Game talkMusings on the Oculus sale

 Posted by (Visited 14326 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Mar 252014
 

four-square-1Rendering was never the point.

Oh, it’s hard. But it’s rapidly becoming commodity hardware. That was in fact the basic premise of the Oculus Rift: that the mass market commodity solution for a very old dream was finally approaching a price point where it made sense. The patents were expiring; the panels were cheap and getting better by the month. The rest was plumbing. Hard plumbing, the sort that calls for a Carmack, maybe, but plumbing.

Rendering is the dream of a game industry desperately searching for a new immersion, another step in the ongoing escalation of immersion that has served as the economic engine of ongoing hardware replacement, the false god of “games getting better.” It was an out: the plucky indie that bucked the big consoles but still gave us the AAA. It was supposed to enable “art.”

But rendering was never the point.

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It’s time to wake up to the fact that you’re just another avatar in someone else’s MMO.

Look, there are a few big visions for the future of computing doing battle.

There’s a wearable camp, full of glasses and watches. It’s still nascent, but its doom is already waiting in the wings; biocomputing of various sorts (first contacts, then implants, nano, who knows) will unquestionably win out over time, just because glasses and watches are what tech has been removing from us, not getting us to put back on. Google has its bets down here.

There’s a beacon-y camp, one where mesh networks and constant broadcasts label and dissect everything around us, blaring ads and enticing us with sales coupons as we walk through malls. In this world, everything is annotated and shouting at a digital level, passing messages back and forth. It’s an ubicomp environment where everything is “smart.” Apple has its bets down here.

These two things are going to get married. 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.

In this world, what is Oculus? What is something as simple as a mere social network? After all, a social network is just ubicomp on people; Facebook on a watch or a pair of glasses is just another way to say that we’ll have our own set of semantic tags and labels stuck on our flesh, with those with the eyes to see. Worse, it’s one that relies on what we say, which is very different from what we do. It’s one that relies on supposed friend networks that are self-reported, when soon enough biometric data will report back up who we actually care about, how our pulse quickens when in the presence of the right person.

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I have a deep respect for the technical scale that FB operates at. The cyberspace we want for VR will be at this scale.

— John Carmack (@ID_AA_Carmack) March 26, 2014

The virtue of Oculus lies in presence. A startling, unusual sort of presence. Immersion is nice, but presence is something else again. Presence is what makes Facebook feel like a conversation. Presence is what makes you hang out on World of Warcraft. Presence is what makes offices persist in the face of more than enough capability for remote work. Presence is why a video series can out-draw a text-based MOOC and presence is why live concerts can make more money than album sales.

Facebook is laying its bet on people, instead of smart objects. It’s banking on the idea that doing things with one another online — the thing that has fueled it all this time — is going to keep being important. This is a play to own walking through Machu Picchu without leaving home, a play to own every classroom and every museum. This is a play to own what you do with other people.

Oh, there will be room for games. But Oculus, in the end, serves Facebook by becoming the interface to other people online. I’d feel better about this if Facebook understood people, institutionally. I’m never quite sure if they do.

Long ago, at the Metaverse Roadmapping sessions, we discussed the ways in which virtuality could be used:

  1. Augmented reality
  2. Lifelogging
  3. Virtual worlds
  4. Mirror worlds

#2 is all Glass is currently useful for; a glorified video camera, until the augmented aspect kicks in. The addition of indoor mapping, beacons, Bluetooth LE, mesh networks, and suddenly the first two leap to life. Once it’s here, we’ll forget what life was like without it, swimming in a sea of data.

Facebook is placing its new bet on the bottom half. It already logs lives, in a way. It aspires to be the semantic tags on every abstract entity — that’s what Open Graph was about — but a lot of folks are fighting over that pie, not least of which is Google. What Oculus opens is the bottom two.

bulletA while back I wrote

A lot of the praxis around virtual worlds — and indeed, games in general — has been co-opted by social mediaBut it doesn’t mean virtual worlds are over. They are metamorphosing, and like a caterpillar, on the path to mass market acceptance, they are shedding the excess legs and creepy worm-like looks in favor of something that doesn’t much resemble what it sprang from, but which a lot more people will like. And which will be a bit harder to pin down.

In that piece, I said the issues with virtual worlds, the reasons why they were fading, were because what virtual worlds offered was mostly just placeness, at a time when “good enough” placeness was available everywhere. But immersive VR raises the stakes on placeness.

Facebook’s purchase of Oculus is the first crack in the chrysalis of a new vision of a cyberspace, a Metaverse. It’s one that the Oculus guys have always shared. It wasn’t ever about the rendering for them either. Games were always a stepping stone. It was about placeness, and Facebook is providing the populace.

