Virtual reality may seem like the ultimate isolation experience, but according to Facebook and Oculus, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it can be the quite opposite.
“Virtual reality is the perfect platform to put people first,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the Oculus Connect 3 conference today. Not every VR experience will be social, he noted, but for those looking to connect with friends and family, you’ll have plenty of ways to do so while you’re strapped inside a headset.
To that end, Facebook and Oculus demonstrated and announced a number of “social VR” features. These ranged from still-incubating experiments to features headed to the Oculus Rift and Gear VR soon. All showed just how central socializing is to the firms’ plan for virtual reality.
Zuckerberg donned a Rift headset and Touch controllers to show off experiences the two companies are currently tinkering with. Many were shown off in a more basic form at this year’s F8, but it was plain to see these experiments are progressing nicely.
Zuckerberg joined up with two other avatars and together they jumped into a few exotic locations, including the ocean floor and Mars (it won’t take billions of dollars to get there, one of the avatars quipped).
The CEO, though, ultimately decided to visit his office at Facebook HQ, where the avatars played a quick game of cards. The trio also conjured a movie screen so they could watch a short clip together.
Zuckerberg also wanted to check in on his dog at home, so the avatars – and by extension, the thousands of people watching – were transported to his abode. We could see his dog, Beast, was doing fine.
An incoming call was answered within the VR world – Zuckerberg’s wife, Priscilla Chan, popped up in via video feed. She was not wearing a headset, so this served to illustrate that even in VR, you can interact with people on the outside.
Likely because he’s the founder of the largest social network on the planet, Zuckerberg grabbed a virtual selfie stick to take a “modern day family portrait” to post to Facebook. Though not a feature yet, the company seems keen to allow people to post snaps and videos straight from their VR headset to Facebook (and, likely, Instagram).
Though not full-blown features yet, Zuckerberg’s walk-through showed Facebook is actively working to integrate social elements into virtual reality, allowing users to connect with other people as well as those who aren’t wearing headsets. We wouldn’t be surprised if the next time Facebook shows these demos off, the features are even closer to actualization.
Get social, now
If Facebook was the “here’s what you will be able to do,” Oculus was the “here’s what you can do now.”
The Rift makers introduced a few new features designed to make the Rift experience a bit more personal and help users connect with friends.
First up, Oculus Avatars, which are customizable VR identities users create for themselves. There are over 1 billion permutations possible, Oculus says, letting users craft an avatar that’s a unique expression of themselves.
The Avatars are far more detailed than the grid-patterned block heads you see in Rift right now, so users may appreciate being able to build their own VR persona. Avatars are headed to Rift when the Touch controllers launch on December 6, and come to mobile in early 2017.
To further foster socializing, Oculus also introduced Parties and Rooms. Parties let users set up a voice call with up to eight people, who can be anywhere in VR. Rooms, on the other hand, let you actually “meet up” in VR. Here, you can chill out, watch movies or play a game together.
Parties and Rooms head to Gear VR “in the coming weeks,” Oculus said.
Facebook and Oculus are putting a premium on social interaction, standing firmly in the conviction that VR has applications far beyond gaming and can help people connect, even if they are physically apart. The features shown off today are strong strides to achieving this – it’s now up to users to embrace them.
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