Virtual Reality Could Be The Toughest Fight Of Mark Zuckerberg’s Life

The Facebook founder says the Oculus Rift headset could be the future of the internet. But to get there, he needs to do battle with the entire gaming industry.

An attendee tries on the Oculus VR Inc. Rift Development Kit 2 headset at the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles. Kevork Djansezian / Reuters

Just before the Oculus Rift Kickstarter campaign launched, Brendan Iribe brought what looked like a large hunk of plastic into the San Francisco offices of Unity Technologies, whose game development platform is one of the industry’s most widely used. Unity CEO David Helgason tried on what was the very first version of the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset whose maker was destined to be bought out by Facebook for more than $2 billion before ever having a product hit the market.

“It was really, really bad back then,” Helgason told BuzzFeed News in an interview. “It didn’t know what was down — they had to hard-reset what was down, otherwise the world would seem like it was tilting. Even then it was such a touching experience to be inside a world like that. But I got super sick from the first dev kit. It was terrible, right, but even then it was such a touching experience.”

Since then, the Rift has made a lot of progress. Even the very first iteration of the device, with all its flaws, was described by many who used it — both veteran game developers and regular users — as a masterpiece. But in interviews with more than a dozen game developers and executives either building applications for the virtual reality headset or familiar with those who are, one clear theme emerged: The Rift’s biggest challenge isn’t getting the technology right.

Instead, the make-or-break issue will be beating the competition and winning the hearts of developers, as swarms of technology majors pour billions into rolling out their own virtual reality devices. And unlike Oculus and its parent company Facebook, the competition has a track record of pushing out devices and games that reach, and delight, the mass market. At the Consumer Electronic Show this week in Las Vegas, manufacturers are expected to show off a wave of VR devices — and Oculus, too, will be there.

The Rift faces the tech industry’s perennial technology chicken-and-egg scenario: To get software developers on board, you need your devices in the hands of a critical mass of consumers — and consumers gravitate toward devices that have the best software. Facebook has many things going for it: near limitless cash, a visionary leader, a deep pool of technical talent. But it has no experience building or publishing games, which in the early days will be the killer app of virtual reality headsets.

A representative from Oculus VR declined an interview request for co-founders Iribe and Palmer Luckey.

The Rift needs hit games, and fast. Words With Friends creator Paul Bettner’s studio, Playful Corp, is one of the first publishers Facebook is working with to build those critical launch titles. Independent developers are still encouraged to develop for the kit through platforms like Unity, but with the competition racing to define the market, Facebook has rapidly begun working on developing its own software.

“I’ve been a huge advocate within Oculus pushing for a solution to that chicken-and-egg problem,” Bettner told BuzzFeed News. “It depends on who you talk to; my sense is that gamers and video games are the Trojan horse required to get virtual reality off the ground. From my standpoint the way you solve that, it becomes like any other console launch.”

The Nintendo Wii, which pioneered novel methods of gameplay using sensors and hand gestures, is a good example of the challenge ahead, Bettner said. “The Wii was doing enough things different that they were basically launching something [brand new] — not the same as VR but they had to prove this new controller was something people want to buy instead of buying a PlayStation,” he said. “They went out and built a bunch of first-party software [like Super Mario Galaxy and The Legend of Zelda] that proved the value of that platform, because they couldn’t rely on developers to do that.”

For now, the most formidable Rift competitor is Sony and its Morpheus VR headset. Through the PlayStation, Sony has a proven history of driving the adoption of new hardware, and whenever a new console comes out, Sony can lean on decades of relationships in the video game industry. On top of that are the game development studios it owns, which can finance to create massive sales-drivers like Uncharted and The Last of Us. That financing doesn’t just fund large development studios, but also massive marketing and advertising campaigns that can span from billboards to television and the Internet — and potentially even Facebook itself.

Releasing a big, expensive new game alongside a flagship new console is a dance Sony and the big studios have done for a long time. “When you do co-launches, you’re dependent, much like in your best friend relationships, and you learn over time who you can count on and similarly who you can’t count on,” said Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner Bing Gordon, a longtime executive in the industry. “You know these companies have been to war together. Their relationships have stood the test of time.”

Sony, too, has already demoed launch titles for the Morpheus, like Eve Valkyrie, a space-piloting game that’s a spin-off of Eve Online — a game beloved by a niche of hardcore players who devote hundreds of hours to playing. Square Enix, the creator of the Final Fantasy series, has also planned to launch a version of Thief.

