virtual-desktop-cloned-by-facebook
guy-godinOn June 11, 2019, Guy Godin announced on Reddit and on Twitter that “Oculus doesn’t want the SteamVR streaming feature in their store” and that he had been asked by Oculus to remove this wireless streaming feature that he had recently added to his Virtual Desktop application.

Facebook provided a statement to UploadVR and Road to VR saying, “While we don’t comment on the status of specific apps, our Oculus Store application submission system is designed to help ensure that our devices deliver a consistent, comfortable experience to customers. Apps are evaluated on a number of factors including performance, input, and safety with the goal of creating a quality, high-value experience for all VR consumers.”

Oculus’ Jason Rubin tweeted on June 14, 2019 saying, “We asked Virtual Desktop to roll back an update. We found out about the new features through user complaints & it took us a while to get it to work. We accept experiences vary, but this feature compromised comfort, safety, & quality to different levels for different users.”

Godin tells me that you have to have a good enough PC for wireless streaming to work well enough, wired ethernet helps enormously, and sometimes users have to set up a wireless mesh network in your home in order for it to work properly, especially if your PC is in another room.

But what Facebook is saying is that they want to create a “quality, high-value experience for all VR consumers.” Reading between the lines, then it appears as though Facebook is saying that the PC owners with the lowest minimum specification component parts on their PC may get degraded experience of wireless streaming, and that this is what they’re using to justify this feature being removed.

But from talking with Godin, it doesn’t sound like he was provided these minimum specifications, or even provided much more context or details as to why this feature had to be removed otherwise be pulled from the store. His solution was to provide a patch in the Side Quest store that works if someone has bought the full version of Virtual Desktop.

Now that the Oculus Rift has been announced to be discontinued as of Spring of 2021, then Oculus will not have any dedicated PC VR headsets, which will put more emphasis on either using the Oculus Link cable or for Oculus to develop their own wireless streaming solution.

In John Carmack’s Unscripted Live talk at Facebook Connect 1 on September 16th, 2020, he shared more context about internal debates around wireless streaming by saying:

“We still haven’t announced a full wireless connection system for Link. And we have these interminable arguments internally about this — about quality bars. And I keep saying that… I have existing proofs where whenever we argue about this I can say, ‘Right this very minute, someone is using a wireless VR streaming system and getting value from it. You know, it is not as good as being wired. It is not as good as we might hope. It might not meet your personal minimum quality bar, but it is clearly meeting some people’s minimum quality bar and delivering to them because they keep coming back and doing it.’ So I continue to beat that drum where we should have some type of Air Link.”

I talk to Godin about wireless streaming in Virtual Desktop, but also his experience of Facebook wanting to buy him out. After he refused to sell his company, then he claims that Facebook proceeded to clone his basic features in their application “Oculus Desktop,” and Godin shows a screenshot of Oculus UI elements where Oculus Desktop is referred to as “Virtual Desktop”, which has confused users that it’s Godin’s Virtual Desktop application.

BigScreenVR’s Darshan Shankar also pointed out Facebook’s conflict of interest of being both a platform provider as well as an app and experience provider in that sometimes Facebook develops first-party apps and experiences that directly compete with their developer ecosystem. Shankar points out that Facebook has the ability to track what applications are gaining traction and popularity, and then try to either acquire that app or clone those features into their own applications.

Godin and Shankar are two independent VR developers who have reported some level of cloning behaviors from Facebook, and I know there are a number of other VR developers who may be coming forward to tell more of their stories of having Facebook clone their applications.

The Verge’s Adi Robertson has been covering the Anti-Trust hearings against Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and she reported on some emails from Facebook executives talking about how it’s faster to clone competitors than to do their own innovation.

A chain of messages starts with Zuckerberg recounting a meeting with the founders of Chinese social networking app Renren. “In China there is this strong culture of cloning things quickly and building lots of different products,” he wrote. “Seeing all this and the pace that new mobile apps seem to be coming out from other companies makes me think we’re moving very slowly. … I wonder what we could do to move a lot faster.”

The messages were released on Wednesday as part of a House Judiciary Committee probe.

Other employees, some of their names redacted, agreed that “copying is faster than innovating,” even if they worried it would give Facebook a bad reputation in the industry.

Facebook has a long history of cloning apps including Snap and TikTok, and so it’s not too surprising that they would be cloning some of the independent VR developers.

It’s certainly possible that Facebook may have independently been working on a lot of these features in Virtual Desktop and BigScreen, but there may be an emerging pattern of anti-competitive behavior here where Facebook’s desire to have the most popular apps and experiences on their own platform means subtly undermining some of their most successful VR developers within their ecosystem.

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