By Ian Sherr
Brendan Iribe traces the surprising rise of Oculus VR Inc., FacebookInc.’s second-largest acquisition, to a demonstration in a hotel meeting room two years ago.
The videogame-industry executive had traveled to the hotel in Long Beach, Calif., after meeting with Palmer Luckey, a virtual-reality enthusiast who at the time was planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter Inc.’s website for high-tech goggles. His product eventually became “Oculus Rift.”
Mr. Luckey, clad in flip-flops, shorts and a T-shirt, had cobbled together a prototype using a screen typically meant for a smartphone. The room’s lights had to be turned off to make sure Mr. Iribe saw the best images from the device, which was connected to a laptop.
But once he put it on his head, Mr. Iribe says he was transported to a three-dimensional view of a room from “Rage,” a sci-fi shooting game. “It really worked,” said Mr. Iribe, who would become chief executive of Oculus.
Mr. Iribe acknowledges that he could only use the goggles for a short period of time before becoming dizzy. That problem and others have dogged the virtual-reality field since such goggles emerged in the early 1990s, prompting a brief flurry of attention in movies and TV shows before fading from the Silicon Valley scene.
But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday declared that Oculusâ€”which has yet to even ship a commercial version of the goggles it sells to developers for $350â€”represents the seeds of an entirely new computing platform. The social network agreed to pay $2 billion in cash and stock for Oculus.
“Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post. “But the Internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones.”