After Oculus’ acquisition by Facebook earlier this year, many wondered if the company’s aims would be changed by the merger. Before the company was bought by Facebook, consumers and developers were excited to see what the Oculus Rift could do for video games and virtual reality in general.
After the company’s sale to Facebook, Oculus has increased its focus to include social media as well. In an interview at Techcrunch Disrupt 2014 in New York, Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe had this to say.
We want to connect a billion people in VR and have face-to-face communication, and we want to have all kinds of entertainment experiences and games.
Iribe went on to admit that Oculus’ dream would require a “big network infrastructure, one of the biggest ever.” For comparison, Star Wars:The Old Republic managed to reach two million accounts in total only after it became free-to-play. World of Warcraft, the undisputed king of MMOs, had only 12 million subscribers at its peak, and has roughly 7.6 million right now. It seems Iribe shouldn’t only be worried about the hardware required to reach his goal, but also whether or not his idea could attract a billion people.
Iribe, like any good businessman, is focused on what the most profitable course of action is. He went on to imply that a virtual reality platform would be more profitable than focusing solely on gaming, stating:
Do you want to build a platform that has a billion users on it, or only 10, 20 or 50 million?
What Makes Oculus Capable of One Billion If WOW Can’t Maintain 12 Million?
Whatever Oculus and Facebook have planned is outside the realm of video games. Iribe’s idea is probably closer to the virtual world of Second Life than to RPGs like World of Warcraft. However Second Life, a highly-populated online world popular enough to have its own economy, only ever had a million active users at its peak. In the mid-2000s Second Life received large amounts of coverage from the media and gained the attention of corporations such as Disney, Adidas and Microsoft, who set up shops within the virtual world.
After some time though, the novelty of the virtual world faded and the general public lost interest in Second Life. Developer Linden Labs’ virtual world continues to produce approximately $100 million in revenue a year but never reached the heights many people expected it to.
Second Life’s Virtual World Wasn’t As Lucrative As Many Hoped
Facebook has approximately 1.3 billion users, but that doesn’t mean 1.3 billion people would be interested in a virtual reality social network. Whatever virtual world Oculus and Facebook plan on creating will need to keep the interest of a billion people. That challenge is far more daunting than having an infrastructure capable of handling that many users. Pleasing an audience that large and varied in terms of age, background and culture will be the biggest concern for anything interactive, let alone something as new as virtual reality.