Sony’s Morpheus VR device, unveiled at the Game Developer Conference last year. Yuya Shino / Reuters

Many developers are also expecting Microsoft to have its own take on a VR headset, and like Sony, it has a proven record driving console adoption. Indeed, of the developers BuzzFeed News spoke with, many described an industry that is essentially holding its breath to see what Microsoft comes out with.

Other competitors are also trying to get in on the action. Samsung released its own virtual reality system, the Gear VR, which connects Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 to a headset powered by software from Oculus VR. Samsung might not fall directly into the category of competitor due to its partnership with Oculus VR, but the company has massive production and distribution channels and knows how to push devices through global retail channels in huge volumes. The company’s Galaxy Note phones are often credited with creating the market for larger “phablet”-sized phones.

And the competition could potentially expand beyond simple VR headsets. Magic Leap, a tight-lipped company specializing in augmented reality, raised $542 million in a financing round last year that Google led. The search giant had previously created an augmented-reality device of its own, Google Glass, which has so far failed to create an enthusiastic user base.

Each competitor has different, but equally formidable, mechanisms for getting as many devices into as many households as possible. And volume attracts not only developers — who will inevitably build the killer app that sends VR mainstream — but also large game publishers like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Activision-Blizzard. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise has been a staple for consoles — but if it’s going to make it into a VR headset, it’s going to find its way to the best-selling hardware first.

The same holds true for independent developers. For a small development studio, creating a game for multiple platforms takes a lot of time and money — both things in short supply for a small team, or a lone developer. While the process of “porting” games — translating the code to work on several consoles — has gotten easier, developers still have to ensure the game feels right.

“If you have a PC game that uses a keyboard and you go to console, you have to come up with a new way to come up with an interface,” Mike Bithell, the creator of Thomas Was Alone, told BuzzFeed News. “We took [Thomas Was Alone] to iPad, we had to completely reinvent the way to control. Those changes pile up. The porting the code bit, is probably now — and it’s weird to say it — the smallest job.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledges the challenge. “It needs to reach a very large scale, 50 million units to 100 million units, before it’ll really be a very meaningful thing as a computing platform,” Zuckerberg said on the company’s third-quarter earnings call last year. “So I do think it’s going to take a bunch of years to get there. Maybe, I don’t know, it’s hard to predict exactly, but I don’t think it’s going to get to 50 million units or 100 million units in the next few years.”

Zuckerberg’s vision for Oculus Rift isn’t necessarily restricted to games. And the applications for the Rift could very well go beyond simply video games; Zuckerberg himself has said it is essentially a bet on the future of the internet. But device adoption has historically been driven by games, whether with consoles or smartphones, and in getting into the console business, Facebook faces one of the greatest competitive challenges in its 10-year history.

An attendee tries an Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR headset during the French telecom Orange annual company’s innovations show in Paris on Oct. 2, 2014. Charles Platiau / Reuters

Still, Oculus VR — which Facebook says has shipped more than 100,000 development kits — won an early victory by proving there was a market for an inexpensive virtual reality headset. And it captured the attention of developers around the world, thanks in large part to co-founder Luckey’s own enthusiasm. In buying Oculus VR, Facebook put itself in a strong position, with widely distributed software developer kits, or SDKs for short, ahead of other device manufacturers.

Early in the company’s life, John Carmack — the creator of the Doom series and one of the most-revered minds in the gaming industry — joined as Oculus’ chief technology officer. The company also hired Michael Abrash from Valve — the company behind the Half LIfe and Counter Strike series — as the its chief scientist. Prior to working at Oculus VR, Abrash was working on a VR system for Valve around the time Luckey was creating prototypes for the Rift.

That early enthusiasm served Oculus well. Initially, Luckey and Iribe sought to channel the independent developer community, which was as excited about building an experience on a cheap VR headset as the duo were. In theory, the technology was so new and fascinating that it would be able to collect enough developers to hopefully strike gold and create the Mario or Angry Birds of the virtual reality era. One hit is often all it takes to make a platform take off — Halo drove the Xbox and Super Mario World drove the Super Nintendo.

