheaper. The news was received warily by the Reddit community, which of course wondered about Facebook’s motives if it’s not looking to profit on hardware. The most likely answer is that Facebook is looking to build up Rift and refine its technology, so that it can eventually be used in mainstream, non-gaming applications. If virtual reality changes communications the same way Facebook did, the opportunities to make money will follow.

“Facebook is going to give us access to massive resources, but let us operate independently on our own vision.”

Luckey repeatedly insisted that Oculus will operate with autonomy, and said Facebook has a good track record for letting acquired companies do so. But the truth isn’t so clear-cut. Instagram, which Facebook bought in 2012, operates independently but began sharing user data with Facebook several months after the acquisition. Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp is still pending regulatory approval, so it’s far too early to say how independent it will be. In reality, Oculus will be a major test of Facebook’s promised autonomy.

If you’re wondering how the Reddit community is responding to these statements, “with skepticism” would be an understatement. Many commenters seem to think that Oculus has ceded all decision-making to Mark Zuckerberg, and that Luckey’s promises can be overridden with the wave of a hand. That seems a bit extreme, especially since we haven’t seen the full terms of the deal, but the underlying concerns are valid. Luckey has given his word that things will only change for the better. We’ll see what that word is worth over the next few years as Oculus and Facebook build virtual reality together.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Virtual Reality

The Anti-Hype Guide to the Facebook-Oculus VR Deal

Oculus VR

Six quotes deconstructed and stripped of Facebook and Oculus VR's spin.

Whatever else you want to say about Facebook’s acquisition of virtual reality startup Oculus VR, give Mark Zuckerberg credit for having the nerve to pursue and pull the trigger on a $2 billion deal with a still-unproven (and historically lackluster) technology.

But then that’s the purview of companies with unfathomable cash hoards, and so on the other hand, perhaps we shouldn’t give Zuckerberg credit. This is what companies like Facebook — whose start-out names belie their evolving all-consuming functions — wind up of necessity doing. Google is just a search engine company, after all — except when it’s mapping the planet, inviting us to become cyborgs and working to conquer death itself.

There’s a sense, sometimes, that whatever gets this much attention is the next zeitgeist, but it’s easy to confuse the latter with spectacle, and there’s a lot about virtual reality technology in 2014 still deeply mired in hype.

Analyst Michael Pachter may or may not be right about Sony’s VR contender, Project Morpheus, being “a really bad idea for Sony,” but I think he’s spot-on when he said this in a recent interview with DualShockers:

…I don’t think it’s [virtual reality] gonna be a big market. It sounds interesting, but I don’t think there will be enough content to justify making the capital investment … I think it’s chicken and egg. If there’s no content you’re not gonna buy a virtual reality headset, and if you don’t buy a virtual reality headset, there won’t be any content, because no one will make a dedicated game for a very small audience.

That’s the challenge — growing that “very small audience.” If Facebook can develop some sort of killer app for the platform, be it virtualizing how we interact with one another (or the inexorable rise of VR erotica), then maybe. But now you’re talking about overcoming cultural conventions and assumptions, and that takes time and generational turnover. Make no mistake: We’re talking about a paradigm shift much bigger and broader and upending than moving from pen and paper to typewriter, or from typewriter to mouse and keyboard. Taking that shift mainstream is Facebook’s challenge, and every company fooling with virtual reality technology today is still well off from meeting it.

Let’s walk through a few choice quotes circulating in the wake of the announcement last night, starting with Mark Zuckerberg’s acquisition manifesto.

“It’s incredible.” (Mark Zuckerberg, referring to Oculus’s virtual reality technology)

The notion of wrapping large and cumbersome objects around your head, possibly tethered via restrictive cables to computers, to simulate a relatively low-res and crude version of someone’s notion of an alter-verse is arguably not incredible. It’s a compromise, and I’d say still, in 2014, a pretty big one. Even with the advances Oculus VR’s made in recent years, it’s still radically unlike the wraparound promise of virtual reality in films like The Lawnmower Man and The Matrix.

