Facebook buys Oculus VR, a virtual reality gaming company, for $2 billion

March 26, 2014, 2:08 AM UTC

FORTUNE — Facebook’s deals are becoming the stuff of legend. In the last few months alone, Mark Zuckerberg has spent $19 billion on a messaging app, and reports say he’s paying $60 million for a drone company. Today he announced Facebook’s latest head-scratcher: $2 billion for Oculus VR, the maker of a virtual reality gaming headset called Oculus Rift.

It marks the third time Facebook has paid a billion dollars or more for a company with little to no revenue, with plans for it to operate independently. (Oculus has sold 75,000 pre-orders for development kits, which cost $350, giving it approximately $26 million in income.)

Facebook (FB) will pay $400 million in cash, with 23.1 million shares of Facebook common stock valued at $1.6 billion, the company said. In addition, the deal includes a $300 million earn-out in cash and stock. Oculus got its start on Kickstarter, but went on to raise $93.4 million in venture funding from Spark Capital, Matrix Partners, Founders Fund, Formation 8, BIG Ventures, and Andreessen Horowitz.

So: Why? Is Oculus Facebook’s answer to Google Glass? Is it the social network’s desperate attempt to inject itself with fresh innovation? Is it a cynical play for Oculus VR’s legendary CTO, John Carmack? Does Facebook want to fill a Zynga-shaped hole in its games-related revenue?

According to a Facebook post from Zuckerberg, he views Oculus Rift as a communication platform. The company and its 75 employees will operate independently from Facebook and continue their path of developing a platform for virtual reality games. (This, by the way, marks the third time Facebook has veered from its acqui-hire strategy of shutting down the companies it acquires — the other two are Instagram and WhatsApp.) But Facebook’s vision for Oculus is much bigger than games:

After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.

The team at Oculus echoed Zuckerberg’s sentiment in their own blog post:

At first glance, it might not seem obvious why Oculus is partnering with Facebook, a company focused on connecting people, investing in internet access for the world and pushing an open computing platform. But when you consider it more carefully, we’re culturally aligned with a focus on innovating and hiring the best and brightest; we believe communication drives new platforms; we want to contribute to a more open, connected world; and we both see virtual reality as the next step.

On a conference call discussing the deal, Oculus CEO Brendan Aribe said that as the company solved “a lot of the hard problems,” around gaming and entertainment, the potential for a social experience through virtual reality became really obvious.

“Something fundamentally changes, and you start to realize how big this could be if you can see someone else, and you can actually look at them and your brain believes they’re right in front of you, not through a screen … You get the goosebumps. You see how big this could be, and how social it is, and the impact it could have on other industries,” Aribe said.

 Shares of Facebook were slightly down by 0.88% in after-hours trading.

Antonio Rodriguez, an investor with Matrix Partners (and early investor in Oculus Rift), noted that Zuckerberg isn’t alone in his thinking that the next major step in computing will use virtual reality. “We’ve had a short hop through augmented reality, with things like Google Glass,” he said. “But a lot of non-gaming use cases are tethered to the smartphone.”

Rodriguez added, “I would not be surprised if, in five years from now, instead of a monitor on that desk, you have a pair of Oculus Facebook googles.”

Here’s a video Fortune produced on the headset:

[cnnmoney-video vid=/video/technology/2013/06/03/t-oculus-rift.fortune]