But under new ownership, observers in the industry have already noticed a shift in how Oculus approaches the developer community. As Facebook has taken over, the company has enlisted the likes of Jason Rubin — best known for the Crash Bandicoot series and initial success of Naughty Dog — to begin focusing on content. Jason Holtman, who joined from Valve, is also playing a significant role in growing the company’s publishing efforts.

It all makes for a frenzied environment among game makers. “The entire industry is exploding behind closed doors,” Cloudhead Games Creative Director Denny Unger, whose company is developing for Oculus Rift, told BuzzFeed News. “You have [Samsung’s] Gear VR, you have Oculus, you have Morpheus — which we’re developing for as well. There’s a number of other players that are working on stuff in secret; it’s this maelstrom of innovation happening at the same time. As a developer it’s tricky to hedge your bets on one system.”

Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus, holds a Rift headset in his Irvine, California, offices, May 24, 2013. Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / MCT

Unlike the traditional game console makers, Facebook also has the opportunity to create an virtual reality software development kit that can span multiple hardware sets — potentially shifting some of the burden of producing hardware on to more experienced manufacturers, while still maintaining its own line of devices. Luckey, too, has said it would be a positive outcome for Oculus. “In the long run, we would love to see content made with the Oculus SDK running across a wide variety of hardware,” he noted in a comment on Reddit.

Iribe, too, has said something to the same effect: “If we do want to get a billion people on virtual reality, which is our goal, we’re not going to sell 1 billion pairs of glasses ourselves,” he said in an interview earlier this year.

This is essentially a hedge against losing out among developers. Should Microsoft or Sony become the dominant hardware platform, Oculus VR can seek to embed its technology across the widest number of devices. But that, too, is dependent on there being enough room in the VR market for devices that aren’t made by the big console companies.

The fight is expected begin in the second half of 2015. But David De Martini, the former head of EA Partners who joined Oculus as its head of partnerships and has since retired, said the quality of its technology means Oculus could lose the battle over the first hit game and device, but still win the war.

“Even if the platform doesn’t take off rapidly when it first releases, it will win [because the immersive experiences on the Rift] are so far and above revolutionary,” he said. “When people see the capability of the platform, they’ll flock to it. That could be ahead of the release or as the product releases. It’ll lead to a slower rate of adoption, but ultimately it will win because it’s so amazing on those dimensions.”

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mattlynley/mark-zuckerbergs-virtual-reality-moon-shot-could-be-the-toug

SYTYCD 5 Top 12 Randi Evans and Evan Kasprzak pull off a Hip Hop and a Samba

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Randi Evans and Evan Kasprzak danced Hip-hop to the song “Halo” Beyoncé – Choreography by Tabitha D’umo and Napoleon D’umo

Randi Evans and Evan Kasprzak danced Samba to the song “Ritmo De Bum Bom”—Jababa Choreography by Anya Garnis and Pasha Kovalev

7/8 SYTYCD 5 Top Performances from the Top 12, Only 10 gets to Go on Tour…

This week we have to work top down. Most weeks we are thinking we have to nail the bottom three. So we go bottom up and try to pick who we liked least. This week, we loved every performance. These dancers are true stars and a step above everyone else in dance. The choreographers do deserve much of the credit, and we believe that choreography may have more to do with the elimination of this week’s pair of dancers than the dancing itself. But maybe a fan base could save one or two from elimination. We think Philip and Evan have a strong following that will bail them out on the telephone in many cases, but will it help them this week?

As a note aside, this is the last week these couples will perform with each other. They have to face the music with a different partner next week. This could result in some very interesting mismatches. For example, we could never imagine Kayla or Melissa with Phillip.

When you get down to it this week, there isn’t a dance we disliked. There were no major flaws. So, it comes down to how each dance made us feel and expect that we are in tune with the audience. We aren’t always, but we think we can tell you what happened and who was the most likely to get votes this week.

