BigScreenVR is in direct competition with some of the same services that Facebook wants to fully control, and their CEO Darshan Shankar has had to resort to posting an thread on Twitter expressing his frustrations in trying to negotiate with Facebook. BigScreenVR has been selling tickets to movies in their virtual theaters. The content owners were requesting anywhere from 60-80% of the ticket price, but then on top of that Facebook is requiring a 30% transaction fee for any commerce that uses their in-app purchases. Shankar has to sell tickets at a loss in order to even do business on Facebook’s platform and Facebook has been unwilling to negotiate. BigScreenVR is one of the biggest and most active applications with over a millions users, but it is also in direct competition with services that Facebook would prefer to do themselves.
I invited Shankar onto the podcast in order to elaborate on his experiences and frustrations with dealing with Facebook developer relations and executives on this issue. He feels that BigScreenVR is providing a lot of value to the wider community, and that it’s not fair that Facebook’s own services will not have to pay these same transaction fees. Shankar suggests that media consumption is one of the industries that Facebook is artificially preventing from occurring on their platform because Facebook has their own intentions to release competing software and services.
He talks about some of the vague threats and suggestions he’s received to come work at Facebook or otherwise they’re going to “crush” them. He shares his frustrations in watching other developers get their features and functionality copied and cloned. He’s had a hard time getting support and responses on these issues through official channels, and that he also knows a lot of other developers in the realms of e-commerce, productivity, media consumption, and social VR who have faced some similar challenges. He claims that there are many other industries that have stalled because Facebook refuses accept them onto their app store, often with rejections without any further explaination.
He says that there’s a conflict between Facebook’s desire to completely own and control specific aspects of the VR ecosystem while at the same time trying to cultivate a viable developer ecosystem. In his specific case, these goals have competing interests. He felt like the situation had reached such an impasse that he decided to go public on August 18th with his Twitter thread in order to air his grievances with the situation.
Shankar is someone who is truly passionate about the medium of VR, and he feels like the medium itself is unduly being held back due to the future unmanifested intentions, products, and services that Facebook intends to develop and maintain complete control over.
I’ve been hearing frustrations from VR developers about their interactions about Facebook for a long time, but it’s been rare that anyone wanted to speak on the record about it. The online backlash to Facebook’s announcements about mandating Facebook-accounts to use new hardware and phasing out Oculus accounts by 2023 creating a larger context for some VR developers to start to share some of their deeper grievances with Facebook. I’m grateful that Shankar was willing to come speak on the record and elaborate about some of his own experiences, but also reflecting a number of other VR developers who up to this point have not felt comfortable speaking publicly about these issues.
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Here’s the Twitter thread that Shankar posted this past week where he detailed how he’s being treated by Facebook.
Let's talk about how Facebook is screwing us in VR.
A major use case of @BigscreenVR is like the "iTunes of VR": we offer 3D movie rentals for $4.99.
— Darshan Shankar (@DShankar) August 18, 2020
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