Valve's Michael Abrash Joins Oculus VR as Chief Scientist

Valve's Michael Abrash Joins Oculus VR as Chief Scientist

Valve's VR veteran working on "The Next Big Platform" for Oculus and Facebook.

Michael Abrash has departed Valve Software, and is now Oculus VR's Chief Scientist.

Abrash, seen here giving a VR talk at Steam Dev Days 2014, joins an ever-growing roster of superstar talent at Oculus, including former id Software co-founder and Technical Director John Carmack, Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey, and fellow ex-Valver Atman Binstock.

Facebook's $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR seems to be the catalyst for Abrash, who stresses in his introductory blog post that a lack of engineering resources are the only thing holding VR back at the moment.

"Facebook's acquisition of Oculus means that VR is going to happen in all its glory," says Abrash. "The resources and long-term commitment that Facebook brings gives Oculus the runway it needs to solve the hard problems of VR - and some of them are hard indeed. I now fully expect to spend the rest of my career pushing VR as far ahead as I can."

More details are sure to arise, but I suspect Abrash will be working out of the newly-formed Oculus R&D lab in Seattle.

The news comes on the same day that Oculus Development Kit 2 (DK2) sales are doing "just fine," in the wake of the Facebook deal.

Permalink

I wish I could share Mr. Abrash's enthusiasm. I really do. And who knows? The Facebook buyout may end up being a boon for the tech rather than a bane.

Still, given Facebook's track record with buyouts, acquisitions, and hardware[1], I'm dubious. At best.

It all comes down to how much autonomy Facebook Inc. leaves Oculus with in terms of design, engineering, and, ultimately, branding and production.

The coming months won't mean much, but as we approach a launch date for the hardware the effect of the buyout will become much clearer.

[1] Not to mention privacy violations, data mining, sleazy business practices, etc.

Vigormortis:
Given Facebook's track record with buyouts, acquisitions, and hardware I'm dubious. At best.

I can't think of any Facebook aquisition that went bad.

Abrash is a huge win. I really hope this is a trend of big resources like this for the project but they've already got such big names. History may see this as a kind of dream team for hardware development that changed the face of entertainment.

Alterego-X:

Vigormortis:
Given Facebook's track record with buyouts, acquisitions, and hardware I'm dubious. At best.

I can't think of any Facebook aquisition that went bad.

Maybe they're thinking of facebook's late attempt to enter the phone market? But that wasn't an acquistion like instagram and whatsapp were.

All of their acquisitions have been able to enjoy autonomy so far and Facebook reps have already stated that this isn't going to change with the rift.

So it seems like, regardless of anything else, we will at least see the consumer Rift that we've been waiting on.

Alterego-X:

I can't think of any Facebook aquisition that went bad.

Lightknight:
Maybe they're thinking of facebook's late attempt to enter the phone market? But that wasn't an acquistion like instagram and whatsapp were.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mergers_and_acquisitions_by_Facebook

The vast majority of Facebook's acquisitions involved buying out the companies solely to nab the "talent" behind the companies. In most cases, the company or projects were shut down or re-purposed for use with the Facebook platform.

So perhaps I should have clarified that, by "bad acquisitions" I meant "bad for the ones being acquired".

Vigormortis:

Alterego-X:

I can't think of any Facebook aquisition that went bad.

Lightknight:
Maybe they're thinking of facebook's late attempt to enter the phone market? But that wasn't an acquistion like instagram and whatsapp were.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mergers_and_acquisitions_by_Facebook

The vast majority of Facebook's acquisitions involved buying out the companies solely to nab the "talent" behind the companies. In most cases, the company or projects were shut down or re-purposed for use with the Facebook platform.

So perhaps I should have clarified that, by "bad acquisitions" I meant "bad for the ones being acquired".

Do you have any reason at all to believe that this was a talent acquisition and not their faith in the product? These are people who would serve no purpose in almost any of facebook's other products nor would the individuals want to go into the other areas of facebook.

No, this was for the hardware. Facebook has said as much.

Lightknight:
Do you have any reason at all to believe that this was a talent acquisition and not their faith in the product? These are people who would serve no purpose in almost any of facebook's other products nor would the individuals want to go into the other areas of facebook.

