The Continued Evolution of Oculus
Have you ever watched a movie or played a video game and become so wrapped up in the story it felt as if you were actually there? Transporting audiences via an immersive storytelling experience was once considered the hallmark of good script writing and set building. Now it’s a reality for viewers and players worldwide — albeit an augmented one.
Augmented and virtual reality headsets have recently entered the mainstream entertainment space, and while this sounds like cause for celebration and excitement, the reception has been lukewarm at best. Despite the hype preceding its 2016 release, Oculus Rift, one of the most popular name-brand VR gaming sets, has only sold 1 million units. This may sound like a lot, but if you place it in the context of more traditional gaming consoles selling in the hundred millions, it seems slow.
The question now becomes: how will Oculus evolve in order to stay competitive in the market? Fortunately, the gaming company has social media and tech giant Facebook behind it to help it find its way. Facebook acquired Oculus as a startup four years ago, and at the time, Zuckerberg said that he saw VR as a new chance for social and communication innovations.
Given that Facebook has already changed the way we use social media and our smartphones, there’s little doubt that Zuckerberg and his team will find a way to harness Oculus’ potential for new projects. It just may not be in the gaming industry exclusively. Given its history and forward momentum, it’s possible Oculus may find new ways to come into our homes in the future.
A Brief History of Oculus
Like most famous startups, Oculus’ origin story was that of a scrappy startup trying to raise money any way it could so it could do what it loves. Oculus got lucky, however, and after raising $2.5 million via Kickstarter, it was acquired by Facebook two years later. It then began developing VR video game experiences for the consumer market.
In 2015, after two years of development, Oculus revealed the first playable titles for its system. They were similar in style and tone to most of the major best-selling games on the market at the time, with a sci-fi flight simulator, a space exploration escape game, and a first-person RPG among them. These were played, of course, in a fully immersive VR 3D experience never before brought to consumer homes.
The new titles and system release quickly got the gaming community excited. Here was a new way for gamers to enjoy their favorite pastime, but with the added level of intensity of actually feeling as if they’re inside the game itself. Unfortunately, the excitement hasn’t been enough to prompt many video game enthusiasts to invest in the gear needed to enjoy a VR experience.
However, it’s important to note that new technology can simply take a few years to penetrate the market. Sometimes adoption needs a few cycles before growing widespread. Additionally, sometimes new iterations or user-experience updates have to come via trial and error.
From Entertainment to Business Tools
The good news is that if Oculus Rift doesn’t want to stay only in video games, VR technology has a lot of opportunity in other sectors. There are, of course, flight simulators and other experiential markets to explore and disrupt. However, it’s worth looking at industries that traditionally haven’t had VR and could benefit from it.
One such industry is marketing and advertising. Marketers have been trying to find ways to get inside the consumer’s head, and the possible A/B testing opportunities opened through VR testing are endless. This isn’t necessarily hypothetical, either.
Although consumer systems like Oculus Rift have only been on the market as recently as 2016, VR technology has been helping market researchers since 2008. Major players like Unilever and Walmart use virtual shopping simulators and eye-tracking technology to gain new insights on their customers. With VR technology advancing every day, there’s no end to the scenarios researchers can test to learn as much as they can about their target audiences.
If, for example, a business wants to test a new store layout, they no longer have to rely on physically moving — and then moving again — their entire stock and shelves. They can simply invite customers to put on a VR headset and then solicit feedback about the potential changes they see. This not only streamlines the process but saves a lot of hours in setup and take down.
“Tomorrow’s Newest Social and Communication Platform”
Mark Zuckerberg directed Facebook to acquire Oculus because he saw the possibility for innovating the ways in which people use social media. While Facebook’s own versions of VR social media are not yet available to the public, other applications have since launched, allowing players to engage with one another in never-before-seen ways. This can foster the chance to go so much further than a text post update on someone’s wall.
One such application is Bigscreen. This VR app allows users to create 3D avatars of themselves and then stream movies or play video games together as if they are in the same room — even if all parties are playing from separate countries. In their own words, Bigscreen says, “we aim to build useful tools that enable users to use existing content, apps, and games in VR, and to socialize and hangout in a shared VR space with their friends and coworkers.”
Another example of social VR applications is AltspaceVR, a company that hosts VR events where people can “meet” and “hang out” together in addition to playing video games. The company boasts the opportunity to “get front row seats” to favorite celebrity acts and to always have someone to hang out with, “day or night.” It supports a wide variety of VR systems, making it easily accessible to players regardless of console or system preference.
Regardless of what the future holds for the gaming world, VR technology seems to be moving in an exciting direction. The ability to connect with friends and family from around the world without having to worry about airfare or planning a trip is simply a free app download away. By finding new ways to keep people engaged with one another, VR will continue to stay an integral part of the technology industry and its ever-rapid growth.