News broke this week that Oculus co-founder Brendan Iribe was departing Facebook. While the terms of his departure seemed amicable in his public statement, there was a different story being told elsewhere. According to TechCrunch, Iribe walked after canceled plans for an Oculus Rift 2.
Or at least, the Rift 2 as Iribe envisioned it: shortly after the story broke, Facebook commented that it is still working towards a next generation of the Rift, and other members of the Oculus team, including Andrew Bosworth, have also denied the veracity of TechCrunch's report.
So, what to make of all this? If TechCrunch’s sources are correct, Iribe had become increasingly irked by “a race to the bottom” at Facebook, which implies a push for accessibility over technological progress. That much has been evident in the products Facebook has made since the first Rift, both the Oculus Go and Oculus Quest being standalone, accessible systems. Facebook had already split its VR division in two, one team led by Iribe focusing on high-end VR and another on standalone headsets, but a proper follow-up to the Rift has yet to materialize.
It’s rare I find myself on Facebook’s side these days, but in these nascent days of VR, another $400 PC-tethered headset probably isn’t going to move the needle. Because as much as I hate to say it, virtual reality is not in a healthy place. The Outline just put out a piece declaring the VR dream as "dying".
I think Joshua Topolsky is a little overly damning overall, but he makes some good points, chiefly this: "VR adoption will only happen when the barrier to entry is akin to slipping on a pair of sunglasses (and even then it’s no sure thing)".
Which is exactly what Facebook has been trying to do with the Oculus Go and Oculus Quest. Sure, I'd love to step into VR that's barely distinguishable from reality - but the actual reality is that this won't happen for a while. And to get there, VR needs to make money. To make money, it needs an audience. That audience is not big enough right now, but more accessible VR platforms will be the best way to grow it.
Because here's another thing: VR developers need to make money, and while there are some success stories to be told, it's more a case of slow and steady. CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson recently told Destructoid, “We expected VR to be two to three times as big as it was, period." As he then puts it, "You can't build a business on that."
Catering to the hardcore VR users isn’t going to solve this problem. So sure, maybe Facebook is working on an Oculus Rift 2 - it's a big company capable of spinning many plates - but, if VR is gasping for air right now, this won't be what saves it.