No, this was for the hardware. Facebook has said as much.

Of course it was for the hardware. I never said otherwise.

But the big question of the day is: Why?

Is it "faith" in the concept and the proposed future of VR? Maybe. And how noble of them if true. But, considering the cost, this seems unlikely.

Is it to back a product with the hope of monetary returns, based on the initial market for the product? Probably not since they've already stated the thing will likely be sold as a loss leader.

What's likely to happen is they will retool and rebrand the Rift for use with existing; or planned; Facebook features, systems, and infrastructures.

Now, that may not be the case. I certainly hope that it isn't. And even if it is, that doesn't necessarily mean it won't be as "ground breaking" for gaming and interactive media as we've hoped. But, as with most acquisitions of this type, I don't expect there to not be some major changes or shifts within Oculus and the brand.

Again, I'm not saying this will be the case. I do hope this acquisition breaks with the usual trend and turns out as an absolute boon for all parties involved. I'm just saying that there is precedence for this sort of thing turning out badly; for one party or another.

So I say stay hopeful, but skeptically so.

Vigormortis:

Lightknight:
Do you have any reason at all to believe that this was a talent acquisition and not their faith in the product? These are people who would serve no purpose in almost any of facebook's other products nor would the individuals want to go into the other areas of facebook.

No, this was for the hardware. Facebook has said as much.

Of course it was for the hardware. I never said otherwise.

Then why present evidence that Facebook has made talent acquisitions when this one almsot certainly isn't the case.

But the big question of the day is: Why?

Is it "faith" in the concept and the proposed future of VR? Maybe. And how noble of them if true. But, considering the cost, this seems unlikely.

It is a heck of a lot of money for something that doesn't seem like it'd be that profitable. But it looks like FB has some interesting social aspects they want to offer on the rift. Things they mentioned were skype calls that felt a lot more real like you were there. A virtual seat in a live sporting event. Classroom VR (which I think is a nonstarter). They may have some much cooler ideas but won't mention them until they're in place.

What's likely to happen is they will retool and rebrand the Rift for use with existing; or planned; Facebook features, systems, and infrastructures.

Sure, they could ruin the product and then we won't buy it. Facebook doing this would be the equivalent of them taking that $2b plus whatever else they invest and burning it very publically. If the device is not compelling to buy. If it forces us to login to play games and movies we already own then any one of the competitors will step up in its place.

Now, that may not be the case. I certainly hope that it isn't. And even if it is, that doesn't necessarily mean it won't be as "ground breaking" for gaming and interactive media as we've hoped. But, as with most acquisitions of this type, I don't expect there to not be some major changes or shifts within Oculus and the brand.

Again, I'm not saying this will be the case. I do hope this acquisition breaks with the usual trend and turns out as an absolute boon for all parties involved. I'm just saying that there is precedence for this sort of thing turning out badly; for one party or another.

So I say stay hopeful, but skeptically so.

Right, my main argument has been to wait and see. Facebook CAN ruin this for us. But they've been largely hands off of their non-talent acquisitions and have already publically stated that they'll be hands off the Oculus rift until after the gaming device is already in place. Zuckerberg said gaming first, then everything else they have planned.

Personally, I think VR could revolutionize media. I love the idea of having a home IMAX theater that I wear on my head that actually works. I'd also love the idea of a virtual movie night where friends and family from around the world can sit with me in this digital theater. Add that to regular TV viewing, gaming, and several other possibilities (one glaringly obvious one that my happily married life denies), virtual museums, instructions (like how to fly a helicopter) and you've got some damn fine possibilities.

I am hoping facebook has some real ideas. Because I don't really see how they'll profit off of it. But what's bad for facebook is fantastic for the Rift at the moment. All this investment means we'll get some amazing hardware out of the deal even if it doesn't pan out for facebook.

Lightknight:
Then why present evidence that Facebook has made talent acquisitions when this one almsot certainly isn't the case.

The operative word there is "almost".

My point was, they don't have a spotless history of acquisitions; nor in an objective sense a history in hardware.

I was simply presenting proof that not all of their acquisitions or endeavors have gone swimmingly. So for anyone to assume that this one will is misguided.