Is it enough to win out? I don’t know. The real world is mighty compelling. The sorts of dreams Oculus enables are the same damn dreams we’ve always had for virtual worlds:

  • attend a virtual concert
  • learn in a virtual classroom
  • talk to a virtual meeting
  • sleep with a virtual partner
  • slay a virtual dragon
  • build a virtual cathedral

Oh, it can be the best damn version of this ever. But to me the trends say that building the cathedral out of nano-based smart dust may end up being a bit more compelling. It certainly provides a more direct path to the money, and let’s not kid ourselves, anyone who spends $2 billion cares about the money.bullet

Either way, no matter who wins out, it was never about the rendering. All four of these visions have one thing in common: the servers.

It’s about who owns the servers.

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.

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.

The real race isn’t over the client — the glasses, watches, phones, or goggles. It’s over the servers. It’s over the operating system. The one that understands countless layers of semantic tags upon every object on earth, the one that knows who to show you in Machu Picchu, the one that lets you turn whole visualizations of reality on and off.

Hopefully, the one that isn’t owned by anyone. (I have a spec I started. But nobody wants it. Money, remember?)

Pshhht, rendering? We’ll get new client hardware, new client software. Big whoop. I’m a lot more worried about whose EULA is going to govern my life.

 

 

  160 Responses to “Musings on the Oculus sale”

  1. Awesome points. And the servers that understand the video/image feeds i.e computervision :) a la vufind

  2. […] no question that Facebook, Google, et al will want in on the Metaverse. Owning Oculus will give FB a big advantage and all but guarantees a seat at the table (make no […]

  3. […] Raph Koster reflects on the promise of Oculus: […]

  4. nice.

    i’ll add one from the facebook point of view. “we almost missed the boat on mobile and barely turned the titanic to catch it. this time? oh, we’re hitting it early, baby!”

    the issue is that vr is going to take for-ev-er to reach the mass adoption of mobile. 1) it doesn’t solve a popular pain point. 2) it can’t be shared without getting your own device.

    that means it’ll be niche at best.

    there’s a reason headsets went extinct for a while. now that they’re back, it’s like saying the imaginary “well, tv sets failed in the mass market. let’s make an hd version and see if that will take!”

  5. oh, and i forgot — you know me, i’m a server guy at heart. so i’m all in on that point of view….

  6. Raph’s been playing a little bit of Netrunner, methinks.

  7. […] the dust settles after the big shock, people are starting to muse about what this really means.  I suspect we will be doing that for a […]

  8. Nope, avoiding Netrunner just because it’s The Cool Thing right now. :)

  9. […] Koster, a game developer and author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design, has some interesting thoughts on the longterm implications of Facebook’s foray into virtual reality. Virtual reality has […]

  10. […] Koster, a game developer and author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design, has some interesting thoughts on the longterm implications of Facebook’s foray into virtual reality. Virtual reality has […]

  11. […] Koster, a game developer and author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design, has some interesting thoughts on the longterm implications of Facebook’s foray into virtual reality. Virtual reality […]

  12. […] Koster, a game developer and author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design, has some interesting thoughts on the longterm implications of Facebook’s foray into virtual reality. Virtual reality has […]

  13. […] Koster, a game developer and author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design, has some interesting thoughts on the longterm implications of Facebook’s foray into virtual reality. Virtual reality has […]

  14. […] Koster, a game developer and author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design, has some interesting thoughts on the longterm implications of Facebook’s foray into virtual reality. Virtual reality […]

  15. Aren’t servers innately vulnerable?

  16. Sure. Less so than clients, I suppose. ;)

  17. […] Koster, a game developer and author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design, has some interesting thoughts on the longterm implications of Facebook’s foray into virtual reality. Virtual reality has […]

  18. […] Koster / Raph’s Website:Oculus provides the big leap to immersive augmented reality; Facebook provides the populace — Musings on the Oculus sale — Rendering was never the point. — Oh, it’s […]

  19. […] Koster / Raph’s Website:Oculus provides the big leap to immersive augmented reality; Facebook provides the populace  —  Musings on the Oculus sale  —  Rendering was never the […]

  20. […] Read this article: Oculus provides the big leap to immersive augmented reality; Facebook provides the populace (Raph Ko… […]

  21. […] Raph Koster has some pretty intriguing musings on what this signifies, and where the trends are going. […]

  22. […] 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 […]

  23. Well said. Also, makes me glad I’m a Server Architect & Programmer. :D

  24. Hi Raph,

    My personal take is that VR isn’t really the end-game of this, despite what Mark and Palmer might be saying at the moment. I’ve been considering this for a while and “placeness” doesn’t solve any of the fundamental issues with metaverse interactions. Don’t get me wrong, that is certainly a large part of the story and the intermediate milestone, but the avatar mediated interactions are always going to hit a particular ceiling of adoption.

    Instead, I consider that John has been dedicating all his time to mobile, with the goal of a full RTOS cable-free experience, and also the fact that the earlier revealed screenshots of the consumer edition contained 3DS style dual cameras. As Google Glass is attempting to own overlay-style AR, I fully expect Oculus to own passthrough-style AR.

