gaminggamingauthorSeth Schiesel and Shakeel HashimNoneWant to better understand the $150 billion gaming industry? Get Shakeel Hashim's newsletter every Tuesday.03807ace1f
×

Get access to Protocol

I’ve already subscribed

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

People

Why Facebook thinks game-streaming is the future of Oculus VR

Jason Rubin, Facebook's vice president for special gaming initiatives, tells Protocol how Facebook thinks about gaming — and why streaming games are the future.

Jason Rubin

Jason Rubin's comments about cloud VR as an ultimate goal shed new light on Facebook's cloud strategy.

Photo: Courtesy of Facebook

In December, Facebook made one of its most intriguing acquisitions in years, spending a reported $78 million to buy PlayGiga, a Spanish company specializing in cloud gaming. It seemed to put Facebook on a path similar to that of Google, Microsoft, Nvidia and Amazon: Each is working on its own way to stream games from data centers rather than relying on PCs or consoles. But Facebook's cloud gaming ambitions have remained a mystery. For months the company has essentially refused to discuss it.

But in an interview with Protocol, Jason Rubin, a gaming lifer who is Facebook's vice president for special gaming initiatives, said that within Facebook, Oculus could present a major opportunity for cloud gaming. He said that while no actual cloud products were imminent, big brains at the company are thinking hard about how cloud technology could revolutionize virtual reality. This week, Facebook celebrates the first birthday of the Oculus Quest, the company's first modern VR headset that does not require connection to a computer. Facebook hopes that the Quest's ease-of-use propels VR into the consumer entertainment mainstream.

Rubin also said Facebook is pushing its previously far-flung gaming divisions to work more closely together. Oculus now appears to be operating more like a traditional Facebook division than as an independent subsidiary. Vivek Sharma, previously Facebook's head of gaming product, was promoted earlier this year to VP of gaming and is now Rubin's boss.

People close to Facebook's gaming divisions said the company will deploy PlayGiga's cloud gaming technology first on more traditional gaming platforms like phones and PCs. Yet Rubin's comments about cloud VR as an ultimate goal shed new light on Facebook's cloud strategy.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Before we get to products, I have a basic organizational question. I can't always understand what goes on within Facebook.

Yeah. Facebook's org structure is opaque internally, and I'm sure completely and utterly impossible to follow externally. For gaming, in the past the verticals were so separate, we didn't really have that much interaction with each other, but now there's a significant amount more chatter back and forth between the various gaming verticals, and we're really getting a lot closer and creating a more cohesive package to deliver.

Part of my transition onto the gaming team and away from AR/VR, which is Oculus' parent, is the fact that I bring all the knowledge of what was going on over there as well as all of the relationships, so the teams can get closer to each other. So the two major gaming pillars — Facebook Gaming and Oculus AR/VR — have that connection.

We're not going to call you the Facebook gaming czar yet, right?

No, there are multiple Facebook gaming czars. Think of us as that table of mob bosses that comes in and sits around the table, without the baseball bat moment. So far nobody's gotten the bat, but we're a bunch of people working on games.

Who else is at that table beside you and Mike Verdu [VP of content, AR/VR]?

Vivek Sharma, who is my manager and runs Facebook's gaming group. I'm working more on the day-to-day game strategy and he's working more on running the game group, as well as overseeing other things that I don't have a role in right now. So he and I are working over on the Facebook Gaming side.

You have Leo [Olebe, global director of games partnerships], who maintains a lot of the partnerships, as well as Ash [Jhaveri, VP of business development], his manager, who's the head of parts of our partnerships organization and certainly runs every game partnership, along with others outside of gaming.

There's Vijaye [Raji, VP of entertainment], who's Vivek's manager and also oversees entertainment and video at Facebook. And then we have also the ads side. Our game ad business is massive. They have a seat at the table as well.

The other thing I'd say is that outside that group, interest in gaming rises right to the top. I mean Mark [Zuckerberg] believes in communities, and he goes looking for communities that are strong and upcoming. You have massive communities like religion, nationalities or sports. Gaming is quite large and growing in that list of community groups, and is becoming more social over time.

As you work on new technologies like mixed-reality streaming, would we be more likely to see that first on a service like Twitch or on your own Facebook Gaming platform?

It depends on what the thing is. From a broad, top-level thought process, we want to entertain consumers, and we want to get information about our products out. If the most effective way to do that would be to go to Twitch first, we would probably go to Twitch first. But there are a lot of times where what we want to do isn't available in the marketplace in any form, and the only way the marketplace gets to do it is if we build it ourselves.

