Oculus unveiled a lot of promising new technology and features at its presentation on Thursday, and one of the most interesting developments was seeing the possible influence of the company’s new owner, social giant Facebook. A lot of new Oculus features center around the idea of making VR — typically a solo activity — a social one.
The VR pioneer was originally created as a tech company with a focus towards gaming (its meme-financier founder Palmer Luckey was conspicuously absent Thursday). Now, anybody who has ever hooked up an N64 to play Goldeneye knows gaming can be social, but it can also be inherently isolating, especially when you’re wearing an immersive headset that blocks out the world in order to play.
Facebook, in case you’ve somehow missed the constant stream of prompts suggesting people you may know or prompts to share a status update with friends, is all about being social. That’s kind of the company’s thing. So it stands to reason that Mark Zuckerberg and Co. would want to find a way to make their new purchase social as well.
Enter Rooms, Parties, and Avatars. The first two features will allow up to eight people to pop on their Oculus device and be transported to a shared virtual world. Once they’re all in this virtual room together, users can hang in a VR lounge, where they can talk, walk around (sort of), and have shared experiences like watching a movie together or streaming music.
It’s kind of like when you and your significant other try to press play on a Netflix show at the same time, except with Oculus, you’ll be together, in cyberspace.
Rooms is the more fleshed-out experience, while Parties is a more akin to a chat feature.
The Avatars are another feature fostering social interactions in the virtual world. They look kind of like ghosts — transparent colored busts with floating, disconnected hands, but they track the user’s movement, and the technology will surely only get better with time. The hands follow the general movement of the wearer’s hands using the Oculus Touch controller, and can be manipulated to make different gestures as well.
It’s not perfect. I’d wager that one of the reasons they’re brightly colored rather than realistically shaded is to avoid falling into the uncanny valley. Still, there are more than one billion different Avatar permutations, so you could present yourself pretty much however you want, and your friends could do the same.
Oculus is offering developers the coordinated app launch API, so game designers could, potentially, use the social technology to create an immersive team experience.
Zuckerberg said we’ll all be hanging out in virtual reality within the next ten years. Today’s presentation made that deadline seem a lot less crazy.