Incredible would be a direct neural interface. Incredible would be understanding the brain well enough to make that sort of connection. Incredible would be effortless, fully immersive virtual reality (Zuckerberg is spinning big and bad when he describes Oculus Rift as “a completely immersive computer-generated environment”). Oculus VR is none of these things. And I say that as an investor in the technology: I just ordered the devkit 2. The difference between me and a guy like Zuckerberg is that I see Oculus VR for what it is: another stepping stone in a long line of stepping stones we’ve been slowly traversing for decades.

“Oculus’s mission is to enable you to experience the impossible.” (Zuckerberg on the nature of virtual reality)

Nope. Oculus’s mission is, in fact, to enable you to experience the next stepping stone on the yellow brick road to bona fide immersive simulations well down the road. The “impossible” would be time travel, or maybe faster than light travel, or doing Harry Potter-style magic, or comprehending infinity. Oculus Rift is very much about grappling with the possible and long-expected.

“Our mission is to make the world more open and connected.” (Zuckerberg, describing Facebook)

Facebook’s mission is, and this is generally a legal matter, to maximize profits. That’s first and foremost. Along the way, the company might manage to make the world more open and connected because those interests dovetail, but the paradox is that doing so involves concentrating access to and control of all that openness and connectedness in the hands of a single corporate entity.

That’s been well and good for the sort of presence-detached interface that’s been Facebook’s stock in trade for years, but what would that sort of concentrated control of future virtual geographies (and our presence in them) entail? It’s the sort of question writers like Tad Williams ask in books like the Otherland sequence, and it’s not too soon to start asking it of Facebook and Oculus VR today.

“You selling out to Facebook is a disgrace. It damages not only your reputation, but the whole of crowdfunding. I cannot put into words how betrayed I feel by this.” (Oculus VR Kickstarter page commenter)

I sympathize with those who backed Oculus VR on Kickstarter, and who feel this Facebook deal violates some sort of unspoken bond between Oculus VR and its supporters, but I think it says more about Kickstarter supporters than Facebook or Oculus VR. There’s a deep misunderstanding of what both Kickstarter (as a vehicle to pool money) and crowd-funding (as a vehicle to get clever ideas off the ground) mean.

Kickstarter is a way to allow anyone so inclined to finance a project directly, a middlemen-eliminator coupled to a public stage on which startups audition for contributions. Each Kickstarter is a tacit agreement between supporters and idea-makers to eventually deliver some product or service, but unless otherwise specified, it’s not a promise to not take money from other sources of support, or to not be acquired by a company like Facebook along the way.

Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey says Facebook’s purchase changes nothing about Oculus VR’s Kickstarter deliverables, and there’s no reason for us not to take him at his word at this point. If Oculus VR starts rejiggering its commitments, then there’s reason to get worried or upset, but until then, it sounds like it’s still business as usual from the Kickstarter standpoint.

“…if Facebook can own the pipe, the platform or the operating system of the future, it will have much greater control over its destiny.” (Sterne Agee analysts, writing about the acquisition)

Analysts say the darndest things, most of it self-evident and/or devoid of insight. If Facebook can put its imprimatur on the Next Big Thing, of course it’ll have a firmer grip on its rudder. Who wouldn’t? The question is whether Oculus VR’s particular take on virtual reality is the Next Big Thing. No one’s satisfactorily answering that question right now, least of all “analysts” saying stuff like this.

“Facebook is making a long term bet on VR, not a short term run on profit.” (Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey, answering questions on Reddit about the acquisition)

Oculus Rift is unproven technology that could still fall flat. There’s nothing etched in stone here, and the history of virtual reality is littered with brilliant-sounding-at-the-time shipwrecks. If Facebook wanted short term profits, it’d invest in something far less volatile. Short term profits are clearly not — and forget Facebook, because this applies to any company today — what investing in virtual reality interfaces circa 2014 means. Luckey is certifiably correct here.

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