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Facebook to buy virtual reality maestro Oculus for $2 billion

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(Credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Oculus, the leader in the new wave of virtual reality headsets, has been purchased by social media giant Facebook.

The $2 billion deal, which is broken into $400 million in cash and $1.6 billion worth of Facebook stock, represents a seismic shift in the gaming space, as the upcoming Oculus Rift has been widely viewed as one of gaming’s most exciting upcoming technologies.

"Our mission is to make the world more open and connected," said Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a blog post. For the past few years, this has mostly meant building mobile apps that help you share with the people you care about. We have a lot more to do on mobile, but at this point we feel we're in a position where we can start focusing on what platforms will come next to enable even more useful, entertaining and personal experiences. This is where Oculus comes in."

While he intends on maintain a gaming focus, Zuckerberg says he also plans to extend the Rift into new domains, including communications, entertainment, and education.

"Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face -- just by putting on goggles in your home," said Zuckerberg. "This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures."

It's the ultimate milestone in a stellar year for Oculus. Last August, star game developer John Carmack left id Software to join Oculus as CTO. In January, the latest build of the Rift was awarded several Best of Show awards at the CES convention. And now, a very lucrative buyout.

"A few months ago, Mark, Chris, and Cory from the Facebook team came down to visit our office, see the latest demos, and discuss how we could work together to bring our vision to millions of people," said Oculus founder Palmer Lucky in a blog post of his own. "As we talked more, we discovered the two teams shared an even deeper vision of creating a new platform for interaction that allows billions of people to connect in a way never before possible."

Calling the deal "one of the most important moments for virtual reality," Lucky added the deal "opens doors to new opportunities and partnerships, reduces risk on the manufacturing and work capital side, allows us to publish more made-for-VR content, and lets us focus on what we do best: solving hard engineering challenges and delivering the future of VR."

Until recently, the Oculus Rift was largely alone in its field. Last week, though, Sony unveiled its own virtual reality headset -- codenamed Project Morpheus -- at the Game Developer’s Conference.

"At SCE we view innovation as an opportunity to build on our mission to push the boundaries of play," said Shuhei Yoshida, president of SCE Worldwide Studios.

Zuckerberg, meanwhile, says he sees the Oculus buyout as a way to help build the framework for the next level of a wider swath of online interactive adventures.

"Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones," said Zuckerberg. "The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together. I can't wait to start working with the whole team at Oculus to bring this future to the world, and to unlock new worlds for all of us."

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