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Facebook Oculus VR buyout: IT WANTS your EYEBALLS

Mapping out the Face in its Book for an ad-stuffed future

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Comment Mark Zuckerberg made his boldest and certainly most physical play for eyeballs yet on Tuesday when Facebook announced plans to acquire virtual reality startup Oculus VR - the outfit behind Rift headsets - for $2bn.

It's the latest in a series of brash moves from the free content ad network. Oculus VR now joins the ranks of Instagram and WhatsApp as expensive brands folded into Zuck's empire.

Virtual reality is more than a gimmick to the Facebook CEO: he says it's the future and so, naturally, Zuckerberg wants in.

Games developers are already labelling the founders behind Oculus VR as sellouts for inking a deal with Facebook. Minecraft's creator, for example, walked away from the company in reaction to the acquisition.

But Zuck has arguably already brushed aside the gaming community. That's a niche group of people compared with other markets Facebook can tap up with the brick-shaped headgear simply by turning it into a "platform for many other experiences", as Zuckerberg explained.

He doesn't want to have a huge amount of involvement in the gaming side. Zuck said as much in his blog post announcing the deal. Facebook might have the muscle to "accelerate" Oculus VR's plans within the gaming community, and it will pump cash into product development on that side of the house to allow the Rift's original fans to continue to enjoy the kit as it was intended - no doubt with some specific (read: creepy) Facebook modifications down the line.

This buyout really is business as usual for Zuck. It's no coincidence, then, that a basic translation of Oculus is "eye".

Facebook's 29-year-old chief knows that it is key to his company's long-term strategy to keep its users' eyeballs attached to his data-mining silo. And ultimately, this means Zuck needs the glue to make them stick around. If not, he'll come to you.

"After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences," he said. "Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face - just by putting on goggles in your home."

Yep, Zuck wants to "connect the world" by keeping us physically apart, and virtual reality might be a good vehicle for that, especially once it is doused in ad goo.

Facebook wants to be the nervous system to our physical senses. And, by keeping us locked away in separate rooms, Zuckerberg recognises that he needs tech that will - no matter how convoluted the conceit - make us believe (however fleetingly) that we are sharing our lives together.

He even makes it clear that an attack on those senses is alive and well over at Menlo Park.

"This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures," Zuck said.

But the Oculus VR buyout might actually be another brick in the wall blocking out real social interaction. Just because controlled isolation is good for Zuck, it doesn't mean the rest of us have to agree. ®

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