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Oculus Rift is a virtual reality head-mounted display (HMD) being developed by Oculus VR. After a protype debuted at 2012’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, the first batch of developer systems were initially funded through a Kickstarter campaign.
Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey had been collecting HMDs for years, seeking one that would fit his needs. After getting a Virtual Research V8 and learning that its 60 degree field of vision was one of the best on the market, Luckey realized that he would have to develop his own model. As a moderator of the Meant to Be Seen 3D (MTBS3D) forums for stereoscopic gaming enthusiasts, Luckey began working on his own HMD project. He named the organization Oculus and HMD itself “Rift,” based on the idea that a HMD unit creates a breach between actual and virtual realities. On April 15th, 2012, he announced to the MTBS3D forum that he had completed the optics, display panels and interface hardware for the project, with the hopes of launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first batch of systems on June 1st. As of July 2013, this thread has generated more than 4,200 posts.
By June 2013, Id Software founder John Carmack (shown below) had signed on to support the project and brought a prototype demo to that year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). This demo showed a Rift with a 90 degree horizonal view and a 110 degree vertical view, offering a wider field of view than anything on the market. The system was playable with a version of Doom 3. Carmack asserted that they could have consumer-friendly versions of the system within a year. The journalists that tested the system had rave reviews, calling it “a level of immersion genuinely unlike anything else [they] have ever encountered.”
On August 1st, 2012, the Kickstarter fundraiser for Oculus Rift launched, looking to raise $250,000 within 30 days. With support from big-name developers including Valve’s Gabe Newell, the project was completely funded within 24 hours. Just over two weeks in to the campaign, more than 5,000 development kits had been sold, causing Luckey to remind consumers that this version of the Rift was directed at developers and would not be a consumer-ready product. Despite that, the Kickstarter campaign closed on September 1st, 2012 with 9,522 backers pledging a total of $2,437,429, making it the most funded Technology Kickstarter project at the time. As of July 2013, it is now the second-most funded, beaten by the Form 1 3D printer, which raised more than $2.9 million in October 2012.
Developer Kits Released
Though they were originally set to be released in December 2012, the sets were delayed until March 2013. That month, tech and gaming blogs including Engadget, IGN and Polygon all reported testing out the system with rave reviews. On March 29th, 2013, Oculus VR announced that the headset kits had begun shipping to backers. The Oculus SDK software source code, along with the source codes for the sample games, were made available online for developers to tool around with. The Rift also came with access to the Unreal Engine and a virtual reality edition of Team Fortress 2. As early as March 29th, backers began to receive their headsets and started posting video reviews of the systems and its games online.
Acquisition by Facebook
On March 25th, 2014, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a status update on his Facebook page announcing that his company has acquired Oculus VR, adding that the virtual reality technology will be integrated into the platform as a tool for gaming and other social interactions among its users. That same day, the Facebook Newsroom blog confirmed that the company has reached a merger and acquisition agreement with Oculus VR for approximately $2 billion USD.
Also on March 25th, the tech news blog Engadget published an article about the acquisition, noting that Zuckerberg planned to use the Oculus Rift for advertising in the future. Meanwhile, the header of the /v/ (video games) board on 4chan was changed to read “Where were you when gaming died?” and multiple sticky threads were created to discuss the acquisition. In addition, the song “Komm, Susser Tod” (German for “Come, Sweet Death”) from the anime movie End of Evangelion was looped in the board’s background audio.
The Oculus Rift Kickstarter page was subsequently flooded with criticisms about the acquisition, with many backers of the campaign expressing feelings of betrayal by Oculus VR.
On March 26th, Redditor ohgodimsodumb submitted an image macro juxtaposing Oculus VR CTO John Carmack’s description of the Rift as a hacking-friendly device with Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe’s more recent description of the headset as a social communication tool (shown below) in an /r/gaming post titled “Why Oculus pissed us off.” Within three hours, the post reached the front page of Reddit with upwards of 13,300 up votes and 2,600 comments.
Oculus VR maintains a number of active social media profiles on Google+, Twitter and Facebook, where they have more than 27,000 likes as of July 2013. Fans of the system congregate on Reddit in /r/Oculus, which has more than 9,700 subscribers as of July 2013, the Meant to Be Seen 3D forums and the official developer community.
Following the release of the initial developer kits, Oculus VR successfully closed a $16 million round of funding on June 17th, 2013. As of July 2013, there are more than 203,000 search results for “oculus rift” on YouTube.