An internal email sent by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to senior executives offers a glimpse into the strategic thinking behind the company’s feet-first leap into XR following the 2014 acquisition of Oculus.

Update (February 14th, 2019): Sources tell Road to VR that the email in question is authentic. Facebook has declined to comment specifically on the email. The article below has been updated with this information.

Facebook turned heads across the tech industry and beyond when it acquired Oculus for some $2 billion in 2014. Back then, many were wondering: ‘what on Earth is a social networking company doing buying a VR hardware startup, and for that much money? A leaked email directly from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg offers new insights.

TechCrunch reports that Zuckerberg sent a four page internal email to key executives at the company which outlined the strategic thought process guiding the company’s early dive into AR and VR.

The email was acquired by author Blake Harris who gained access to it and thousands of other documents through research for his upcoming book The History of the Future, which explores the formative years of the modern VR industry. Sources tell Road to VR that the email is authentic.

Dated June 22nd, 2015, more than a year after the company’s Oculus acquisition, the purported email reveals that Zuckerberg commitment to XR was driven by a desire to beat tech behemoths Google and Apple to XR, which he calls in the email (and has also called publicly) “the next major computing platform,” as a means of enhancing the company’s strategic positioning:

The strategic goal is the clearest. We are vulnerable on mobile to Google and Apple because they make major mobile platforms. We would like a stronger strategic position in the next wave of computing. We can achieve this only by building both a major platform as well as key apps.

I will discuss the main elements of the platform and key apps further below, but for now keep in mind that we need to succeed in building both a major platform and key apps to improve our strategic position on the next platform. If we only build key apps but not the platform, we will remain in our current position [of being beholden to platform holders]. If we only build the platform but not the key apps, we may be in a worse position. We need to build both.

From a timing perspective, we are better off the sooner the next platform becomes ubiquitous and the shorter the time we exist in a primarily mobile world dominated by Google and Apple. The shorter this time, the less out community is vulnerable to the actions of others. Therefore, our goal is not only to win in VR / AR, but also to accelerate its arrival. This is part of my rationale for acquiring companies and increasing investment in them sooner rather than waiting until later to derisk them further. By accelerating this space, we are derisking our vulnerability on mobile.

As a company whose users access apps and services in a large part through mobile phones running iOS or Android, the reason for Zuckerberg’s desire to get out from under the thumb of Apple and Google was recently tested put in the spotlight when Apple blocked Facebook from running its internal iOS apps when it was revealed that Facebook was using Apple’s platform in ways the company forbids.

Owning both the platform and the key apps means deep control over an ecosystem, and Zuckerberg wants that power in Facebook’s hands rather than its competitors. With mobile already a mature ecosystem, he’s placed his bets on XR as the “next major computing platform” by 2025, and nearest opportunity for Facebook to seize strategic control.

The unverified email continues with a more detailed breakdown of how Zuckerberg expects to facilitate both “winning” the space, and accelerating its arrival.

The key apps are what you’d expect: social communication and media consumption, especially immersive video. Gaming is critical but is more hits driven and ephemeral, so owning the key games seems less important than simply making sure they exist on our platform. I expect everyone will use social communication and media consumption tools, and that we’ll build a large business if we are successful in these spaces. We will need a large investment and dedicated strategy to build the best services in these spaces. For now though, I’ll just assert that building social services is our core competence, so I’ll save elaborating further on that for another day.

The platform vision is around key services that many apps use: identity, content and avatar makerplace, app distribution store, ads, payments and other social functionality. These services share the common properties of network effects, scarcity and therefore monetization potential. The more developers who use our content marketplace or app store or payments system, the better they become and the more effectively we can make money.

[…]

Our overall vision for the space is that we will be completely ubiquitous in killer apps, have very strong coverage in platform services (like Google has with Android) and will be strong enough in hardware and systems to at a minimum support our platform services goals, and at best be a business itself.

Further into the email, Zuckerberg says that he was “supportive of acquiring Unity,” one of the leading game engines for both non-VR and VR gaming content. He goes on to “outline the advantages of owning unity,” which includes giving Facebook the capability to “build world-class VR / AR experiences required to deliver on this overall mission,” and allow the company to “make our key services the defaults [in Unity] that developers use. […] Just like developers who deeply rely on Google’s Play Services are more likely to use the next Play Service API that comes out, developers who use more of our systems to build their VR / AR experiences will also be likely to use additional services as we build them as well.”

