Facebook's buyout of Oculus, a virtual reality (VR) platform which has been making waves with its Oculus Rift headset, has had many speculating that soon users might be virtually chatting to friends in each other's living rooms, but that's just too obvious a use for the $2bn tech, according to AKQA’s executive creative development director, Andy Hood.
“It was a bolt out of the blue, but it’s interesting,” said Hood on Facebook’s latest purchase. “A lot of people look at VR headsets and see them as gaming devices, so there will be a lot of initial surprise, with people thinking ‘good lord they’re [Facebook] not a gaming company’.
“I actually quite like the fact they haven’t been acquired by a gaming company. I actually think that VR is far more than games. Games is merely the Trojan horse that gets VR into people’s houses and gets them understanding what it is. But actually the uses of VR extend into almost every facet - from engineering, simulators, education - there’s so much of it.”
Indeed, Mark Zuckerberg said that virtual reality is the “new communication platform,” and Facebook sees it as a way of sharing entire experiences with friends, not just single moments.
Hazarding a guess on what Facebook might use the technology for, Hood said the “easy response” was to say social networking.
“As soon as we had one at AKQA about a year ago we thought ‘yeah there will be a virtual reality social network.’ So you hang out with friends on Facebook in your living room. That feels like the easy thing to say and I have no doubt someone will do that.
“But it’s too obvious. I don’t think Facebook has bought them to do that, I don’t think they thought ‘we can do virtual reality Facebook. What they are looking at is new ways to bring people together and connect them, but to do so in a much more natural way that reflects how people behave in the real world. It’s a new type of behaviour and that’s what Facebook are interested in,” he explained.
Hood added that Facebook was getting in early, given that the Oculus Rift technology is still about 18 months away from a consumer release.
“It shows how fast the technology world is moving when someone gets acquired and they have millions of developers and the second working prototype hasn’t even been launched yet. The pace is so fast, nothing stands still, not even for a minute.”
Speaking more generally, Hood said that in the future VR will simply be a new medium that will apply everywhere.
“We’re in conversations with half a dozen companies at the minute and that makes the point that this is a technology that is for gaming, but it is not gaming technology,” he said.
Last year, AKQA worked with Oculus Rift on a project for Nissan, developing a car creation 'game' that was used the Motor Show to offer Nissan designers a better understanding of what potential car owners want from their future models.