The next generation of virtual reality headsets remains unclear, but the VR software ecosystem just firmed up an unsurprising—and potentially unwelcome—requirement for a huge swath of users.
Starting “this October,” anyone brand-new to the Oculus VR ecosystem will be forced to log in to devices using a Facebook account, instead of creating and logging into a separate Oculus-specific account. If you already have an Oculus account (which is free and doesn’t require an Oculus-branded headset), you can continue using those credentials for existing headsets until January 1, 2023, at which point all connected Oculus services will not function without a Facebook account.
[Update, 4:40pm EDT: After this article’s publication, a Facebook representative clarified to Ars Technica that this restriction is even more severe than we previously understood. “All future unreleased Oculus devices will require a Facebook account, even if you already have an Oculus account,” the representative wrote.]
“Your use of VR and other Facebook products”
Though Oculus’s official announcement begins by trumpeting how this change will improve the Oculus VR experience, it concludes with the exact kind of information-sharing and tracker-heavy deluge that many Facebook critics fear:
When you log into Oculus using your Facebook account, Facebook will use information related to your use of VR and other Facebook products to provide and improve your experience. This information is also used to show you personalized content, including ads. For example, we might show you recommendations for Oculus Events you might like, ads about Facebook apps and technologies, or ads from developers for their VR apps.
Since its massive, Kickstarter-backed launch, Oculus has maintained its own login system so that users can manage digital licenses, friend lists, and other VR-specific content. But Facebook, who acquired Oculus in 2014, eventually asked VR users to connect their Facebook credentials to their accounts. While that process has been routinely described as wholly optional, Oculus has begun gating certain content—particularly “social” sharing features like gameplay videos—to connected FB credentials.
The 2023 changeover includes very little good news for anyone who does not maintain a Facebook account. At that time, your Oculus-made headset will essentially become an offline device in terms of the Oculus Store, which is troubling news for anyone who purchased the headset and connected software licenses under the assumption that the devices may remain Facebook-free for years to come. In good news, this move will likely not affect Oculus users who invest in purchases made via storefronts like SteamVR or Windows Mixed Reality, as those platforms are open to Oculus headsets (though the same cannot be said for non-Oculus headsets accessing the Oculus Store, as these still require fan-made workarounds like Revive).
A Link to your past
If you’ve enjoyed Oculus Quest’s “Link” functionality, which connects that popular, portable headset to higher-end PCs, this too will be affected by the Facebook requirement, since Oculus Link relies on the headset’s Internet-connected software suite.
Facebook insists that this change is essential for “social features,” but its list doesn’t appear to mention anything that would specifically benefit game development or usability. The announcement also makes abundantly clear that Facebook will access data based on your use of the device and tie that information specifically with your Facebook account, with zero indication that users will be able to tell Facebook to stop tracking things like “your VR activity, like which apps you use,” or “information about your activity on other Facebook products, such as Pages you like and groups you join.”
Oculus may very well be getting this news out ahead of major Facebook-related announcements for the Oculus hardware and software ecosystem, as rumors and device images hint to a refresh of the popular Oculus Quest headset coming sometime in September. [And as our updated introduction has since clarified, this means whatever Oculus has in store on the hardware side will require Facebook credentials to operate.] We expect Facebook’s experiments with VR social spaces to get an update at that time as well, which we last saw in 2019 in the form of Facebook Horizon.