Over the next decade, Mark Zuckerberg wants virtual reality to permeate every facet of our lives — replacing the TV, the PC, and maybe even the smartphone as the primary way we interact with the digital world.
In the meantime, we have the Oculus Rift, Facebook’s flagship virtual reality headset, which is now available in a bundle with its Oculus Touch controllers for $US400. While the headset supports 360-degree video and some early social features, the Oculus Rift is primarily positioned as a device for the dedicated video game player.
The reasoning, Oculus VP of content Jason Rubin (best known as co-creator of video game legend “Crash Bandicoot“) tells Business Insider, is simple: If Facebook wants to create the virtual reality world of tomorrow, it needs people to buy headsets today. And the most expedient way to make that happen, says Rubin, is video games.
“My job is to get stuff out the door today,” says Rubin.
Closing the rift
The simple fact is that virtual reality is going to be pushed forward by those working on the cutting edge of graphics technology, says Rubin. So while there are smartphone-based headsets, like Samsung’s Oculus-powered Gear VR or Google Daydream, the real innovation is happening at the high-end of the market, which includes the Oculus Rift.
And, generally speaking, the people who have the higher-end PCs needed to fully take advantage of the Oculus Rift are the same people who really enjoy playing video games. Thus, Facebook has committed to spending $US500 million to fund games for the Oculus Rift, including titles like the just-launched future-sports game “Echo Arena” or forthcoming “Marvel Powers United,” to really help push VR into people’s hands.
Facebook is playing a long game here, says Rubin. Every new game created is also pushing the medium forward, just in terms of usability. The hard work that’s going into blockbuster games today will pay off with a more robust, humane virtual-reality experience for everyone else, as Zuckerberg’s vision inches closer to reality. Eventually, he says, he foresees Oculus “making things for grandmothers and grandfathers, too.”
“Gaming is a big part of [virtual reality], but not the full part,” says Rubin. He says there’s “tons to do outside of games.”
The next big thing
In other words, gaming leads the way for the future of VR development. “Marvel Powers United,” for instance, brings a new “comfort mode” that blanks out the sides of the viewable area, which helps with motion sickness in VR. Now, that’s a trick that other VR developers can include in their own games and apps.
This, in turn, means that virtual reality itself gets more comfortable, with better performance. And just as importantly, those developers who are investing the time now reaping the experience and building the tools they need to bring an ever-wider variety of software and utilities to virtual reality.
Eventually, Rubin says, it won’t just be video games, at least as we think of them — it will be a whole new class of software that we’re only starting to imagine.
“There’s an infinite number of applications,” says Rubin.