Facebook surprised just about everyone Tuesday by announcing it will acquire Oculus VR, the maker of a prototype cutting-edge virtual reality gaming accessory called the Oculus Rift. The product, a sort of gaming goggle that players put on to immerse themselves in the gaming world, is popular among leading-edge gaming geeks.

Facebook surprised just about everyone Tuesday by announcing it will acquire Oculus VR, the maker of a prototype cutting-edge virtual reality gaming accessory called the Oculus Rift. The product, a sort of gaming goggle that players put on to immerse themselves in the gaming world, is popular among leading-edge gaming geeks.


It’s no surprise that Oculus was snapped up — the firm is leading even major companies such as Sony and Microsoft in the virtual reality space, and it was perhaps only a matter of time before someone was willing to foot the bill to make the company its own. What is surprising is that Facebook was the one to do it.


Facebook is not exactly known for its gaming. That’s not a failing on Facebook’s part, necessarily, but early fans, including those who gave the company its start on Kickstarter, weren’t shy about sharing their worries that Facebook would steer the firm away from gaming down the line. Facebook’s track record on gaming, after all, has made for a shaky relationship with developers who blamed its waning support of Farmville maker Zynga for hurting social gaming.


Those skeptics probably weren’t soothed by comments from Facebook indicating that although gaming will remain Oculus’s main focus for now, it won’t always be that way.


"Gaming is just the start. After games, we’ll make Oculus a platform for other experiences," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told analysts in a call after the deal was announced. Oculus has the potential, he said, to be "the most social platform ever."


Gaining control over the next big computing platform — if the bet pays off — would be good for Facebook, Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia said in a note to investors Wednesday.


"We think the rationale is if Facebook can own the pipe, the platform or the operating system of the future, it will have much greater control over its destiny," he said.


Still, the Oculus acquisition stands out among other Facebook buys, particularly because it’s hard to imagine Facebook could easily integrate Rift and its technology into its site. Zuckerberg typically buys fully formed companies and works them into Facebook’s overall ecosystem — see Instagram, or even Beluga, which was the foundation for Facebook Messenger.


Oculus has yet to begin widely selling its headset, reserving it for developers who might be able to build games or apps that make it better. And it doesn’t fit in Facebook’s platform in an obvious way. Would people, for example, be willing to chat or spend any significant amount of time, even the duration of basketball game, while wearing an immersive headset, especially when they’re already wary of devices such as Google Glass and Oculus is still overcoming complaints about motion sickness?


And Zuckerberg noted that Facebook is no hardware company, and is in new territory when it comes to launching a physical gadget.