An excerpt from The Story of the Future: Oculus, Facebook and the revolution that swept through virtual reality by Blake J. Harris



By Blake J. Harris

Editor's Note: Blake J. Harris, author of the essential book on the history of video game, Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and The battle that defines a generation is about to publish his next book, History of the future: Oculus, Facebook and the revolution that swept the virtual reality. Below is an excerpt from Harris shared with IGN. We hope this will fascinate you as much as we are for the story of the future, which will come out on shelves and devices today. (See on Amazon).

HistoryOfTheFuture

Chapter 39: Locking

January / February 2016

WITH A TRIO OF OTHER LEADERS – SHERYL SANDBERG, DEBORAH Crawford and Dave Wehner – Mark Zuckerberg spoke to a handful of financial analysts during the conference call on the end-of-year results of Facebook, January 27th.

"Overall, the fourth quarter was a strong quarter and an excellent end to the year," Zuckerberg said. "More than 1.59 billion people now use Facebook every month … and our business is also pleased with our continued growth."

For the year, Facebook 's revenue grew 52% to $ 5.8 billion. Powered not only by these 1.59 billion monthly users on Facebook, but also by the 2.1 billion monthly users on their subsidiary platforms: 400 million users on Instagram, 800 million on Messenger and WhatsApp at the end of the year with "nearly a billion monthly assets".

"With virtual reality," said Zuckerberg, "we have reached an important milestone: the Samsung Gear VR shipped during the holidays with our Oculus software and we are delighted with the initial reaction. pre-orders for Oculus Headets … This launch of Oculus announces as a great moment for the gaming community. But in the long run, virtual reality has the potential to change the way we live, work and live. It's an important step forward, and we can not wait to see how people are using it. "

***

THROUGH THE FACEBOOK CAMPUS, ON THE SECOND FLOOR OF OCULUS BUILDING 18, a red neon sign broke the word Lockdown in plain view. And beside the word, there was a number that was reduced by one day a day; and the number today was "49" to remind employees how many days were left before the official launch of the Rift.

Like Zuckerberg, all Oculus employees were eager to see how people would use this product for which they had spent a part of their lives. But among the leaders, we worried more and more about how people would be allowed to use it – which came to light six days later.

"

But among the leaders, the question of how people would be allowed to use [the Oculus].

"After much thought," wrote Iribe to Zuckerberg on February 2, "we believe that staying open on PC is the right decision and will be the key to our long-term success."

By "open", Iribe meant that Rift users would be free to download and download software from outside Oculus Store. For consumers, this would be important as they could buy content from other channels (like Valve's Steam or EA's Origin), as well as access the banned content of the Oculus store ( pornography), which would be important for developers as this would allow them to choose the place of sale of their content and ensure that the content could still be distributed even if it was not approved by Oculus , which would be important for distributors, as they would have the freedom and autonomy to manage their own store, allowing them to compete directly with Oculus. .

"What you are describing is not my instinct on how to proceed, but I am open minded to discuss it …" Zuckerberg replied. "I would need to understand why this does not just reduce Oculus to be a PC device and how it really positions us as a platform."

HoTF Photo 3- Prototype at Dycus Family Home

Oculus founder, Palmer Luckey, and the company's first employee, Chris Dycus, pose for Dycus's mother in the summer of 2012. Photo: Dycus Family.

The following week, Oculus's management team met several times to present what they thought was a compelling case for staying open. And as they rushed from one meeting to another, often passing in front of the neon sign of building 18, they had not lost the irony – while they were thinking of ways to prevent the CEO from Facebook to block their platform.

On February 12, Iribe met with Zuckerberg to explain why staying open or "largely open" was at the heart of Oculus' strategy of channeling users to their platform. The more open their platform, the more it would attract consumers, developers and distributors. and, therefore, the more the Oculus platform would develop and be the beneficiary of the network effects: it was more or less the strategy that had conquered the PC market for Microsoft and the mobile phone market of Google.

History and strategy aside, there was also an ideological component to that. Iribe, Abrash, Luckey and all other Oculus administrators believed in a philosophy of openness to the personal computer market. Zuckerberg respected their point of view, but was insensitive to their cause. And any benefit of doubt that the Oculus team could have hoped to receive was no longer valid when Zuckerberg made it clear that Oculus no longer seemed to have a "technological advantage" over its competitors. The meeting ended soon after, Zuckerberg declaring to Iribe: "You will not tire me about it. "

Nevertheless, Zuckerberg still hoped to solve this problem in a flexible way. In an email sent two days later, he outlined a potential compromise: "We have so far tackled two approaches: (1) only allow apps distributed on our store to run on Rift, plus some exceptions; or (2) enable distributed applications anywhere on Rift. An intermediate proposal is to allow applications to run on Rift, which are distributed in our store or directly by developers, but versions of applications distributed in other stores are not allowed.

