The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is blocking Meta from buying another virtual reality company, Within. This is likely the first VR antitrust intervention move that we are witnessing.
The virtual reality industry is still in its early stages, and there are yet to be ground rules of engagement. However, the FTC’s pre-emptive move here could set the tone for a fairer industry than what we are seeing in the general tech market, where they seem to have acted too late.
Meta has been making early VR moves with its 2014 acquisition of Oculus, which started the company on the right course for its metaverse dream. Recently, with its ad business in peril, the company has been trying to speed up its virtual reality business to start earning revenue. To do this, it needs already established services instead of waiting around to build from scratch.
In a CNN report, we found that Meta bought game development platform Unit 2 Games and Beat Games, the developer behind Beat Saber. Either these acquisitions passed under the radar, or they did not trigger a move at the time.
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According to the complaint that the commission filed, it said that Facebook’s parent company could build whatever Within has in-house—further accusing it that the deal could kill ‘future innovation’ and potential rivals.
As 9To5Mac notes, Within is the company that built the fitness app, Supernatural, one of the most popular apps on Meta’s VR headsets.
“The idea that this acquisition would lead to anticompetitive outcomes in a dynamic space with as much entry and growth as online and connected fitness is simply not credible,” Stephen Peters, Meta spokesperson, said in reaction to the FTC filing. “By attacking this deal in a 3-2 vote, the FTC is sending a chilling message to anyone who wishes to innovate in VR. We are confident that our acquisition of Within will be good for people, developers and the VR space.”
Regardless of the outcome if Meta decides to fight the commission on this, the warning is clear; history will not repeat itself here. The FTC is not ready to fold its hands and let the upcoming VR industry become another social media industry where a few dominated for so long by swallowing up rivals.
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