It’s official, Facebook is in the process of buying out Oculus VR. Both sides are totally fired up about this, but WAIT WAT?? I need to collect the bits of my brain that just exploded all over the walls. Can this really be a good thing?? Is Oculus founder Palmer Luckey smoking crack? Is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg smoking crack?
…. But now this got me thinking. Up until the past few years, the consensus on virtual reality has been that it’s gimmicky. We’re finally starting to break that mold, but who has been the targeted audience for VR up to this point? Hardcore gamers? Arcades gamers? Possibly the military? Have we all been looking in the wrong place? If VR can find a killer app that caters to every demographic, it might have a chance at sticking around. But it’s gotta be so cool and interesting that every single person that hears about the concept says, “hey I gotta get me one of those!”. If Grandma is using it, you’ve won. The hardcore video game audience is not large enough to sustain VR, but if VR is not dependent on hardcore gamers, it has a chance to make a real profit and a real impact on society and culture. It can’t be just an added feature to an already existing product, it has to be an experience you can get no where else except through that headset. So perhaps the team up will be a great thing. If they can find a use for it, which I think they already have, Oculus could be set to impact the millions upon millions of facebook users an interesting ways. From there, Oculus will have a solid base to jump from. Movies, games, and everything we haven’t dreamed up yet are all on the table and that is a very exciting thought indeed.
I’ve used the Oculus Rift before, and I think it is an absolutely incredible piece of tech. The level of game immersion is like nothing I’ve ever experienced, but I know not everyone feels this way. If you are skeptical of the hype for the Oculus, I have a story to tell that might help describe what it’s like to use.
So one of my friends decides to try out Minecraft using the Oculus. He has a natural fear of heights, and there can be some pretty extreme hills in the game. He’s never had any problems just playing the game on a monitor. But when inside the Oculus, he couldn’t get up the courage to go near steep drop offs because it triggered his natural fear of heights. It’s a good example of the power of the Oculus, because we’ve all experienced that disconnect in games when falling to our deaths. But inside the Oculus, your brain will have such a hard time deciding what is reality and what is not, that it will trigger your natural response to dangerous situations. It really is incredible.
Of course, this is just an example of using VR in games, an obvious use case. Even then, it’s still tacked on and adds very little value to the actual game play. Once the wow factor has died down, you start to notice all the problems. The things that’ll make you use the device less and less until it ends up in your closet collecting dust for all eternity. The headset is unwieldy, and a cable has you tethered to your computer. It’s not social, once you have it on, everything going on in the room is essentially irrelevant to your brain. In most cases, you have to be sitting down while wearing the device for any extended amount of time. It doesn’t look very attractive, in fact it looks down right creepy. You certainly wouldn’t want to take this thing on the subway with you, or use it at a party. Just imagine a train full of people wearing headsets, sitting there, expressionless, while the government pumps out propaganda messages- okay I’ve gone too far.
The main point I wanted to get across here is that VR and social applications could provide the platform VR needs to survive. And on the other hand, VR has some real issues to tackle before it can embrace that social mantra. Cheers to the future!