Normally we go through the dances in chronological order, but this week we are going to list our dancers top down, top to bottom, best to worst, and ecstacy to pain. Let’s see how this goes… (Watch solo introduction and dance recap at the bottom of this post)

Janette Manrara and Brandon Bryant Argentine Tango to the song “Libertango” from Forever Tango choreographed by Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo
Janette Manrara and Brandon Bryant Jazz to the song “Ruby Blue” —Róisín Murphy choreographed by Wade Robson (Complete performance videos here with judges comments)

In every show, this couple has nailed every single dance. No slips, no flaws, just pure and perfect entertainment. Tonight exemplified their run with two of the best performances by any couple this season. One will definitely be on the tour. The first was a tango. Every move was executed with phenomenal precision. Jeannette is the dark horse here. We keep forgetting about her until she dances and suddenly we believe she could take it all. Every week she has been our number one or number two pick of the women. Brandon is brought out personality-wise by her. Her slightly cocky (in a good way) personality is exactly what Brandon needed to bring out his excellence as a dancer because it got him to lighten up. (Dance 1: 10/10)

The second dance will be on the tour. It was a jazz dance that has some of the sleekiest choreography we have seen. If executed correctly, it should have you laughing and still amazed at how well it is performed. This one had us laughing at the cocky character acting, but almost in tears over how amazingly delivered this dance was. You have to watch it, because if you don’t, we cannot explain it. If this were a final contest among couples, Jeannette and Brandon are well above the rest of the pack.(Dance 2: 10/10)

Melissa Sandvig and Ade Obayomi Disco to the song “Move On Up” —Destination choreographed by Doriana Sanchez
Melissa Sandvig and Ade Obayomi Waltz to the song “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” —Mary J. Blige choreographed by Ron Montez (VIDEO PERFORMANCES HERE with judges comments)

The first dance was disco, the second dance a waltz. Melissa did one split upside down that would have likely killed a normal human being. Ade was strong throughout. When he needed to lift Melissa it was effortless. When he needed to deliver that perfect dance move or spin, it was there. Melissa was the top performer in this couple, but both kicked it up a notch even in that difficult first slot. Dance 1 was fast and furious. It was not as good as last week’s disco by Jeanette and Brandon, but it was so very well performed nonetheless. (Dance 1: 9/10) Next was a waltz that brought both of these dancer’s beauty into perspective. (Dance 2: 10/10)

Kayla Radomski and Kupono Aweau Contemporary to the song “Gravity” —Sara Bareilles choreographed by Mia Michaels
Kayla Radomski and Kupono Aweau Broadway to the song “The Dance At the Gym”  from West Side Story choreographed by Joey Dowling

In their first dance, they drew contemporary and it was superbly performed. The synchronized moves were spectacular. The touch of craziness in the dance had us mesmerized. (Dance 1: 9/10) Kayla, though, outshines Kupono. The second dance was a jazz performance and we just couldn’t help but giggle at some of it. It had a truly off beat appeal. We loved both dances. Kayla was spectacular. Kupono quite good. This was difficult to score because we loved the dance, but felt Kupono did not perform up to par. (Dance 2: 8./10)

sytycd_top12

Randi Evans and Evan Kasprzak Hip-hop to the song “Halo” —Beyoncé Knowles choreographed by Tabitha D’umo and Napoleon D’umo
Randi Evans and Evan Kasprzak Samba to the song “Ritmo De Bum Bom”—Jababa choreographyed by Anya Garnis and Pasha Kovalev

In the first dance, hip hop was their task, and Randi was able to hit the beat and lead us into the dance much better than Evan. We like Evan’s personality and style, but he hasn’t been as much of a dancing standout of late, and this was not his best performance. It looked like he was dancing a different style. On time, on the beat and off the mark. (Dance 1: 8/10) Randi is just so cute that as long as she shows up and doesn’t fall, she looks great on stage. Her perkiness and energy bring that cute nature home even more

The second dance truly demonstrated the dichotomy this couple presents to us. Once again Randi was stunning, made every move flawlessly and led the dance with pure dazzle. Once again, Evan was a disappointment, disappearing behind Randi’s aura and just not showing the style and personality of a winner. Evan has the personality, we have seen it, but he hasn’t been bringing it to the show the last couple of weeks. Unlike loveable dancers from years past, such as Benjie in season 2, he can’t bring his personality consistently to the floor. He looks like he is straining and just not having the fun he should be. (Dance 2: 8/10)

Jeanine Mason and Phillip Chbeeb Russian folk dance to the song “Kalinka” —Barynya choreographed by Youri Nelzine and Lilia Babenko
Jeanine Mason and Phillip Chbeeb Jive to the song “Stuff Like That There” —Bette Midler choreographed by Tony Meredith and Melanie LaPatin

If Jeanine can dance as well as she has while partnering with a dancer as weak as Phillip, she deserves to win this year. And she has. Every single dance she has delivered pure perfection, and tonight was no exception. The start was a Russian dance that brought back memories of last year when Twitch and Joshua danced up an energetic storm of Russian movement. Jeanine was believable and on mark throughout. Phillip was not, but put in a commendable effort despite a stumble and being incredibly outmatched. Honestly, though, Phillip is way out of his league and is just plain no Joshua or Twitch (Dance 1: 7/10).