It is a heck of a lot of money for something that doesn't seem like it'd be that profitable. But it looks like FB has some interesting social aspects they want to offer on the rift. Things they mentioned were skype calls that felt a lot more real like you were there. A virtual seat in a live sporting event. Classroom VR (which I think is a nonstarter). They may have some much cooler ideas but won't mention them until they're in place.

Of which I'm aware of. However, these aren't things that weren't already "promised potentialities" with the Rift before the buyout. Hell, even NASA was using the the early builds of the thing.

So really, beyond Facebook integration (and all that that implies), Facebook Inc hasn't really brought anything to the table that wasn't already potential within the product already, in terms of it's open-source uses.

Sure, they could ruin the product and then we won't buy it. Facebook doing this would be the equivalent of them taking that $2b plus whatever else they invest and burning it very publically. If the device is not compelling to buy. If it forces us to login to play games and movies we already own then any one of the competitors will step up in its place.

Which is basically what I've been asserting. So...

I think we agree on this point?

Right, my main argument has been to wait and see. Facebook CAN ruin this for us. But they've been largely hands off of their non-talent acquisitions and have already publically stated that they'll be hands off the Oculus rift until after the gaming device is already in place. Zuckerberg said gaming first, then everything else they have planned.

Perhaps, but as history has shown time and time again, there's a massive difference between what a company says it'll do and what it actually does. Especially when monetary values as seen in these dealings are involved.

Hence why I've been advocating hopeful skepticism.

Personally, I think VR could revolutionize media. I love the idea of having a home IMAX theater that I wear on my head that actually works. I'd also love the idea of a virtual movie night where friends and family from around the world can sit with me in this digital theater. Add that to regular TV viewing, gaming, and several other possibilities (one glaringly obvious one that my happily married life denies), virtual museums, instructions (like how to fly a helicopter) and you've got some damn fine possibilities.

Which is something I think many of us share. This misty-eyed dream of the future.

The worry many have is that that potential may get bogged down and ultimately stifled by the weight of corporate fiddling.

I am hoping facebook has some real ideas.

As do I, but as I've said, I'm dubious how these "ideas" will benefit the end-user.

Because I don't really see how they'll profit off of it. But what's bad for facebook is fantastic for the Rift at the moment. All this investment means we'll get some amazing hardware out of the deal even if it doesn't pan out for facebook.

For the moment, yes. But in the long run, if this venture doesn't pan out for Facebook monetarily; regardless of how successful the hardware could be; it will lead to a pretty substantial roadblock in VR tech.

Let's just hope that it works out for all of us. Otherwise, we'll have to fall back on Sony's and Microsoft's efforts.

And I don't know about you, but that's a pretty bleak future to me...

Vigormortis:

Lightknight:
Then why present evidence that Facebook has made talent acquisitions when this one almsot certainly isn't the case.

The operative word there is "almost".

That is not how that phrase works. "the operative word" is meant to convey truth in a situation, not speculation. Example:

"Notch is pulling his support from Oculus Rift."
"But I thought Notch was excited about the Rift."
"Yeah, 'was' being the operative word there."

Your use of it has no meaning. I could say the same thing about someone's chances of winning the lottery or Apple coming out with an iOS powered gaming console in the next 5 years. Since the chances are greater than zero, these things could conceivably happen, but almost certainly won't. Declaring that "almost" is the operative word would be a misuse since rather than point out the truth of the matter this use of the phrase places undue emphasis on the less likely result. And so does yours.

I don't like Facebook. I have an account solely because my SCA group uses it to organize events. But when a company has a history of leaving some of their buyouts alone(and some not so much), their word that they are also leaving this one alone has weight. If that wasn't enough for me, the fact that people are still leaving companies like Valve to work on this thing(you know, the actual topic of this thread) certainly leads me to believe that there is still a product worth getting excited about being worked on.

I don't think Mr. Abrash left Valve because Facebook was not making the Oculus Rift.

Scars Unseen:
snip

Uh-hmm - http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/operative-word

Seeing as I was implying that "almost" was the important portion of the sentence, I'm not sure how you can say I was "misusing" the phrase.

But anyway, let's get down to the meat of the discussion.

I don't like Facebook. I have an account solely because my SCA group uses it to organize events. But when a company has a history of leaving some of their buyouts alone(and some not so much), their word that they are also leaving this one alone has weight.

I'm sorry, but if you openly admit that they haven't "left some alone", then how can you assert that their claims of doing so now have any validity? Or rather, that we should trust that it's true?

If that wasn't enough for me, the fact that people are still leaving companies like Valve to work on this thing(you know, the actual topic of this thread) certainly leads me to believe that there is still a product worth getting excited about being worked on.

I don't think Mr. Abrash left Valve because Facebook was not making the Oculus Rift.

Firstly, people join and leave Valve all the time. Their work-force is surprisingly fluid. And, in some occasions, some come back. (Kelly Bailey, for example) Many of those that leave often do so to pursue their own passion projects.

Secondly, Abrash joining the Oculus team was already a given well before the buyout. Just look back at the work he'd been doing with VR while at Valve and at how closely he was becoming tied with the engineers at Oculus, most notably Atman Binstock and John Carmack.

Thirdly, just because Abrash left Valve to join with Oculus doesn't mean this new merger will succeed. Unless you're proposing that people have never made mistakes in regards to their careers...

Look. I have the utmost respect for people like Mr. Abrash. His skill with engineering and design is very admirable. Likewise, I had; and in a way still have; a lot of hope for the Rift.

Neither of these facts mean I think the acquisition was a good thing. Nor does it mean that it will bode well for Oculus, the Rift, or the end-users.

I sincerely hope the merger works out and that the Rift lives up to the promised potentialities it had when it was a crowd-funded, open-source endeavor. I'm just not entirely convinced this is what's going to pan out.

(you know, the actual topic of this thread)

Yes, because I was off topic at some point...

I will avoid any grand statement of hate or love beyond saying the VR headsets still look too big and too heavy, holograms or hard light or ever 3d light projections will be the only leap that people will really move forward and buy on mass. And even then it must be afordable. Ease of use makes the most sense and anything too complex(which this looks like to me) won't go much beyond a very special niche market.

On subject Michael Abrash has a good track record and cares for this technology and also is a valve man which generally means in my eyes its a plus for Facebook/Oculus good luck to them but frankly my intrest is still far for anywhere near that of a 2 billion dollar 'next gen' technology.

As to the question "why", google carmack metaverse.
Then read "snow crash".

Vigormortis:
The operative word there is "almost".

My point was, they don't have a spotless history of acquisitions; nor in an objective sense a history in hardware.

I was simply presenting proof that not all of their acquisitions or endeavors have gone swimmingly. So for anyone to assume that this one will is misguided.

In examples where Facebook acquired a company for the product or service they provide, Facebook has maintained a very hands-off approach to let the companies continue doing what made them worth acquiring in the first place. The examples of talent acquisitions do exist but are a night and day difference with the acquisition of the Rift. You seem to agree with this so what purpose does the citation of talent acquisitions serve if it has no bearing on the present situation?

Of which I'm aware of. However, these aren't things that weren't already "promised potentialities" with the Rift before the buyout. Hell, even NASA was using the the early builds of the thing.

I'm trying to parse your double negative here. Are you saying that because these kinds of things were already viewed as a possibility that FB's interest and ability to make them come to fruition is somehow nullified? I'm not sure how you arrived to that conclusion. But perhaps I didn't parse your sentence properly and have come to an incorrect conclusion.

So really, beyond Facebook integration (and all that that implies), Facebook Inc hasn't really brought anything to the table that wasn't already potential within the product already, in terms of it's open-source uses.

1. The aquisition alone has brought a tremendous amount of marketing to the device. People who had never heard of the Rift are now fully aware of its existence and potential. With this kind of valuation of the company it can't be ignored. This alone coupled with future marketing brings everything to the forefront.

2. A stable cash flow. Now Oculus is a division of a very successful company, they can gain higher end employees who would have otherwise seen the move as too risky for their career since the Rift's current model has no real profitability mark. I suspect this to be no small part for Abrash joining the team almost the moment the FB deal went through.

3. Designs on extending the VR headset into the AR realm. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are often confused as the same or similar things. They aren't, virtual reality is a simulated reality in which nothing is real. Augmented reality takes real environments and overlays virtual augmentation. Oculus is invested in making the best VR environment they can and currently have the best prototype we've ever seen (a prototype that I believe is already market ready but certainly improveable). AR really hasn't been in their scope and now Facebook is providing the capital to expand it. But thankfully they've said this is all plans made second to gaming. This would be the category you'd claim was already viable thanks to open source but this is Facebook actively trying to make it happen. Something being a possibility doesn't mean crap if it never happens.

4. Lower cost of production and cheaper pricepoint for consumers: Then [Zuckerberg] said, "What if we partner with you? You stay the same. Stay who you are. You expand that vision and focus on other things also. Gaming is core. But how can we help and invest significantly into the platform, the hardware, and bring down the cost of it. We could make it more optimized, do custom silicon, make this even better. What if we also invest in the parts so you can sell the virtual reality platform at cost?"

I mean, it still remains to be seen how that benefits facebook but this sure as hell benefits Oculus. Right from the start they were told that they'd maintain autonomy. As long as this stays true like it has with Facebook's other product acquisitions (in contrast to talent acquisitions), then this is perfect. Win/Win for everyone except perhaps Facebook who is taking the biggest risk.

5. Existing user base. Look, I've worked in large software companies. Not gaming or social software but the logistics still apply (accounting, finance, docket managment). I've seen these companies acquire smaller competing companies just to gain access to their client base. But more relevant here, I've also seen them acquire smaller companies with solid products that don't compete with their current offering because they see huge profits in giving their product access to their already huge client base as part of their product line. This acquisition is giving Oculus access to the facebook market. If they can make the argument for its existence then $2bil could be a steal. If not, then hopefully they can at least make back investment.

Which is basically what I've been asserting. So...

I think we agree on this point?

Yes, I just wanted to make sure you understood I'm not saying this is a hit out of the park for facebook or for the rift. As long as Facebook stays true to its word, this is a homerun for everyone involved automatically with Facebook being the only one taking the risk. If they are true to their word, then I genuinely hope FB figures out how to turn this into a huge profit machine that still remains beneficial to consumers.

Perhaps, but as history has shown time and time again, there's a massive difference between what a company says it'll do and what it actually does. Especially when monetary values as seen in these dealings are involved.

Hence why I've been advocating hopeful skepticism.

Not to detract from your very correct recommendation of skepticism, but Facebook has its own track record and it does not mirror the history of corporate lies in this particular area.

As do I, but as I've said, I'm dubious how these "ideas" will benefit the end-user.

If nothing else, it will benefit us by motivating Facebook to invest heavily into the product up front even if their ideas fall short on a return on investment for them. Heck, who knows, maybe Zuckerberg is just thinking legacy here and wants his name associated with the Rift as the legitimate start of consumer VR. That's not a bad legacy to have under your belt.

For the moment, yes. But in the long run, if this venture doesn't pan out for Facebook monetarily; regardless of how successful the hardware could be; it will lead to a pretty substantial roadblock in VR tech.

Let's just hope that it works out for all of us. Otherwise, we'll have to fall back on Sony's and Microsoft's efforts.

And I don't know about you, but that's a pretty bleak future to me...

Actually, the short-term includes the release of a legitimate consumer version of the Rift regardless of performance. We may see a few more versions of it too before anything really comes to a head. The tech is REALLY close to where it needs to be so we only need a few more steps to take. As long as there proves to be a legitimate demand for VR tech and as long as it is proven to work then the floodgates can't be closed once opened.

Vigormortis:

Scars Unseen:
snip

Uh-hmm - http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/operative-word

Seeing as I was implying that "almost" was the important portion of the sentence, I'm not sure how you can say I was "misusing" the phrase.

But anyway, let's get down to the meat of the discussion.

I would agree that you were trying to give "Almost" a more substantial meaning so weren't saying it was "literally" the operative of a sentence but merely appropriating it for your intentions.

However, I left "almost" in that sentence only for the slightest of chances. While I think FB could absolutely screw everything up, I don't think they'd do it on the Rift side. I think they'd do it on the software side. Could you imagine having to log in and maintain logged-in status to facebook every time you use it? That'd be one such example.

At which point we'd all buy it and immediately root the sucker for opensource use. There'd be an entire side business of rooted rifts all over the internet.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here