Oculus Co-Founder Quits as VR Firm Promises a New Rift Headset

Credit: Brendan Iribe/FacebookCredit: Brendan Iribe/FacebookOculus co-founder Brendan Iribe is leaving Facebook. He said in a Facebook post this week that "it's time to recharge, reflect and be creative," adding that this is the first real break he's taken in the last 20 years. According to TechCrunch, however, the departure seems to have been caused by the cancellation of the Oculus Rift 2 headset and many of the same problems that led WhatsApp and Instagram's co-founders to leave as well.

TechCrunch reported that Iribe and Facebook execs had "fundamentally different views on the future of Oculus that grew deeper over time" and that Iribe "wasn’t interested in a 'race to the bottom' in terms of performance" for the next Rift headset. The outlet initially said that Rift 2 was cancelled too, but a Facebook spokesperson has been making the rounds saying that more Oculus hardware will be released in the future.

These claims arrive courtesy of a single anonymous source, so they shouldn't be taken as gospel. Yet, they match what other high-level executives who have left Facebook have said. WhatsApp's co-founders reportedly worried about their autonomy in Facebook and their ability to protect user privacy; Instagram's co-founders reportedly left because their independence was also being threatened at the social media giant.

Those aren't inconsequential claims. Facebook spent $1 billion on Instagram in 2012, $19 billion on WhatsApp in 2014 and $2 billion on Oculus that same year (these are the initial figures, and the actual amount spent on each company is much higher due to employee retention packages, among other expenses). Now many of the people involved with those acquisitions have raised serious questions about Facebook's management.

Internal problems could have far greater consequences for Oculus than for Instagram and WhatsApp. The latter companies are well-established communications platforms with more than a billion users each; they're unlikely to lose steam right after their founders depart. Oculus, however, was Facebook's bet that VR was going to be the future of computing and communication. That future has yet to arrive, but it's still early.

Yet, it's not clear how interested Facebook remains in PC VR. Its most recent announcements have been for standalone headsets--the Oculus Go and the Oculus Quest--and it took a year for it to release the Rift Core 2.0 update to all Rift owners. Combine all that with Iribe's departure, and it's hard not to think PC VR is becoming an afterthought for Oculus.

For what it's worth, here's the statement Facebook gave TechCrunch: "While we can’t comment on our product roadmap specifics, we do have future plans and can confirm that we are planning for a future version of Rift." A spokesperson also told GameDaily that "PC VR is still a category we are investing in" and "we’re continuing work across product and content and you’ll see this manifest next year."

We'll have to see how that all plays out. In the meantime, Rift owners got some bad news this week. They will no longer be able to rent or purchase movies on the platform. Oculus is reimbursing those who already have.