How Oculus Goggles Became More Than a Virtual Reality

Originally published March 26, 2014

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 Oculus—which has yet to even ship a commercial version of the goggles it sells to developers for $350—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.”

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