    Video-passthrough AR solves a lot of the black-opacity issues of overlay AR, and can provide a significantly more integrated experience. It also synchronizes the video and AR overlay in a way that Glass-style AR will never be able to match, and the cost of some field-of-view latency, which I am convinced our brain will be able to compensate for.

    This is consistent with a lot of what Michael Abrash has been saying about VR/AR since 2012, and matches my own expected timelines of things. As a systems engineer, I’ve long considered the 3 pillars of the next Internet (or matrix, mesh, whatever you prefer) to be The Internet of Things (driven by IPV6 and mesh protocols), AR, and pervasive social networks. VR overlaps partially with the latter, but misses the larger story.

    I haven’t seen much discussion regarding this point lately, despite Abrash being quite clear that it was the original vision that drove him to wearable computing in the first place. I feel that people get caught up on the unfashionability of Google Glass, despite the fact that obscuring our face with sunglasses is totally normal.

    Anyway, this interpretation seems too far out for many to buy into, but seems to fit your roadmap quite cleanly.

    I would be very interested in your thoughts on this.

  25. […] 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 […]

  26. I agree with you! The objections you raise to VR are dead on I think. In the post above I link to a piece of mine called “Are Virtual Worlds Over?” That makes that same case.

    AR is clearly where the action will be to my mind. I do not think Oculus has that sewn up at all though. Lot of competition there.

  27. […] 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 […]

  28. […] immersion rigs have allowed the promise of virtual worlds to rear its head again. Raph wrote a great post the other night, and I feel compelled to weigh in as […]

  29. […] Oculus sale to Facebook. John Carmack even responded in the comments, while Palmer took to reddit. Raph Koster and Blair McIntyre do pretty good analyses in their own rights, putting the pieces […]

  30. […] my big reason is I suspect VR doesn’t really work. And a lot of that is to do with presence. In his blog post outlining why he joined, Michael Abrash embedded a video from the Steam Dev Days […]

  31. […] my big reason is I suspect VR doesn’t really work. And a lot of that is to do with presence. In his blog post outlining why he joined, Michael Abrash embedded a video from the Steam Dev Days […]

  32. […] my big reason is I suspect VR doesn’t really work. And a lot of that is to do with presence. In his blog post outlining why he joined, Michael Abrash embedded a video from the Steam Dev Days […]

  33. […] my big reason is I suspect VR doesn’t really work. And a lot of that is to do with presence. In his blog post outlining why he joined, Michael Abrash embedded a video from the Steam Dev Days […]

  34. […] my big reason is I suspect VR doesn’t really work. And a lot of that is to do with presence. In his blog post outlining why he joined, Michael Abrash embedded a video from the Steam Dev Days […]

  35. […] 不不不,在我看来,虚拟现实根本没有用处,这才是最重要的原因。虚拟现实需要大量的真实感,迈克尔·亚伯拉什在那篇解释他为什么加盟Oculus的博文中引用了他在去年Steam Dev Days上的演讲视频,他在里面阐述了虚拟现实的力量以及存在引力。存在引力是虚拟现实里用来描述在虚拟空间真实感的术语。他们要让虚拟现实的存在感超越沉浸感,比如让人们站在虚拟悬崖的边缘时产生眩晕。 […]

  36. […] 不不不,在我看來,虛擬現實根本沒有用處,這才是最重要的原因。虛擬現實需要大量的真實感,邁克爾·亞伯拉什在那篇解釋他為什麼加盟Oculus的博文中引用了他在去年Steam Dev Days上的演講視頻,他在裡面闡述了虛擬現實的力量以及存在引力。存在引力是虛擬現實里用來描述在虛擬空間真實感的術語。他們要讓虛擬現實的存在感超越沉浸感,比如讓人們站在虛擬懸崖的邊緣時產生眩暈。 […]

  37. […] my big reason is I suspect VR doesn’t really work. And a lot of that is to do with presence. In his blog post outlining why he joined, Michael Abrash embedded a video from the Steam Dev Days […]

  38. I’ve been reading quite a few of your posts and I am enjoying them. I feel that I will be learning a lot if I read more (i especially liked your post on balancing experts and novices as I have played several games that include those features – The Reincarnation has a wipe feature, Battlemaster has different sub games. I’ve also played a game with none of those features – Inselkampf – which was closed recently probably due to the most powerful players getting to ridiculous levels of power.

  39. […] immersion rigs have allowed the promise of virtual worlds to rear its head again. Raph wrote a great post the other night, and I feel compelled to weigh in as […]

  40. […] immersion rigs have allowed the promise of virtual worlds to rear its head again. Raph wrote a great post the other night, and I feel compelled to weigh in as […]

  41. […] immersion rigs have allowed the promise of virtual worlds to rear its head again. Raph wrote a great post the other night, and I feel compelled to weigh in as […]

  42. […] “Musings on the Oculus Sale” – Raph Koster […]

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