In making his case for acquiring Unity, Zuckerberg also explores what could happen if Facebook doesn’t:

On the flip side, if someone else buys Unity or the leader in any core technology component of this new ecosystem, we risk being taken out of the market completely if that acquirer is hostile and devices not to support us. Again, this likely wouldn’t be a sudden proclamation that Unity no longer supports Oculus, but Google or someone else would just never prioritize improving our integrations.

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 of the upsides for which we originally contemplated it.

[…]

Given the overall opportunity of strengthening our position in the next major wave of computing, I think it’s a clear call to do everything we can to increase our chances. A few billion dollars is expensive, but we can afford it. We’ve built our business so we can build even greater things for the world, and this is one of the greatest things I can imagine us building for the future… [the email concludes].

In the intervening four years, Facebook not only didn’t acquire the company, but Unity has raised more than $500 million in new investments, according to CrunchBase, making any shot at an acquisition far more expensive for Facebook today than when Zuckerberg was reportedly laying out the case for buying the company in 2015.

Facebook declined to comment on the email specifically, but a spokesperson did offer a statement regarding the upcoming book from Blake Harris which references the email:

“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. This industry was built by a community of pioneers who believed in VR against all odds and that’s the history we celebrate,” the spokesperson said.

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  • jj

    I wonder what fb is going to do with all the data these devices are capable of collecting………………………………………………………………….

    • dk

      same thing they r doing right now
      …..no one cares

      • jj

        people care… hence the decline in fb accounts and why i dont have one any more.

        • RandomUser

          Not really.

          Q3 2018 was considered one of their worst quarters and they still added 22 million daily active users.

          Q4 2018 reported a 9% YoY increase in daily/monthly active users

          • jj

            …if you really think thats 22 million real people and not just bots, when other countries including russia have been caught and admitted to making millions of fake accounts, then you’re just mistaken and its not your fault.
            Sure they’re still adding users but the rate they are adding them has plateaued as well as declined multiple times in the past few quarters and with the increased amount of fraudulent accounts being made to help influence or provide advertising has immensely altered FB’s reported numbers past what they most likely altered themselves to begin with.

            Bottom line is, why are you supporting FB when they’ve lied, stolen, and harmed everyone’s private data?

          • RandomUser

            Whether the users are real or not is sort of irrelevant to argue because it is impossible for us to know.

            I was just challenging the point that they are “declining” when so far all we have seen is a slow down in the rate of growth. Also these numbers only include FB itself and not their other platforms like Instagram, which is where many of the young adults are now.

          • jj

            I’d argue it is very relevant and its not impossible to know since people have admitted to making millions of fake accounts. The only thing we don’t know is the magnitude of how many they’ve made so thats far from irrelevant.

            even if it was impossible to know, that means its relevant because its effecting the results to a degree we don’t even know.

          • sabbadoo32

            Among other data reported the same day, but not publicly touted by Facebook: fake accounts on its site jumped 27% to 116 million, while duplicate accounts jumped 12.4% to 255 million.

            https://twitter.com/jacknicas/status/1090724077143248897?s=20

          • jj

            dude, thanks for sharing this!

          • jj

            so thats estimated an increase of about over 23 million fake accounts then(not duplicates) which is interestingly close to the 22 million daily users…… hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

        • iThinkMyCatIsAFlea

          What jj said.

        • dk

          exactly if u care don’t have an account or use the messenger and don’t use the website …..it’s their website they can use whatever u do publicly

          • jj

            yeah,from a legal perspective nobody can argue that. you are right when you say they can use what you do publicly because you’re agreeing to use it.

            Other people however just don’t realize it yet and they just have them addicted, thinking they can’t go without a fb account.

            People need to care more

          • dk

            I don’t do anything on facebook why would I
            …even if I did it would be useless data like congratulating someone about smth or commenting something like cool picture …people use it as their portal to the internet ….which is their problem
            even if u use it a lot it’s pretty irrelevant on a personal level ….promoting political ideologies might be a problem but it’s hard to say how effective is something like that ….compared to if a campaign like that didn’t exist

          • jj

            I agree with what ur saying, but just to be present to apply the useless data, you’ve already had to give them a ton of useful data. Like name, phone number, general location family relations.
            Thats all a hacker needs to socially engineer your grandmother into sending them money. Its happening as we speak to thousands because people thought they wernt giving up valuable data when they really were.