Zuckerberg continued to point out the perceived benefits of his proposal as well as the potential trap ("The only thing I do not understand is how we are going to enforce the fact that Valve meets our conditions, regardless of the restrictions that we have defined "). He gave the Oculus management team a lot of things to think about. That's one thing he said in conclusion, which they could not help thinking for days.

"Although I greatly appreciate your opinions," writes Zuckerberg, "I also consider this platform strategy as the main reason why we are investing in virtual reality, so I will not change my mind. just because you care a lot about yourself. "

"

"Although I greatly appreciate your opinions," said Zuckerberg, "I also consider this platform strategy as the main reason why we are investing in virtual reality, so I will not change my mind." just because you care a lot. "

If there was any uncertainty as to Zuckerberg's resilience here, this was cleared up by an email from Brendan Marten, Facebook's finance officer for AR / VR, who said the following:

  • "Mark sees that there are risks in closing the platform, but does not believe that they are as big or irreversible, and he is willing to take that risk. He believes that you can open it once closed, but going in the other direction is much more difficult. "
  • "Mark thinks that some Oculus employees will not be satisfied with the closure of the platform and even that it goes against the culture and could be a source of discontent within the team, but considers that a reasonable price. . . For example, how many long-time Oculus employees (most likely to strongly oppose the closure of the platform) will leave their PSUs? If they do not, how much will their work be worse as a result? John would even have principles [Carmack] s & # 39; away?
  • "Unless we present Mark with a long-term plan for Rift's success that he thinks makes sense, I think Rift will probably be somewhere between soon destitute and orphaned."
  • "Either: a) we find an explanation of the honesty that Mark may think logical, b) we decide to stay closed, or c) there will be a frontal collision. And remember, even if we win this head-on collision, Mark controls the budget and count of the number of people, so the Rift may be hungry anyway. "

In the midst of all this, Iribe sought advice from Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic, who immediately responded, "Locking Oculus hardware in any way is a very bad idea."

Sweeney then said the following advice: "Several iterations are coming. You blocked Steam, Valve blocked Oculus and all other platforms formed battle lines. There is so much going on in secret that you will not even see the enemy positions as long as they will not be deeply rooted … There is already enough nonsense, Amazon refuses to sell the Apple TV, Apple then engaged in a war of blocking ads against Google. and the broken Windows Store from Microsoft that does not sell real Windows applications. Facebook should simply stay above the fray, as a trusted and impartial player in all ecosystems. "

While Luckey was pondering Tim Sweeney's words, another email from Brendan Marten arrived that sparked an idea. & # 39; My sense is [Mark] believes that Google is our biggest long-term competitor … "writes Marten. Google is the actor who has the most sustainable financial power, and he is particularly interested in achieving a vast ecosystem of virtual reality similar to what Mark wants us to achieve for Facebook: Mark needs to To find out more about this in his current vision / strategic discussions. "

Google urged Oculus executives to think about Google's Android phones and those who started thinking about "unknown sources", a setting that Android users could turn on their phones and, once activated, their Android device. allowed sideload apps from places other than the Google Play Store.

The idea here was that Oculus basically copies this thing. In this way, Zuckerberg could have his platform shut down and users could open it by simply clicking on a thing.

But wait, one of the executive members pointed out: the (public) Android public was very different from what the public (the first users and PC players) would buy the Rift.

The implication being that, compared to about 1 to 2% of Android users having activated "Unknown Sources", Rift users would be much more likely to do so. Which, they agreed, was not only probably correct, but also – since it was so nice what it was said – was not something we had to announce to Mark! "

***

THIS EVENING, BACK IN THE COMMON, THE LUCKEY FOCUS-TESTED THIS UNKNOWN Idea of ​​sources with Edelmann, Dycus, Hammerstein, Howland and Shine. The five of them – each embodying a hardcore PC player – were on board, thinking that it was a smart solution.

"To be honest," says Howland, "I'm a little surprised that Brendan is on the right side of the story here – maybe he should have a little chat with his pal Nate."

