"I have a boss now, I guess," says Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe. "The board." On Monday, the virtual reality headset company announced that it had finished raising $16 million in Series A venture capital led by Spark Capital and Matrix Partners, adding a new level of management in the process. Both Spark and Matrix will have seats on the Oculus board of directors, guiding the company from here on out. Will new money and new directors change any of the startup company's plans, though? Oculus says no.
The money will be used to expand the firm, hire more employees, and allow the team to focus on its goals, Iribe tells The Verge. There aren't any specific projects earmarked for the cash and it won't necessarily speed up how soon the consumer version of the Oculus Rift headset becomes a reality. "It's really R&D dollars," he says.
"They weren't intimidated by the idea of creating the first consumer VR platform."
Also, the plan is still to stay an independent company... not sell to a big fish like Sony, the way Iribe's former employer Gaikai did last June. "We want to stay independent and get to the consumer market, realizing VR the way we really think it needs to be done, and we don't need to take any shortcuts to get there," declares Iribe, adding that his new venture capital bosses are on board with that. "They really shared the vision with us," he says. "They weren't intimidated by the idea of creating the first consumer VR platform."
Iribe also points out that games aren't the be-all, end-all of Oculus' ambitions anyhow: "For a few hundred dollars, students will be able to do virtual surgery in an almost realistic environment."
Antonio Rodriguez of Matrix Partners, one of Oculus' two new board members, was incredibly jazzed about his new investment when we spoke to him by phone. "There are so few companies that have distinctly nailed the science fiction future that I was reading about 15 years ago," he says, likening Oculus to the technology in Snow Crash, one of his favorite books. "And for somebody to be able to do that at a price point that the 25-year-old version of me who read Snow Crash would be able to afford: how can you turn that down?"
He gave us three reasons why he believes Oculus will take off, despite pursuing this technology all by itself. First, he believes that enthusiastic developers will rally behind Oculus in a way that they wouldn't a closed platform like an Xbox or PlayStation, and that getting it integrated into major game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine 4 will help there, providing "enthusiast support like you've never seen before." Second, he says that the Oculus VR team has what it takes due to their prior experience, citing Iribe and company's prior work building up Gaikai and Scaleform. "This isn't 24-year-olds coming out of Y Combinator thinking they can bring Snow Crash into existence... they've lived this," says Rodriguez.
"I wouldn't have invested if I thought this was just going to be a fancy mouse."
Lastly, he thinks that we're simply living in the right era, an era where an appetite for this kind of product exists. "There are decades where consumers have no appetite for stuff like this, and there are decades like the one we're in now, where literally on Friday nights I'll go to Kickstarter to figure out who's doing cool things at the interface level."
"I wouldn't have invested if I thought this was just going to be a fancy mouse," he says.
"[People will] think to themselves: 'Am I going to build an Android game, or am I going to build an iOS game, or am I going to build an Oculus game?' At that point, this thing can become a viable public company."