Who could have possibly seen this coming? Oculus, creators of VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, and Oculus Quest, have announced that in the near future, all of their headsets will require a Facebook account to be paired with them in order to continue fully functioning. The stated reason for this shift is to “make it easier to find, connect, and play with friends in VR”, although I wonder if there might perhaps be more to it than that. Oculus was famously acquired by Facebook back in 2015, and many of its users wondered just exactly how being owned by Facebook might shape the future of the business.
Is it really to make it easier to connect with friends? I feel like if Facebook integration was being offered along with integration for a variety of other networks and platforms, it would be easier still to connect with friends.
Here’s exactly how the changes will roll out:
Starting in October, any new users of existing Oculus VR hardware will be required to sign in with their Facebook account in order to use their device. At this time, existing users will be prompted to merge their existing Oculus account with their Facebook account. If they chose not to merge their accounts by January 2023, they will still be able to use their headset, but with restricted functionality.
For newer devices, Oculus says:
“All future unreleased Oculus devices will require a Facebook account, even if you already have an Oculus account.”
There’s going to be a variety of consequences for this move. Perhaps this means the end of any hope of Oculus selling their devices in China, where Facebook is banned unless they remove this requirement specifically for the Chinese market. It’s not exactly clear if there will be any officially supported recourse for users who are unwilling or unable to use a Facebook account, or at least don’t want to pair it with Oculus, perhaps the message to these people is to simply buy a VR headset from another company.
To me, this seems like a pretty big barrier to entry. In Oculus’s blog post announcing the news, they describe an utterly absurd scenario involving sharing a headset with different users:
“And we plan to introduce the ability for multiple users to log into the same device using their own Facebook account, so people can easily share their headset with friends or family while keeping their information separate.”
If I am sharing a VR headset with different people, including perhaps tech-averse people who are curious about this new technology, the last thing I’m going to do is insist they log in to their Facebook account (if they even have one) before they use a VR headset.
Oculus have gone into a lot of detail about exactly how and when these changes will happen, but in my view, they have utterly failed to present a compelling case for why they are happening. Beneath the rhetoric of “sharing” and “connecting”, it seems that the main drive for a change like this would be to further the corporate strategy of their parent company. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, Facebook is of course seeking to maximize their revenue, and we shouldn’t really expect them to do anything else. It’s just strange to see such a transparent attempt at taking control away from users, and not really offering anything meaningful in return. The stick is that your devices will no longer fully function if you don’t pair a Facebook account, the carrot is…? Sharing and connecting on Facebook doesn’t really cut it for me.
Ultimately I don’t think this is going to result in people chucking their Oculus Headset in the trash, nor do I think it is going to be the most important factor for people deciding which headset to buy, but I do think we can chalk this up as one entry under the “cons” list for Oculus Headsets, with the Valve Index, HTC Vive Cosmos and various Windows Mixed Reality headsets not having this same restriction.
I personally feel that to some extent this is Oculus throwing down the gauntlet to the hacker communities that they themselves spawned from. For quite some time, Oculus was a small operation working within circles of passionate tinkerers and hobbyists. These, I suspect, are exactly the same people that would be driven to develop some kind of workaround, perhaps a custom firmware for Oculus devices, that would bypass entirely the need to log in via Facebook. Oculus may have put on a corporate suit and tie when they took that Zuckerberg money, but there’s still plenty of hardware hackers out there that are just driven by a passion for VR, not furthering a corporate strategy. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens as Oculus appears to have forgotten their roots on this particular matter.
How would you feel about being forced to use a Facebook account to use a VR headset? Would you go along with it, or perhaps look at other headsets without the same restriction? Let us know in the comments.