It's getting harder and harder to dismiss virtual reality's recent resurgence as just another doomed grasp at a sci-fi pipe dream. Sure, us hardcore nerds who don't mind strapping foreign objects to our body and committing button layouts to muscle memory dig it, but will VR ever see mainstream success? Well, Facebook founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg seems to think so--he revealed in a financial call last night that he thinks Oculus Rift could reach "50 to 100" million in sales after a few hardware cycles, as part of a 10-year plan.
Of course, he would have high hopes for the project his company spent $2 billion on acquiring. But when they announced the purchase in March, I was a bit dumbfounded. It's not that I wasn't expecting Oculus to get bought out, and it's not that Facebook making a big, risky purchase was out of the ordinary. It was just… Facebook? The social network of choice for elderly relatives who want to share inaccurate memes about President Barack Obama's place of birth at six in the morning? Facebook? The company that enabled Farmville's rise from flash game knockoff to international pastime? That Facebook is buying our duct-taped, crowdfunded, game-centric, scrappy little Oculus? How's that going to work out?
At least Facebook is confident about the deal. To put that confidence in perspective, it took Apple just under four years to sell 100 million iPhones. And those are iPhones--quite possibly the most influential electronic device of the 21st century. If it takes Oculus Rift even twice as long to reach 100 million sales, that would still be a brilliant success. Facebook isn't planning to make a tentative first consumer-friendly step into virtual reality, here--it's jockeying to own the medium before it even exists.
And before you worry, yes, it will keep games at the forefront. Even as Oculus broadens its base of customers (assuming that it does actually sell like hotcakes), games will still be well-served. The VR firms' leaders have said on multiple occasions that games are the most logical starting place for exploring virtual reality, and I see no reason why that would change. Again, look at the iPhone--Apple didn't expect that thing to become one of the world's most prominent gaming machines, but here we are. People want to play everywhere and virtual reality will be no different.
The biggest hurdle, of course, is getting people to lay down the cash and strap the goggles/glasses/cybernetic contacts to their faces. If Mark Zuckerberg, super-rich guy and boss of one of the most powerful companies on the planet is dedicated to making that happen, and patient enough to see it through the early years when it's just weirdoes like us buying them? That's beginning to sound downright feasible.