Oculus Rift, Facebook, and Sharing With Crowdfunding Backers
Oculus Rift, the latest uber-cool project amongst video game mavens, just hit the jackpot, and a lot of people are annoyed about it. The VR-goggle system, designed primarily for videogame use, but bursting with potential other uses, got its initial funding via crowdfunding site Kickstarter, much to everyone’s joy. But this week, the company made news when it was sold for a staggering two billion dollars.
Sounds like good news, right? A rags to riches, Local Boy Makes Good story, yeah?
You can actually hear the Internet’s face fall.
Kickstarter backers are positively livid. There are demands for refunds, great cries of foul, and a general sense that George Bailey sold the Building and Loan to Mr. Potter.
I wonder how the community would have reacted if they’d sold to Google, or Apple, or some other company that people liked? People might have been annoyed thinking (incorrectly) that they in some way deserve a taste, but I think it’s much more that he sold to Facebook than anything else. Facebook is universally seen as The Bad Guy, taking the place of Microsoft as the monster that eats up smaller companies before they can become a threat. Except Facebook (as far as the Internet is concerned) buys things for an even more sick and nefarious purpose – to make money off them.
How Facebook plans to make money off of Oculus is a total unknown. The initial videogame applications are obvious, but what about using it as an interface for live chatting? Of for touring an advertiser’s virtual store? Or for the main reason that most new technology becomes profitable, porn? Whatever it is, the vibe on the internet is that it won’t be what those backers signed up for.
To a lesser degree, I suspect there’s some disappointment that the project didn’t stay “small and cool”. The vast majority of projects that Kickstarter has helped have been very niche, somewhat obscure, and only of interest to a small number of people. It was designed for small projects, things that people’s interest in supporting went about as far as saying “Yes, I’d buy that if it was a thing, so here’s my money in advance, so you can make it a thing.” There was never any real chance they would become monster successes. But now we have one, and I think some people feel put out that they won’t be remembered for having helped back when they was.
The Veronica Mars movie is a good example – the chances of that film getting a wide distribution and becoming a major commercial hit are slim. But if it were to happen, would the backers be happy that “their film” was a hit, or would they start to feel they deserved a taste? The OUYA videogame platform got a lot of buzz before its release, and hit a couple of stumbling blocks before release, but release it did, and while it didn’t become a behemoth on par with Sony and Microsoft, it’s made a nice place for itself. The results were reasonable, good enough that the initial backers could feel like they helped bring a cool thing into being.
But this one blows the bell curve. To compare things to the early days of comics, Oculus Rift is Superman, and the backers are Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Nobody had any idea the up-side of this product was this high, and there’s no legal obligation for the company to share the benefits with the Kickstarters. And in honesty, if they chose to do so out of sheer largesse (when dealing with sums this big, the merest fraction of that money would be life-changing), it opens up many legal doors, and runs the risk of setting a dangerous precedent. It would almost require any and all future KS projects to include benchmarks for possible financial return, which would effectively and irrevocably change the purpose of the site.
This is the exact opposite of the more prevalent recurring event of late, funded projects falling through. Again, there’s no guarantee that a project will come to fruition when funded, and many have withered and died when the people behind the project realized the amount they asked for didn’t come close to what was actually needed. People have ended up with nothing after such projects, and that left people disappointed, but aware that it’s a possibility. But now a far more potentially frustrating scenario has arisen.
How will things change when people will have to look at Kickstarter projects, wondering HOW successful they’ll be?