Luckey understood where she had come from, given Iribe's love for Steve Jobs and how he had explicitly touted the benefits of "closed" platforms in recent years.

"And to be even more honest," commented Howland, "does anyone else find this strange – perhaps: annoying – that Zuckerberg does not seem to understand the market in which he comes from? s & # 39; buy "?

HoTF Photo 24- Oculus Founders With Zuck

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Product Manager Chris Cox visited the Oculus office in Irvine in March 2014 to announce their historic acquisition. Photo: Heidi Westrum.

Accurate or not, Zuckerberg ended up signing ideas from unknown sources.

"The meeting with MZ went very well," sent a message to the executive team on February 18th. "I've submitted a proposal for an SDK license similar to Android where … users still have the power to be open and use Steam or other applications except developers. and the stores have a lot of trouble promoting the content that requires to disable the security / security check box … I think we have landed in a very good location given the alternatives. "

Feeling good about this resolution, as well as the many launch titles that he was playing for the Rift, a thought went through Luckey's mind – to such an extent that he decided to publish on Reddit that night. if I say it myself.

***

IN THE NETHERLANDS, JULES BLOK FURIOUSLY CODED on his laptop.

The code he was writing was for a passion project – for a plugin called "Revive" – ​​Blok felt simultaneously worried and enthusiastic. Excited because, if Revive worked, Vive owners would then be able to play games that were currently only available on the Rift and worried because he had no idea how Oculus would react.

Maybe they would sue him. Or maybe they would forbid their applications. Or maybe they do not care at all. At this point, everything was in the air. But even though there might be a danger, Blok was determined to go ahead. Because for him it was something bigger than him; These were principles and to prove, without a doubt, that a plug-in like Revive was technologically possible.

"

Maybe they would sue him. Or maybe they would forbid their applications. Or maybe they do not care at all.

Creating Revive, or something similar, was in Blok's mind for about a year now. Since Oculus started talking about exclusivity. "Because, like most PC gamers, he saw exclusives as an antithetical experience, he was destroying one of the greatest assets of PC gaming: that everyone can play any game." was it's noble, it's noble and, for Blok, it was also a fight for which it was worth fighting so, when Oculus gave up the open philosophy of the game on computer for an approach to the walled-up console, Blok began to wonder if he could do anything, something like Wine, an application that makes Windows-based games playable on Linux platforms, but in this case, with games based on Oculus on the HTC Vive.

For this to work, Blok determined that his best choice would be to create a compatibility layer between the Oculus SDK and OpenVR (Valve SDK). Quite quickly, he felt convinced he could pull something like this, but he wondered whether he should do it or not. This uncertainty persisted until the creation of a Reddit AMA that Palmer Luckey created in January 2016.

"You may have misunderstood our business model," Luckey told a Reddit user concerned about exclusivity. "When we say" Oculus Exclusive ", it means exclusive to Oculus Store, not exclusive to Rift, we do not make money from Rift hardware and do not really want to lock our software on Rift, that's why Oculus Store is also compatible with the Samsung Gear VR Gear VR and Rift are the first consumer devices to come out of the market.In the future, I think there will be a wide range of hardware to various prices and qualities, like the TV and telephone markets. "

HoTF Photo 16 - Luckey Nate Mike and Brendan sign DK units

Oculus Founders: Palmer Luckey, Nate Mitchell and Mike Antonov and Brendan Iribe signed his first product in early 2013. Photo: Joe Chen.

This information was a comfort to Blok, but what really caught his eye was when Luckey said, "If customers buy a game from us, I do not care to change it to make it work for them. . As I've said a million times (and unlike the current circle), our goal is not to take advantage of locking users on our hardware only. If that was the case, why would we support Gear VR and talk to other headphone manufacturers? ? "

After reading this, Blok decided to go ahead. So he waited for Oculus to publish the first stable version of their SDK, and then immediately to work.

From the outset, Blok knew that one of the biggest challenges would be controlling the Oculus code signing. This audit was a standard security measure for hardware products. It was designed to prevent pirated software (or uncontrolled software) from running. To solve this problem, Blok and another programmer, whom he trusted, created an injector file, able to launch and bypass the Oculus security system. And by the end of March, Blok was almost ready to share this passion project he had nicknamed "Revive".

The story of the future: Oculus, Facebook and the revolution that swept the virtual reality of Blake J. Harris is now available.


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