Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once considered purchasing the popular game engine Unity, according to “The History of The Future,” a new book by “Console Wars” author Blake Harris which explores the making of Oculus and the dramatic events surrounding its acquisition by Facebook.
The proposed deal, code-named “One”, is detailed in a multi-page email from Zuckerberg to former Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe, Sheryl Sandberg and other Facebook leaders which outlines the advantages for investing billions of dollars into Unity over the next decade. The email is available in full on Scribd, via TechCrunch.
“Over the next few years, we’re going to need to make major new investments in apps, platform services, development/graphics and AR,” Zuckerberg writes. “Some of these will be acquisitions and some can be built in house. If we try to build them all in house from scratch, then we risk that several will take too long or fail and put our overall strategy at serious risk. To derisk this, we should acquire some of these pieces from leading companies.”
“Given our own strengths, we will probably be best served building most apps and platform services internally while using acquisitions opportunistically, and then acquiring most of the core VR/AR and 3D tech where we have little experience. This is why I am supportive of acquiring Unity, expecting we will acquire an AR company in the next few years and opportunistically acquiring VR app teams, while also consistently encouraging us to ramp up our internal investment on our platform services ourselves.”
Zuckerberg describes the potential acquisition of Unity as both a way to ensure Facebook’s supremacy in a future of VR and AR, as well as a way to make sure no other technology company stands in their way.
“Over time someone will need to tightly integrate all of the software and hardware components of this ecosystem – headset, controllers and tracking on the hardware side; avatars, content and identity on the software side – and Unity is at the right level of the stack to do this for most developers.”
“If we own Unity, we can ensure this always happens well, happens quickly and happens with our systems. If we do this integration with Unity, the Unreal and others will prioritize delivering great experiences with us as well and we will push the entire market forward. If we don’t own Unity, then at best we can incentivize them to prioritize doing this for us and everything will just move more slowly, but at worst someone may acquire them and block this from happening at all with us.”
“To some degree, this downside is such a vulnerability that it is likely worth the cost just to mitigate this risk, even if this deal didn’t come with all the upsides for which we originally contemplated it.”
The email, dated June 22, 2015, was obtained by Harris based on access to more than 25,000 documents from Facebook. The author worked closely with the Facebook PR team early on, receiving access to executives at the company before being suddenly cut off.
“The book doesn’t get everything right, but what we hope people remember is the future of VR will not be defined by one company, one team, or even one person,” a Facebook spokesperson told Variety. “This industry was built by a community of pioneers who believed in VR against all odds and that’s the history we celebrate.”
While the acquisition never came to be, Facebook has continued to push forward with its virtual reality device Oculus. In late 2018, the company announced plans to develop VR centers and arcades in malls and movie theaters.
“We love the idea of an audience being able to go to a destination, and have an experience, and love that experience and continue that adventure at home,” said Oculus head of experiences Colum Slevin. “This is something we are working really closely with a number of partners on, how we can tie a location-based experience to an in-home experience.”
“The History of The Future,” published by Harper Collins, will be available Feb. 19.