The second dance was swing, and once again, Jeanine shook the hips and took the dance away. Jeanine is championship quality, Phillip is not. But we think that quite possibly the judges promoted Phillip in these routines because they want Phillip’s entertainment factor on the tour. And only the top 10 are guaranteed to tour. Jeanine was so good in the second dance and Phillip put in an underdog performance worth noting, so this dance can’t be downgraded that much. (Dance 2: 9/10)

Caitlin Kinney and Jason Glover Foxtrot to the song “Minnie the Moocher” —Big Bad Voodoo Daddy choreographed by Tony Meredith and Melanie LaPatin
Caitlin Kinney and Jason Glover Lyrical jazz to the song “Show Me Heaven” —Maria McKee choreographed by Mandy Moore

The first dance was a 40s type slow swing. The dancers executed the dance with aplomb. Our issue was not the performance, it was the choreography. The dance, while amazingly performed, was dull, and votes come from how well the audience remembers the dance. Caitlin is better than this dance showed her to be. Jason as well. (Dance 1: 8/10)

The second dance was Lyrical Jazz and was their exact style. And once again, despite some beautiful movement, it was dull. We cannot place our finger on it, but this was the couple we would be least likely to vote for this week. They did the one thing that cannot be done. They bored us. (Dance 2: 8/10)

Top 12 Solo introduction and Dance Recap

RESULTS?

Now it becomes a bit more clear…We have two obviously safe couples…what about the rest?

Brandon and Jeanine are not going anywhere. They are spectacular and the best couple in this competition by a decent margin.

Melissa and Ade have strong movement and finesse that is magnified by the incredible strength of both dancers. Melissa is a bit butch at times, but never is anyting but perfect grace. Ade is strong and always at home. So, they are SAFE!

But then we get into the gray area. All these couples, with the exception of Caitlin and Jason, are tied. And Caitlin and Jason are not far behind. What do we do? Well, we won’t cop out, we will make our guess for the bottom three, but it may not be how the audience votes.

Let’s start by saying that Jeanine and Kayla are outstanding and carry their dances repeatedly. They are both easily top ten talents, but their partners? Well….not so much. Phillip is weaker than any man here, but has a major underdog factor combined with a lovable goofiness. And you have to give him a major A for effort in that second dance. So, how do we think it will go down. In this order.

Kayla & Kupono – They were marginally the best of the four.

Jeanine & Phillip – Jeanine gets 10/10 on both dances. Phillip gets an A for effort and just being on the floor with her and not looking downright stupid. They are lovable. But at the end of the day, someone has to dance for his and/or her life.

Randi and Evan – Randi, like Jeanine, gets top scores for her dances, but Evan had an almost sleepy quality to him as he danced. No pizzazz, no personality and just not a winner. And we really like Evan and are so disappointed. Perhaps he just isn’t cut out for the limelight? We just think he has to look like he is having more fun, but this is hard, and we think he is displaying a bit of stage fright.

Caitlin and Jason – Dead last for boredom. Neither stood out, both were equally dull, but much of it was the choreography which is just the luck of the draw. Jason is better than this and we think Caitlin is as well. But, at the end of the day, no matter what the champion draws, the champion only wins if he or she brings it, so we crave their next performance. These performances made us just plain not care if this couple was not here next week, and we think that the audience won’t care either.

We think that if it plays out the way we think, Phillip has to go home unless the other two dancers blow their solos. Phillip will perform a predictable hip hop solo that will be no surprise and that demonstrates that, in the end, he has little versatility relative to the other dancers. But, Evan could fall flat as well. This is mainly because he has been a disappointment, not only to us, but repeatedly to the judges. He has to nail his solo and remind us of what he can do, or he will be on the bus out of here.

Of the women, this is very difficult. We love them all. If we had to choose, we would prefer to see Randi and Jeanette move through. Melissa we think is spectacular, but we don’t see the personality in her that makes us want to vote for her. Caitlin is spectacular, but she has to nail the solo against some pretty stiff talent and we think she is last this week in our eyes as well as the judges. We think Caitlin will be shipped out.