Ever since LL announced they were actively working on integrating Oculus Rift into Second Life, there has been a lot of upbeat blogging and speculation as to what it will do / mean for the platform. Reading some of the more enthusiastic posts on the subject, it’s hard not to escape the feeling that we’re apparently standing on the edge of a new age in virtual worlds interaction, and that Oculus Rift is going to bring new depth, new meaning (and new users) to Second Life.
Not all agree with the upbeat messages surrounding the headset and SL. Coinciding with the appearance of a photo showing the Lab’s CEO trying-out the headset, Mona Eberhardt and Will Burns each blogged on the Oculus Rift and some of the factors which could limit its wider use with SL. Both of them raise some valid points, and while I don’t agree with all their arguments, they do present food for thought.
Oculus Rift is a first-person experience, and this could immediately limit its appeal. The problem here is not so much interacting with the UI or in-world objects – the UI can be updated to handle such shortfalls; some TPVs already allow far greater access to the UI view and to in-world objects than the official viewer when using the first-person (aka Mouselook). Firestorm, for example, presents users with the toolbar buttons in Mouselook which can then be used to display and interact with various UI elements, and it also allows right-click/menu interactions with in-world objects. Ergo, it’s not exactly that hard to re-work things to make them more accessible when using something like Oculus Rift. Similarly, the upcoming updated / new experience tools could also provide the means for better interactions with in-world objects such as teleport portals.
Rather, the problem is that most people seem to intrinsically prefer the third-person view, with the greater freedom (e.g. camera movement, etc.) it presents for the vast majority of their in-world interactions and experiences. Coupled with the price tag for the headset (something I’ll return to in a moment), this could possibly count against the Oculus Rift in terms of general use.
Then, as Mona and Will point out, there is the problem that the headset isolates the wearer from the primary means they have of interacting with other people: the keyboard. While the conversations floater can easily be displayed (CTRL-H), it still leaves the problem of actually being able to see the keyboard in order to type accurately. This leaves those wanting to use Oculus Rift either needing to become very proficient touch-typists, or they’re going to have to settle for using voice.
Will Burns points to issues of headsets and open microphones as being a problem when it comes to voice. but I tend to disagree with him. For one thing, it’s not as if a headset / microphone combination can’t be worn with the Oculus Rift. More particularly, and from the in-world meetings held in voice I routinely attend, people actually do leave their microphones open, as the barking dogs, ringing ‘phones and the clicks of lighters being flicked in the background tend to demonstrate. No, the problem is actually more basic than that.
It’s this: since its introduction in 2007, voice tends to have been avoided by what seems to be the vast majority of SL users. Many simply will not use it, period. So if voice is seen as the means for person/person interactions when using Oculus Rift, then it is quite likely to further marginalize take-up with the headset, no matter what the promise of Exciting New Things it might bring.
In his piece, Will also points to the limitation of the headset when trying to perform tasks such as building. Such critiques might appear to be unjustly harsh and leave people saying, “Well yes, but Oculus Rift isn’t designed to be used for everything!“. However, while such a reply is true, it actually underlines Will’s central point: that the headset is liable have niche applications in Second Life which could further limit its appeal among the wider user base.
Then there is the matter of the headset’s yet-to-be confirmed retail price. Given the SDK versions are currently $300, it is not unreasonable to assume the consumer version of the headset will pop-up at somewhere between $200-$300 USD. This alone may well relegate the Oculus Rift to the status of “interesting-but-not-vital” optional extra” rather than “must have in SL”.
For example, I’d be curious to see what something like Nino Vichon’s When the Mind’s Eye Listens looks like when wearing the headset. There are also a number of builds which would be nice to see using Oculus Rift. But are these enough to convince me to invest in a headset I might use now and then? Frankly, no. It may be comparing chalk with cheese, but when I need a first person view, I’ll manage with Mouselook and forego the expense of the headset, thank you. I suspect I’m not alone in this view.
So what about enticing new users into SL? Again, the Oculus Rift immediately faces two problems: take-up among the likes of gamers and computer users in the world at large, and the contempt in which a sizeable percentage of the gaming community seems to hold Second Life. In terms of the former, we don’t know how widespread the uptake of the headset will be once it hits stores and on-line retailers. In terms of the latter, even if take-up is sizeable, it doesn’t automatically equate to those using it as considering Second Life as a “must see” experience simply because of preconceptions held about the platform.
And herein lies the nagging doubt. It’s not that I don’t believe the Oculus Rift and SL can’t work together; I think there will over time be some really interesting – if not novel – uses to which the headset is put in SL and experiences developed which do take advantage of it. I’m just not convinced that a) this will happen overnight, and b) that such experiences will actually have the anticipated mass appeal.
This leaves me wondering if all the hype surrounding Oculus Rift and Second Life isn’t going to end up resembling some kind of hype cycle curve which could further adversely affect the use of the one with the other.
Hype cycles is a methodology developed by Gartner Research as a means to examine the state-of-play of emerging / new / developing technologies, as Jackie Fenn from Gartner explains.
The truth is that all of the excitement and proclamations about Oculus Rift and SL do tend to leave me wondering if people are charging headlong up a slope towards some peak of over-inflated expectations. One which may, when the headset does eventually make its SL debut, lead to a corresponding tumble into a trough of disillusionment for a whole variety of reasons (ranging from it doesn’t measure up to people’s expectations of what they consider to be a “triple A experience” – we SL users are a notoriously picky lot – through to it needing longer than anticipated for really compelling experiences using it to emerge). A tumble which may not just further taint the headset in the eyes of the unconvinced, but which could also kill much of the enthusiasm and interest people currently have for it even before those compelling experience appear, leaving it facing a long, lonely climb to a point where people might once again take a reasonable interest in it.
It’s a totally subjective reaction on my part – but it is one I cannot shake.
- Great Expectations – Will Burns, July 17th, 2013
- Oculus Rift: The Consummation of Second Life or yet another fad? – Mona Eberhardt, July 18th, 2013