In a wide-ranging discussion at the TechCrunch Disrupt New York event (May 5th-7th), Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe has spoken about why the company the Facebook acquisition was a good thing, and has described a desire expressed without both companies to make VR a social experience for a billion users, perhaps in the form of a MMO.
The discussion – described as a “fireside chat” with TechCrunch co-editor Matthew Panzarino – is available as a video in a Techcrunch article. It was followed by a backstage interview with TechCrunch’s Josh Constine.
in discussing the attractiveness of the deal for Oculus VR, Iribe indicates that one major consideration was the fact that the company was offered the opportunity to more-or-less continue to operate fairly independently of Facebook, a-la Instagram. Another was that Facebook were prepared to provide Oculus with access to their enormous technical capabilities and services, while offering Oculus the ability to practically cherry-pick which of them they’d like to leverage.
We know with Oculus, with a virtual world, if you’re putting on this pair of glasses and you’re going to be face-to-face communicating with people, you’re gonna be jumping in and out of this new set of virtual worlds, this is gonna be the largest MMO ever made. This is going to be an MMO where we want to put a billion people in VR. And a billion person virtual world MMO is going to require a bigger network than exists today. Why not start with Facebook and their infrastructure, and their team and their talent that they’ve built up?
While this is not a short-term goal – the figure of around ten to twenty years is mentioned when discussing how this will all come about. Iribe also notes that there has to be something of a further upscaling of computing power in order to make it all happen, as well as the technology needing to become less cumbersome and intrusive and more readily acceptable and wearable. He suggests it should look more like a set of sunglasses – a direction several VR companies are already heading in.
Exactly how this billion-user environment will come about and what form it will take is unclear. Towards the end of the video, Iribe wisely points-out that VR is still in its infancy, and that it’s hard to predict precisely where it will lead or the impact it will have. However, it seems from his comments that the “MMO / Metaverse” Oculus VR are considering isn’t a single platform (although they see Facebook’s users and network as a good starting-point, as mentioned), but potentially a range of interconnected worlds / environments.
An interesting aspect of the discussion around the MMO / Metaverse concept is that Iribe in some respects echoes much of the work that is going on at High Fidelity. He mentions that one of the attractions Facebook held for Oculus was that it already operates a complex payment system (worth around $3 billion in revenue), which negates the need for Oculus to have to develop one – a problem High Fidelity is still mulling over. More particularly, at some 12 minutes into the video, he describes the working going on at Valve in terms of development avatars and projects this work into the future where he sees avatars have head tracking capabilities, can mimic facial expressions and carry people into the Uncanny Valley – a path High Fidelity are already walking, and would appear to be a good deal further along.
In the backstage interview with Josh Constine (embedded below), Iribe also talks about issues of trust and identity security, and having the confidence that as you move between apps and environments, you maintain control of what aspects of your identity are exposed. This is another issue which has very much been at the forefront of High Fidelity’s thinking with regards to a metaverse of virtual worlds.
Towards the end of the discussion, Iribe mentions the fact that Oculus VR are now starting to work more closely with the education sector in a drive to expand the whole VR ecosystem.
They’re doing this by starting to partner with universities in order to build virtual reality technology and capabilities. This is being driven out of what Iribe calls the “Bellevue R&D Lab” (it’s so new, it’s still awaiting a formal name).
The new centre is located close to Valve’s Bellevue, Seattle, HQ, and again tends to reference the close ties between the two organisations. Valve has been a key proponent of the Oculus, and there has been a fair movement of talent from Valve to Oculus VR, including Atman Binstock, who is heading-up the new lab. The work this lab will be doing with universities is
Away from VR and visions of a future “MMO/ Metaverse”, Iribe passes comment on the value presented in the Facebook acquisition that could benefit those developers initially angered by the move. While chatting with Panzarino he points-out that from a gaming perspective, the acquisition elevates the potential reach of those developing for the headset from an audience of perhaps 50-100 million, to an audience perhaps as big as a billion – and it’s not as if Oculus VR have shut the door on continuing to work woth those early adopters and Kickstarter participants. He expands on this point when talking to Josh Constine, noting:
The biggest thing I think for us was that some of the really large developers out there who typically look at a platform and are late adopters to a new platform — because they need to see the monetization, they need to see the return, they want to see a huge audience — they turned around to us after the announcement and said ‘we’re so happy to see a new platform. It’s about time. We’re all in. We’re ready to start developing content for this. And so now for the general developer, there’a greater chance that you’re going to be able to develop something and then create a business off of our platform, knowing that with this partnership, it’s going to be bigger, better, faster.
Overall, both the “fireside chat” and the backstage interview with Iribe both underline the fact that there is long-term thinking going into VR and the future of Oculus VR as a company (vital given that, as I’ve pointed out in the past, the likes of Gartner see VR as still being at least 5 years away from reaching a point where it is starting to achieve a level of maturity in terms of development and adoption, and perhaps 10 years from reaching its particular plateau of adoption).
There is much which can be challenged about some of the assumptions that are made with regards to VR and how a broad-based consumer market might adopt it. In this there is certainly a case to make that AR potentially has a greater likelihood to gain more of a market share than VR and potentially has broader commercial and consumer applications. It’s fair to say that Iribe’s response to why VR should see widespread mass adoption is at best sketchy – it’s hard to see the technology being adopted purely because it is there, and the use-cases he cites are focused somewhat on either vertical market uses or niche opportunities.
However, this is where Oculus / Facebook may again be perhaps batting clever, through the new “Bellevue R&D Lab”. They’re looking to encourage others to think about these harder questions and come up with the answers while ensure they’re positioned to leverage the answers into revenue-generating opportunities.
Altogether, a very worthwhile 35 minutes of watching and listening.