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Under Facebook, Oculus Will Still Focus on Games ... For Now

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: "Once you get a network effect around gaming, you start to get communication cases."

Valve / Team Fortress 2

In a call with investors following its surprise $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR today, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the virtual reality company’s focus will still be on games, for now.

“I do think gaming is a start,” Zuckerberg said. “Once you get a network effect around gaming, you start to get communication cases. … People will build a model of a place far away and you can go see it. It’s like teleporting.”

For most of its life, Oculus execs have maintained a hard line about the identity of the company’s virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift: Gaming, gaming, gaming. It’s only in recent months that the message has broadened a bit to include things more in line with Facebook’s product, such as a hypothetical social communication app Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe described to me last year.

“Kids will one day look back and laugh at FaceTime,” Iribe said in the interview.

Oculus board member and Matrix Partners general partner Antonio Rodriguez told Re/code that in his dealings with Iribe, the CEO has been extremely “disciplined” about keeping games at the center of the conversation.

“Here’s the great thing about Brendan: Every time I talked to him, I wanted to talk about a new vertical” for the Rift, like applying virtual reality to learning car repair or training medical students, Rodriguez said. “He was uniquely focused on dominating gaming.”

However, the Oculus team already had “much bigger aspirations” beyond games prior to the acquisition, Rodriguez added.

On the investor call, Zuckerberg listed some more hypothetical use cases for virtual reality beyond gaming: Making users believe they’re sitting courtside at a sporting event, in a virtual classroom, or shopping in a virtual store. These sorts of options make Oculus a “pure computing platform” on the scale of the smartphone rather than an alternative to gaming-first consoles like Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox, he said.

(For what it’s worth, Sony also hinted at non-gaming applications for its own VR tech, Project Morpheus, at an unveiling event last week).

“It might take five or 10 years” to fully realize Oculus’ potential, Zuckerberg said. Even though its immediate goal is getting the Rift headset to market, he predicted that Facebook will not seek to profit from the hardware, making its money instead from the software and services around Oculus.

For more about how the acquisition came together, read Kara Swisher’s post about the “weekend marathon of dealmaking.”

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