            Also just from having the msngr app on ur phone, they’ve gotten you contacts list and have made ghosts accounts for your contacts and are actively trying to link them with ppls fb accounts.

            Plus the fact that you think the only data they’re collecting is when u say congrats or like something, tells us 100% you don’t know what were talking about or are relatively close to knowing whats going on. The data that is important that they keep are more like did you click this advertisement we put in front of you? no? ok we will try another category. oh you liked that well here’s more, while slowly building a hidden profile about what you like and dislike, what you’re addicted to and what you’re willing to spend money on. Then they sell that and make money so advertising companies can tailor their ads to whats being clicked. Thats just one small example and its MAGNITUDES bigger.
            Again the fact that you referred to likes and comments as the data means you need to do your research and i just hope i helped you realize that :) have fun with this rabbit hole

          • sabbadoo32

            Imagine the sympathy and sense of shared purpose if FB came out and delivered on cleaning up fake accounts. What if they got users credibly involved with eliminating fakes? We’re indifferent because we get hacked and FB does nothing that we can see at our level. We’re indifferent because people like JJ did the math and compared it to their self-promotion. 371 million fake and duplicate accounts out of 2 billion users is around 19%. That’s a big number. Especially if you’re an advertiser.

          • dk

            nooo I know 100% exactly what they collect …..they collect every single thing u do that is public

            u r confusing them predicting something u will be interested in to knowing every single thing about u

            when all u do is commenting the most casual thing ever on a few of your friends pisc they get almost nothing of substance beyond hmm he is commenting on a few pics of vacations ….send some ads about vacations with affordable tickets for the average person living in the area the user is from

            u r equating casual commenting on a few pics of friends a week for someone who is using facebook as a substitute for a web browser …..I was never saying use it in the second way ….avoiding it absolutely at any cost like it’s worse than cancer is just nonsense

            it will be pretty funny if at some point they will have vr services requiring a fb account but most likely it will be only apps like fb spaces

          • jj

            I’m saying just to use facebook even .01% and just being present, is you giving more data than casual things.

            Plus they bridged the gap you mention of it not being a web browser because fb tracks your web browsing activity on other sites

          • dk

            if I were using it super casually I would be perfectly fine with the small information they will have
            hell if I was using it a lot I still wouldn’t care …google knows much more about me ..except it’s not exactly the same thing

          • jj

            yeah thats the truth. Nobody pays attention to what google is doing and theyre doing a lot of insane stuff.

    • Jan Ciger

      Well, given that FB’s business model is aggregating, mining and selling that information, you can guess what they want to do.

    • iThinkMyCatIsAFlea

      Monetize the [expletive] out of them. You know, just like they do now.

    • sabbadoo32

      LOL!!!

      • jj

        lol

  • Jan Ciger

    The last year or so shows that this strategy didn’t exactly pan
    out – “immersive video” is a major flop, with the various content
    production and delivery platforms going belly up one after
    another. After the initial hype died down, companies and
    investors are finally realizing that most people do not
    like watching overpriced, grainy and generally crappy video clips
    scattered over hundreds of walled gardens (each requiring its own
    proprietary app and monthly subscription) using an HMD, even when
    having it labeled as “VR”,
    “immersive” and what not. Or at least not enough people to sustain the
    enormous expense of producing such content at scale.

    The social part didn’t work out exactly to FB’s liking neither –
    social VR is important, but it is not Facebook’s social – by far
    the biggest players are RecRoom and BigscreenVR. The
    Oculus/FB-only Spaces almost nobody cares about, the same as FB’s
    avatars. Facebook’s reputation doesn’t help adoption neither.

    In fact, if FB wanted to actually do something for making AR/VR (I do hate the stupid
    “XR” moniker) happen today, the best thing would be to spin off
    and sell the VR division to someone else, in order to get rid of
    the reputation taint. VR users tend to be tech savvy and wary of
    FB’s ministrations.

    • daveinpublic

      Not sure why Facebook would think selling their VR branch is a strategic advantage.

