Oculus Envisions a Billion-Player Virtual Reality MMO with Facebook

Oculus believes that it could build a virtual reality MMO with a billion users. Is this concept even possible with current technologies?

May 8, 2014 at 8:04AM

Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe recently made a stunning announcement at TechCrunch Disrupt -- that his company wanted to build a billion-player, virtual reality (VR) massively multiplayer online (MMO) community with its new parent company, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). That lofty goal of creating an online community with a billion users -- which would be the largest in history -- could be a key reason that Oculus sold itself to Facebook, which currently has 1.3 billion users, for $2 billion in March.

To put that billion-player figure into perspective, Activision Blizzard's (NASDAQ:ATVI) World of Warcraft, the most popular MMO in the world, had more than 12 million users at its peak in 2010. Linden Labs' Second Life, the most well-known online VR title, currently has 36 million accounts and over a million unique monthly visitors.

A billion players would be equivalent to three times the population of the United States and nearly three-fourths the population of China.


The Oculus Rift. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Oculus' VR headset, the Rift, has only sold 85,000 units so far -- a far cry from the 7.4 million PS4 units that Sony (NYSE:SNE) has sold since last November. Therefore, why does Oculus believe that it could eventually launch the first billion-player online community on its fledgling platform?

Is VR the next natural step for MMOs?
MMOs have come a long way since their early days in the 1970s and 1980s, when MMOs were still MUDs (multiplayer user dungeons) -- text-based virtual worlds usually based on Dungeons & Dragons adventures.

Graphics were added and improved over time, with milestone titles such as Neverwinter Nights on AOL (NYSE: AOL) in 1991, Ultima Online in 1997, Everquest in 1999, and finally World of Warcraft in 2004. Better graphics steadily filled in the gaps of players' imaginations, in the same way books became a visual medium through movies.

Wow Cataclysm Review

World of Warcraft, the most popular MMO game in history. Source: PC Gamer.

The success of Second Life, in which players live virtual lives instead of leveling up warriors and mages, demonstrated the allure of escapism in the virtual world. Players can get virtual jobs to earn "Linden dollars" and buy virtual goods and real estate. Yet some interactions in Second Life are undeniably creepy, such as players "acting out" virtual births or players making money by opening seedy underground sex clubs.

Oculus seems to want to take that kind of virtual escapism to the next level. Iribe stated that if players simply "let go," they could "have a real conversation with a person" while embodied in a virtual avatar. However, one has to wonder how "real" a conversation could be when both parties are donning virtual masks in a computer-generated environment.

Exploring Discovery

Linden Labs' Second Life. Source: Company website.

Dystopia or utopia?
Oculus and Facebook might see an opportunity in upgrading Second Life's world into a disorienting 3D reality for players to live out their virtual lives, but the idea also conjures up dystopian images from William Gibson's Neuromancer and the Wachowskis' Matrix films -- in which human minds become trapped inside a virtual dream. Nonetheless, Linden Labs has already forged ahead with a beta version of Second Life, which runs natively on Oculus Rift.

Consider what could happen if the addictive qualities of Facebook and MMOs were blended together in a seamless virtual environment. Social media and online games are already blamed for encouraging users to hide behind carefully crafted social media profiles or idealized 3D avatars. There are also plenty of stories of careers and marriages imploding due to World of Warcraft and Second Life addictions, so a 3D VR headset for these games could actually exacerbate a player's alienation from the real world.

Yet a virtual world built for the Oculus Rift could also help people instead of ensnaring them. As I mentioned in a previous article, the Rift has been used to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), by allowing them to relive traumatic events in a controlled simulation. Earlier this year, dying cancer patient Roberta Firstenberg, who was too ill to leave her home, was able to take a virtual walk outside in the sun thanks to an Oculus Rift simulation.


A simulation of Berlin in Second Life. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Virtual reality vs. augmented reality
When we compare the Oculus Rift to Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) Glass, we can see a major divergence between the two companies' visions for the future.

Whereas Oculus dreams of a world where people can visit different places and people through telepresence and virtual worlds, Google is enhancing the real world with augmented reality (AR) overlays like Maps and visual searches.

Simply put, Oculus imagines a future where people never have to leave their homes, but Google imagines one where computers become digital extensions of our bodies in the real world.

The road to a billion
Granted, the idea of a virtual reality hybrid of Facebook and Second Life -- where users might visit each other's profiles like museum galleries -- is certainly intriguing. But it's simply a silly concept outside of the home. Checking your Facebook profile with Google Glass' heads-up display makes sense, but it would be completely impractical to put a VR headset on your head for the same purpose while you're out in public.

Iribe's vision for a billion users is certainly ambitious, but it's also ludicrous. The Oculus Rift, if it can be compared to video game consoles, would need to top the best-selling console of all time, Sony's PlayStation 2, by more than 840 million units to hit a billion. Moreover, no modern game server -- even one hosted by Facebook -- could support a billion streaming connections.

The bottom line
In closing, the market for VR is growing -- the global market for VR apps and devices is expected to climb from practically nothing in 2014 to $407.5 million by 2018, according to a recent report from Markets and Markets. However, the market for AR is expected to grow faster, hitting $660 million by 2018 thanks to devices like Google Glass.

I'm not sure why Brendan Iribe believes that 14% of the world's population will ever buy a $300 to $350 Oculus Rift and jump into the largest MMO in history. What do you think, dear readers -- could Iribe's vision of a VR world with a billion players be a reality one day, or is it a virtual fantasy?

Could this new technology be bigger than the Oculus Rift?
If you thought the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad were amazing, just wait until you see this. One hundred of Apple's top engineers are busy building one in a secret lab. And an ABI Research report predicts 485 million of them could be sold over the next decade. But you can invest in it right now... for just a fraction of the price of AAPL stock. Click here to get the full story in this eye-opening new report.


Leo Sun owns shares of Facebook and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool recommends Activision Blizzard, Facebook, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Activision Blizzard, Facebook, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers