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Digital game ownership and the future of VR gaming

Updated: Mar 14, 2021

Credit: IGN

When social media giant Facebook bought Virtual Reality tech company Oculus for $2 billion I, like most people at the time I imagine, pictured a giant countdown timer for when Facebook would reveal its true motive for buying out the company.

It’s taken longer than I think most would have expected, but it’s finally happened.

In August, the CEO of VR development studio Yur, known only as Cix, broke the news, tweeting that deleting or deactivating your Facebook account will delete your Oculus information including app purchases and achievements.

The real kicker? If you delete your account all your games are gone forever. Even if you create a new account, you’ll need to purchase everything again. This statement was then confirmed by Upload VR who contacted Facebook directly.

This announcement adds fuel to the fire as this surfaced just days after Facebook announced that everyone using a new Oculus device will need to log in using a Facebook account.

So new Oculus headsets are chained to Facebook’s rack as they try and wring every last drop of value from their investment, surely the older headsets can still be used Facebook-free as a shrine to what once was?

Yes, but only until 2023. After that users will be bound by a new end-user license agreement, entwining their VR purchases and their Facebook account. This has already come with the caveat from Facebook that those users that stick with Oculus accounts will ‘lose functionality’. This threat thinly veiled as a ‘warning’ is below:

“If you choose not to merge your accounts at that time, you can continue using your device, but full functionality will require a Facebook account. We will take steps to allow you to keep using content you have purchased, though we expect some games and apps may no longer work.” (Forbes)

So, Facebook announces an arbitrary requirement to link their accounts to devices that they own and then impose deadlines and consequences to try and strong-arm you into linking your accounts as soon as possible.

It’s almost like they’re trying to make as much money as possible, even if it means violating privacy promises as claimed by EFF analyst Karen Gullo.

Note: The policies that have been violated are not specified in the Forbes article and I couldn’t find any listing of these policies in my research.

In an interview with Polygon about Facebook’s move into cloud gaming, VP of play Jason Rubin had this to say in response to people’s displeasure about the account linking:

“I’m very aware of Oculus’ decision to require a Facebook login. There are a lot of reasons for that, and I was involved in a lot of those conversations internally, and I certainly understand and don’t in any way dismiss the worries that people have or their desire not to have that happen,” Rubin said.

“But Facebook has a massive amount of infrastructure that is built upon the idea that you are logged in, and we couldn’t do a lot of the things that we’re planning on doing in the future without unifying the Oculus user with that logged in state. We tried, over time, to keep those separate, but it just became more and more evident that eventually, this needed to happen, and the longer we waited, the more users we had. Quest 2 is going to have a significant uptick in the number of people using it because it’s a great product, and if we had waited till after Quest 2, all of those users might have been disappointed.”

This statement’s little more than your classic company line of something being necessary for the good of the users. Nevermind that everyone was fine using two different accounts. It’s almost like a company looking to make as much money as possible would see this move as necessary to them making even more money.

After the Polygon article was published, a Facebook representative reached out to the site to “provide additional clarity”, comparing a Facebook account to a PlayStation Network Account or an Apple ID and also stating that the consequences for deleting your account are clearly outlined.

Firstly, Apple IDs and PlayStation Network accounts stay on their own hardware, don’t bleed across devices, and aren’t integrated into everyday society.

Secondly, no one was complaining that the consequences weren’t clearly set out. They were complaining that those consequences exist.

If you have purchased a game, digital or physical with money that you earned, you own those games. You shouldn’t have to lose games that you paid for just because you don’t want to keep using a social media platform.

Facebook isn’t the only one copping some heat for this announcement. Former Oculus CEO Palmer Luckey went on the record back in 2014 when Facebook originally acquired Oculus guaranteeing that users wouldn’t need to log into their Facebook accounts to use their Oculus device.

He commented on a Reddit post about the current Facebook Oculus situation:

“I am already getting heat from users and media outlets who say this policy change proves I was lying when I consistently said this wouldn't happen, or at least that it was a guarantee I wasn't in a position to make. I want to make clear that those promises were approved by Facebook in that moment and on an ongoing basis, and I really believed it would continue to be the case for a variety of reasons. In hindsight, the downvotes from people with more real-world experience than me were definitely justified.”

Even though people are claiming Palmer lied or betrayed his promise, I don’t think he did. As he said, his statement was correct at the time and corporate backflips can happen at any time, throwing anyone they need to under the bus. Palmer isn’t even with the company anymore and wasn’t when the policy changes were announced.

All these restrictions and mandated integrations are a real kick in the teeth for the Oculus company and VR gaming as a whole. With Oculus being pretty much the main player in the industry, besides Sony with their PlayStation VR offering, this can only hurt their reputation and put people off taking the plunge and investing in the still expensive VR.

This is a shame as by most accounts the Oculus Quest 2 is a real technical step up for VR with Fast Switch LCD display, 1832x1920 resolution per eye and with 60, 72 and 90 Hz refresh rates supported as well as 3D positional audio and not requiring a top of the line gaming PC to run games (Source: Oculus).

All of this combined with a $480 AUD price point compared to $650 AUD for the Oculus Rift could have helped push VR out of the ivory tower exclusivity that it’s been languishing in for years now. The boat was ready to be pushed out to sea, but Facebook’s anchor of greed is leaving them stuck and going nowhere fast.

Sidestepping VR for a second, the removal of Oculus games you paid for because you didn’t want to use Facebook really shows the dissonance in views on game ownership between consumers and the games industry.

For most people, if you’ve spent money to purchase a game there’s the implied understanding that ownership of the game is transferred to you. The game industry sees it as we offer our hard-earned income to them for the opportunity to play their game for as long as they decide it benefits them more than taking the game away.

This view surfaces in a whole bunch of ways, from trying to hold preowned games to ransom with online passes, to using Digital Rights Management software (that caused games to crash) with the weak justification that it discourages pirates (which it hasn’t). They can also just shut off servers or pull games from digital storefronts if it takes their fancy.

A classic example of this is with 2014’s Scott Pilgrim Vs The World.

The game was pulled from the North American PSN store out of nowhere months after release. Even in 2020, the creator is still in the dark over whether the game’s ever coming back or why it was canceled in the first place.

(UPDATE: Ubisoft announced a month after the Kotaku article linked above that they are re-releasing the game late this year.)

Of course, this good news comes with the realisation that Ubisoft has received positive PR for taking a game away that we paid for and making us pay again just to play the game again.

I'm not sure what's worse: paying for the game twice or only having the memory of the game.

Thankfully, physical editions don’t have this problem but with the industry moving more in the direction of digital gaming with the prevalence of Xbox Game Pass and digital-only consoles (both Sony and Microsoft have next-gen consoles with digital-only options) we need to face facts.

These situations will become a more regular occurrence unless we fight for our rights to own the games we play, rather than owning a lease to play a game until the publisher decides it’s 0.5% more profitable to not sell the game at all.

Circling back to VR, I feel like the industry really needs a breakout hit to rejuvenate itself in the eyes of the general public.

Having a VR at the moment is like owning all the consoles in one generation. It’s an ivory tower status symbol, more for showing off to your friends all the experiences you can have with your shiny new toy.

In 2020, there’s no real buzz about VR from the majority of the gaming public like there was around 2016. VR needs to ditch the “experiences” and lock down some killer games that make VR a must-have despite the expensive investment.

It feels like VR is just keeping afloat and with their latest announcements, Facebook has pushed VR below the water line and is waiting for the bubbles to stop.


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