      They’re not a charity, they’re a business, trying to gain an advantage. Palmer Luckey knew exactly what he was doing when he signed the deal to sell, he knew he was giving his baby to a social network that made money off of selling ads, and thought making billions of dollars sounded good. FB paid a premium and now they’re doing their best to make good products at good prices and earn the community’s trust. Will it be enough in the end? Maybe we could ask Google, they did the exact thing with Android, and they have the exact same business model of Facebook. The only difference between Google and Facebook is Google has much more information about you, all the way down to your text messages.

    • JDawg

      Totally. Not only grainy and low frame-rate but also very flat 360 videos with no stereoscopic features. I’m enjoying some of the 180 3D stereoscopic videos that are higher quality but still has the issue of being confusing for the consumer to find the good stuff. I hate all the flat 360 non-3D videos out there. Can’t stand them and yet the magical “360” number dominates video posts like it’s cooler because it’s 2x 180.

    • Well, the Oculus Go, that is meant primarily to watch videos and play little apps, is performing well. And there are storytelling experiences that are really interesting. What you are blaming (and I, as well, hate) are the simple monoscopic 360 videos. These are useless.

      And regarding the social spaces, well, I guess that Facebook has just begun. The fact that it is hiring new kind of figures, means that they are planning a new version of Spaces that can attract new people

    • sebrk

      Of course this is a long term goal and it will get there. It’s just not happening right now but to be in the game when the time hits you’d better be prepared and that is what we are seeing right now.

  • Ben Smith

    Love what Facebook is going to do to VR (Infact I have them winning the VR race) but i’m sorry, I just don’t see them winning AR at all, Apple and Android just such a large advantage in terms of their smartphone market and AR apps already created.

    • jj

      dont forget microsoft with the hololense, its actually pretty epic, unlike the tragic heap(magic leap)

      • Ben Smith

        Magic Leap was a big lesson for me to always be cautiously optimistic. They really sold us a dream.

        • jj

          100%

  • iThinkMyCatIsAFlea

    Facebook/Oculus did nothing when the Daily Beast reported on Palmer Luckey’s alt-right ways. In fact, they supported him.

    Don’t support Oculus. Google Oculus Trump.

    • Erin

      First, FB shouldn’t do anything to someone for their political beliefs. Whether they agree with them or not. They shouldn’t have that control. Do you think your boss should be able to fire you because you’re a democrat or republican?

      Second, most reports say quite the opposite of what you say. Most reports say Luckey was fired because of his support for Trump that because he wouldn’t support who they wanted them to. Google that.

      • iThinkMyCatIsAFlea
        • Erin

          I just did. That “article” is terrible. Written like propaganda. It has no facts that have anything to do with what you and I are talking about. In fact the article is only really stating that the author could tell Palmer frequented certain sites and blogs based on his (Palmer’s)style of responses.

          Now you read this:
          http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/11/it-turns-out-palmer-luckey-was-fired.html

          …or any of the other thousands of hits you get when you google, “why was palmer luckey fired”

          That’s about *our* discussion. You stated,”Facebook/Oculus did nothing when the Daily Beast reported on Palmer Luckey’s alt-right ways. In fact, they supported him.” The 1000’s of hits I get state the exact opposite.

  • sabbadoo32

    If the email is accurate, it’s a minor problem. Zuck needs to get it together on privacy, personal data and platform manipulation. If it weren’t for being the only real game in town for staying in touch with old friends and family, FB would slowly wither. Their immature actions, lies and unnecessary bravado doesn’t turn people off as much as it makes them indifferent–which is a kiss of death.

  • polysix

    Unity sucks anyway, everything made for VR in it is the same cartoony looking stuff. UE4 is much better (for future VR even if it’s a little power hungry)

    • Hivemind9000

      I’ve developed in both engines and Unity is a pretty capable platform these days (especially with their new scriptable render pipeline). The perception of it being a bit shit is largely due to one of its strengths – having a very large and active 3rd party plugin/tool/content developer base. This attracts a lot of solo and first-time developers, so there’s a larger proportion of low-fidelity stuff being built in Unity.
      I think the cartoony art style is more a choice of the developer, and often to ensure a good framerate in VR. Unreal is pretty awesome, though I’m not sure it makes much of a difference with the limiting factor in VR being headset resolution and compute performance.

      • jj

        I 100% prefer unity for VR development over unreal.

