I spent a good deal of last week watching with increasingly wide-eyed astonishment as the Oculus Rift saga played out.
If you’ve been inconveniently glued to an iPad that was hurled at a squirrel up a tall tree, the rough course of events was as follows.
First, some clever folk figured out how to make virtual reality exciting again, and all without erasing everyone’s memories from 1995 onwards about the future of technology. Presumably because it’s not enough to have Google Glass-style semi-transparent overlays providing access to a virtual world, it will soon be all the rage to strap a TV screen to your entire face.
Rather than accidentally driving your car off a cliff while scanning your Twitter feed via Googlevision, you’ll be able to live your entire life inside a dank bedroom full of pizza boxes, exploring virtual worlds, meeting virtual people and virtually having a virtual good time.
Next, the company raised a ton of money on Kickstarter, smashing its target and ending up with “$2,437,429 pledged” for a “$250,000 goal”. Instead of withdrawing the money and rolling around naked on it, or turning it into a huge papier-mâché sculpture of Jeff Fahey in virtual-reality ‘classic’ The Lawnmower Man, the team behind Oculus Rift bucked the Kickstarter trend and made good on all of its pledge rewards.
Then everything went wrong as the project was bought for two billion dollars by Facebook, presumably because the social giant’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg needed a VR project to flesh-out his Top Trumps IP hand with which to zing Larry Page.
Toys were thrown out of prams, and a common word bandied about was ‘betrayal’. People had invested — emotionally and financially — in Oculus Rift, but now the project had sold out to The Man. Some moaned that instead of ushering in a brave new tomorrow, Oculus Rift would now fire directly into your eyes adverts for smartphones you don’t want to buy and various flavours of Candy Crush Saga, forever. Others just wanted a piece of that sweet, sweet two billion dollars, because after all, they’d invested in Oculus Rift, and so that was only fair, right?
The thing is, Kickstarter is a reverse Dragons’ Den — you provide cash in return for precisely zero per cent of the equity. You’re not owed anything beyond whatever you were promised when you made your pledge. (In fact, Kickstarter’s terms are pretty vague even on that point — in reality, the system is a punt, for possibly funding something you like the look of).
Oculus Rift’s team would have only ‘betrayed’ you had it not made good on its original promises; and even the conceptual thinking behind the project isn’t necessarily dead, given that Oculus CTO John Carmack maintains Facebook not only ‘gets’ Oculus but also has the scale to fulfil its potential.
Of course, the Oculus ‘betrayal’ is far from alone, and people seemingly end up feeling personally slighted by practically anything a tech company does these days. Apple hasn't released an iWatch yet? BETRAYED! The new PS Vita has an LCD screen? BETRAYED! The new Galaxy Tab’s display is smaller than an actual galaxy? BETRAYED!
If you think just because a company’s following its own path and not yours that you’ve been betrayed — not a bit disappointed, not a touch saddened, but actually betrayed — you should probably sit back and consider another word that’s appropriate in such a scenario: entitled. That one doesn’t refer to the companies.