And in that case, you want to work with your internal teams, right?

Yeah, because they're the only ones that you can convince to take a flyer on some idea you have that doesn't necessarily make sense either financially, or they just don't believe in it.

So hypothetically, if you wanted to get Call of Duty on Oculus, who would make the call to [Activision Blizzard CEO] Bobby Kotick? Who says, "Hey Bobby, we want Call of Duty on Oculus. What's that gonna cost?"

It certainly wouldn't be me, even though I know a lot of people at Activision, because I'm not in the AR/VR group. It would probably at this point be Mike Verdu who would call and get that communication going.

It might be Boz [Andrew Bosworth, VP of AR/VR], it might be Mark, if they're in the right place at the right time and Mark knows that we're interested in it. Again, that's a hypothetical, but that would be the direction that we would take.

Oculus Home Oculus users could soon have more AAA games to choose from.Photo: Courtesy of Facebook

How important are those AAA, top-quality games in particular for Oculus and for Facebook going forward?

It's important, and specifically important because there's a segment of the gaming market that wants VR and is very interested in VR, but is waiting for VR to have credibility from the few brands that those gamers believe in. And that audience is necessary to get to mass-market, to get to scale. You will see those AAA products. Regardless of who makes the call and what the actual deal is, I think you will see those products.

You all fundamentally believe that you can generate these larger sort of AAA experiences on the onboard Quest hardware and architecture without needing to be plugged in to a computer?

We're going to pull AAA apart for a second. Let's start with the graphic fidelity. It isn't going to happen anytime soon for a portable device to have PC graphics on-headset for simple physics, battery and heat-dissipation reasons.

So if what is meant by AAA is the graphic fidelity of Asgard's Wrath, that's not happening on a local headset, for the same reason that people can't get those games to run on phones and anything else that's battery powered and needs to dissipate heat. You can plug it into a wall, and you can put a liquid-cooled or fan-cooled graphics card in it, and sure. But you can't do that on somebody's face.

There is a way that you can do that on a device and stream it to somebody's face wirelessly, and that probably will happen relatively soon. The problem with that is that's not horribly portable like the Quest is, and what we're finding from consumers is they really want that portability.

In the longer run, and now I'm really waving my hands around and speaking like [Chief Scientist of Facebook Reality Labs] Michael Abrash, there should be ways to stream that from a computer, over your Wi-Fi, to your face. I won't get into the incredible amount of challenges that need to be overcome to get there, but in the long run, that's the way that head-mounted devices end up with AAA-graphic-quality games.

If you get away from the graphic quality for a moment, and you get into the depth of experience, length of experience, craftsmanship of the experience, I think you can get some really big, amazingly deep games onto the Quest platform, and I think you're going to see them in the next year or so. Depending on what we're looking at, it's more a budget/time issue than it is a graphic fidelity/processor issue.

But, again, ultimately we'll throw those processors in a server farm somewhere and stream to your headset. And a lot of people are going to say, "Oh my god, that's a million years away." It's not a million. It's not five. It's somewhere between.

I can tell you this: Nobody is banking on cloud processing making standalone VR headsets viable. We have to make them viable with the chipsets that are in them. But in the long run, cloud solves a lot of problems because it most effectively puts the processing power where it's needed. Now there's latency issues, resolution issues, frame rate issues, tons of issues. And it's a hell of a lot more uncomfortable when it's a frame that's right in front of your face than it is when you miss a frame on a TV that's across the room. So all of these things have to be solved, but no one thinks it's impossible. It's a hypothetical that can be done but it's not coming anytime soon. It is very, very complicated.

When we talk about the potential trajectory of VR as a mass consumer category, some people liken VR to 3D television. Is that a fair comparison?

The answer to that question is simple. 3D television delivered the exact same experience in a way that was interesting, but in the end pretty crappy. So the same movies, the same television shows, maybe a few made-for-3D things because they wanted to show you waterfalls or a forest or something, but ultimately it was watching television with a kind of fake depth. That was its one trick and it was pretty crappy. After watching it for a while, regardless of the technology, your eyes got tired.

And there's a good reason for that, by the way. It wasn't real 3D. You couldn't look around anything. All it was was stereo, and the stereo was made for a very specific interpupillary distance, the distance between your pupils. People's pupils are variable. And some people are wider, most people are in the middle, and then some people are very narrow. And only people that had almost exactly the IPD it was made for got a good experience. Everybody else got a really crappy experience.

