Facebook stewardship of Oculus has chased Minecraft away

Minecraft developer, Markus Persson aka Notch, has ceased all development of a Minecraft port of Oculus' virtual reality products following Facebook's $2 billion purchase of the company today — how many other developers follow his lead will determine Oculus' future.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Markus Persson has stopped all development of porting a version of Minecraft to the Oculus Rift, following the Facebook's $2 billion purchase of the company, announced today.

"Facebook creeps me out," wrote Persson on Twitter, before expanding his thoughts in a stinging blog post.

"Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers," wrote Persson.

"People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build."

"And I did not chip in ten grand [on Kickstarter] to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition."

I'd like to raise my hand here as one person that has suffered at the whims of Facebook API deprecation. When Facebook announced its app centre in May 2012, I wrote at the time:

The other giant pile of concern I have about this is the quality of Facebook's API. It's unreliable, badly documented (if at all), and Facebook will change and deprecate portions of it, seemingly on a whim.

My experience in having to cobble together parts of Facebook's REST and Graph APIs in order to maintain an application's existing functionality is a special form of hell that I do not wish upon another developer. There are few companies that could deprecate an API without having a fully featured replacement ready to go, but this is acceptable behaviour online. And I'm not the first to experience these feelings, either.

I may be a couple of years removed from extensive development on Facebook's platform, but the worries still rang true for Persson, who created a large, successful game in Java — another special form of hell for developers.

But given the way that Facebook has steered its own platform, is it able to bring on this non-core platform and not ruin it?

Instagram is plugging away after its $1 billion purchase in 2012, but arguably, sharing photos was one of the things that Facebook was doing very well already at the time.

Another purchase made by a social company that was outside of its regular scope was Twitter's purchase of We Are Hunted last year, that eventually turned into Twitter Music.

Less than a year after it arrived, Twitter Music is dead. The app has been removed from the iOS app store, and existing users will be able to use the service until April 18.

It's a lesson for Facebook that good plus good does not neccessarily equal twice the amount of good, and any attempts to angle elements of Facebook's platform into a VR world should be done because it fits, not because the company wants to make them fit.

"I definitely want to be a part of VR, but I will not work with Facebook," wrote Persson.

"Their motives are too unclear and shifting, and they haven't historically been a stable platform. There's nothing about their history that makes me trust them, and that makes them seem creepy to me."

Google Glass has been pilloried, not only because of its ability to easily record other people with minimal notification, but also because of concerns with what Google may do with even more data about its user's lives, and how this could be used to serve ads.

Google's main competitor at the moment in the advertising realm is Facebook, but whereas Google is able to overlay its objects over a user's vision, Facebook has the potential to control everything that Oculus users see, and could therefore show any image they wanted — and it could be the most stealthy use of product placement that we could yet imagine.

Presently, the idea of a "Vision delivered by Facebook" product is hyperbole, but only a couple of years ago, using a pair of Google-controlled glasses while travelling in a Google-powered driverless car would have been greeted with the same response.

"This Facebook / Oculus deal firms up the idea Facebook wants to be a GE, not a Google. Conglomerate, not integrated single unit," wrote CNET Australia editor, Seamus Byrne this morning.

As long as Facebook follows the GE model, the future of an independent Oculus looks bright. But if Facebook becomes tempted to start plugging its existing products into its new purchase, and head down the Twitter Music route, then Oculus may end up as the company that rebooted virtual reality interest before gaining a massive exit price.

The spectre of Facebook has already scared away one developer, how many more follow Persson's lead will determine the success of the Facebook's latest multi-billion dollar purchase.

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