        Unreal comes packaged with a lot of harmful post processing effects for a VR environment. Any unreal build before 4.20 has game breaking flaws for VR that I have heavily documented for unreal to get them fixed. So its been so slow going with Unreal our office just does unity. but im sure we will do another unreal project soon,

  • Moe Curley

    Seems like a leak or misinformation aimed at stockholders.

  • MW

    VR needs another 10-15 years of hardware dewelopment. For now it is and will be expensive gimmick for a group of enthusiast. Companies like FB realize that long time ago. That’s why in next year’s we can expect simple mobile headsets, crappy simple/casual games, and dreams about real VR. We simply don’t have goood enough and affordable screens, gpu power, and tech.

    • dk

      if u have the pc …like a lot of people do …pretty great quality vr is $200 …..it already feels excellent for what it can do …it already feels like a different reality ….and the next wave of great improvements r coming this and next year

      • jj

        Couldn’t agree with you more, MW obviously hasn’t played much vr

        • dk

          who knows what unrealistic idea of vr he has in mind ….probably something like 50g and costing $99 and everyone having a few different versions with different specs and a few fit in a back pocket at the same time and stream perfect looking image from a cloud with no vergence accommodation conflict ……the funny thing is in 15 years something similar to that is pretty possible actually and in the mean time it’s pretty great today

      • MW

        Same again… Great quality VR for 200usd.. please man… 4k 90fps gpu (4k looks like crap in VR) costs over 1k usd. No, it is not different reality. It’s like smartphone on your face. ‘wave of great improvements’. You talking about quest? Or another mobile hmd? Or about experimental/business HMDs for a thousands of dollars with 2k res. Lol. Dream on.

        • dk

          yes u can get pretty great desktop vr headset for 200 for what is on the market today ….and the winmr angular res is better than a pimax5k+ and the pimax8k has it’s own problems …..u can’t be bitching about the price of super expensive vr headsets when there r perfectly good desktop vr headsets in the cheap segment…….and yes they all look great and feel like a different reality and u can feel that in the first few seconds …..but the vive/rift res really looks like ass at this point and should be updated and keep the same price if not lower it and the rifts will do that

          • MW

            ‘vive/rift res really looks like ass at this point and should be updated ‘. Thrue. But the hard fact is they are not. And they will not be updated for a long time. For the reasons I mentioned. VR enthusiast have their opinion about how great VR is, but market has it’s own opinion. And the truth is, we have too much great entertai devices on the market. Poor VR can’t break through.

          • dk

            they r being updated like I mentioned this year with the rifts/cosmos …if u ignore the vive pro
            no it’s a fact that vr is already great and u and anyone with a good pc can now buy it for 350-200 or even less if u hunt those deals down …..and the market is slowly growing it was never going to explode from 0 to 10 million in a year …even 1440p displays that have been out forever r a tiny percentage in the steam survey…. it will never be a viral explosion just constant steady growth

        • Mradr

          I can tell you never did 4k at 90fps VR gaming before. At best maybe you did try Pimax? IF so – maybe you notice the trade off between numbers maybe. For example, that is not true 4k its 2k by 2k. That isnt true 4k by 4k. They are giving you a mach larger FOV (witch people scream for) for exchange for a much lower PPD (pixels per degree) to hit their FOV mark. If you talk more reasonable FOV upgrade over 4k by 4k – then you will notice a much larger increase in visual than you ever have before. A top of that – next or the following year will be about – Focal Point scaling and Eye Tracking with FOVA render will be such a big boost to visuals and performance that it will be a game changer.

    • dsadas

      if you think that VR needs another 15 years of development then you must be retarded. At the very late it will reach mass adoption by 2025.

  • Fourfoldroot

    As much as I dislike Facebook and bemoan this seeming admission that gaming is not a driving focus, I do think it’s good that one of the world’s richest companies have a desire to make VR/AR ubiquitous and place such faith in it.

  • WyrdestGeek

    My first observation is that, that’s a really competent Facebook spokesperson; and they should probably get a raise and stuff.

    My second observation is that even though I kind of detest Zuckerburg and all he seems to stand for, he’s not wrong.

    I look forward to getting an Oculus Quest; and I hope people start jailbreaking them right away.

  • It is interesting to notice that while Oculus is selling the Quest as a console, actually Facebook has not games as a primary goal…

  • This Is Me

    almost bought unity, could’ve bought altspace, should probably buy dreams.

    Lots of amazing stuff on the way, regardless.