VR is an utterly different situation. It's giving you a very, very different experience. VR gets better and better and better every year. VR is an infinitely-evolving ecosystem of totally different content. And so you can't compare the two.

People

Beeper built the universal messaging app the world needed

It's an app for all your social apps. And part of an entirely new way to think about chat.

Beeper is an app for all your messaging apps, including the hard-to-access ones.

Image: Beeper

Eric Migicovsky likes to tinker. And the former CEO of Pebble — he's now a partner at Y Combinator — knows a thing or two about messaging. "You remember on the Pebble," he asked me, "how we had this microphone, and on Android you could reply to all kinds of messages?" Migicovsky liked that feature, and he especially liked that it didn't care which app you used. Android-using Pebble wearers could speak their replies to texts, Messenger chats, almost any notification that popped up.

That kind of universal, non-siloed approach to messaging appealed to Migicovsky, and it didn't really exist anywhere else. "Remember Trillian from back in the day?" he asked, somewhat wistfully. "Or Adium?" They were the gold-standard of universal messaging apps; users could log in to their AIM, MSN, GChat and Yahoo accounts, and chat with everyone in one place.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Politics

Facebook’s Oversight Board won’t save it from the Trump ban backlash

The Board's decision on whether to reinstate Trump could set a new precedent for Facebook. But does the average user care what the Board has to say?

A person holds a sign during a Free Speech Rally against tech companies, on Jan. 20 in California.

Photo: Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Two weeks after Facebook suspended former President Donald Trump's account indefinitely, Facebook answered a chorus of calls and referred the case to its newly created Oversight Board for review. Now, the board has 90 days to make a call as to whether Trump stays or goes permanently. The board's decision — and more specifically, how and why it arrives at that decision — could have consequences not only for other global leaders on Facebook, but for the future of the Board itself.

Facebook created its Oversight Board for such a time as this — a time when it would face a controversial content moderation decision and might need a gut check. Or a fall guy. There could be no decision more controversial than the one Facebook made on Jan. 7, when it decided to muzzle one of the most powerful people in the world with weeks remaining in his presidency. It stands to reason, then, that Facebook would tap in its newly anointed refs on the Oversight Board both to earnestly review the call and to put a little distance between Facebook and the decision.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
People

The future of the cell phone, according to the man who invented it

Martin Cooper on 5G, AI, and why sometimes in tech it's helpful to have an enemy.

Martin Cooper with his original DynaTAC cell phone.

Photo: Ted Soqui/Getty Images

Martin Cooper helped invent one of the most consequential and successful products in history: the cell phone. And almost five decades after he made the first public cell phone call, on a 2-pound brick of a device called the DynaTAC, he's written a book about his career called "Cutting the Cord: The Cell Phone Has Transformed Humanity." In it he tells the story of the cell phone's invention, and looks at how it has changed the world and will continue to do so.

Cooper came on the Source Code Podcast to talk about his time at Motorola, the process of designing the first-ever cell phone, whether today's tech giants are monopolies and why he's bullish on the future of AI.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Politics

This is the future of the FTC

President Joe Biden has named Becca Slaughter acting chair of the FTC. In conversation with Protocol, she laid out her priorities for the next four years.

FTC commissioner Becca Slaughter may be President Biden's pick for FTC chair.

Photo: David Becker/Getty Images

Becca Slaughter made a name for herself last year when, as a commissioner for the Federal Trade Commission, she breastfed her newborn baby during video testimony before the Senate, raising awareness about the plight of working parents during the pandemic.

But on Thursday, Slaughter's name began circulating for other reasons: She was just named as President Joe Biden's pick for acting chair of the FTC, an appointment that puts Slaughter at the head of antitrust investigations into tech giants, including Facebook.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
People

What $9 billion would do for the Technology Modernization Fund

The Alliance for Digital Innovation's Matthew T. Cornelius looks at how a new administration's big investment could alter the fund he helped set up.

The funding itself is only half the battle.

Photo: Joshua Sukoff/Unsplash

The Biden administration wants to give the Technology Modernization Fund a $9 billion payday. In doing so, they could change what the fund actually does.

Matthew T. Cornelius, now the Alliance for Digital Innovation's executive director, was instrumental in getting the fund off the ground back in 2018. As a senior adviser for technology and cybersecurity policy at the White House's Office of Management and Budget, he helped make some of the fund's first investments in government IT modernization. At the time, though, there was only about $100 million in the fund.

Keep Reading Show less
Kevin McAllister

Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is an associate editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.

Latest Stories