Pretty much the biggest piece of technology news this week is that the kickstarted VR gaming headset, the Oculus Rift, has been bought by Facebook in a phenomenal $2 billion dollar deal. It’s drawn a great deal of negative criticism from many areas and honestly, some of it is possibly justified. Game developers have withdrawn from deals, fearing the Farmville-afying of their product. Backers of the project have complained that the product they helped create has been passed off to make a quick buck. The Guardian suggested that the Oculus being bought out by an ‘uncool’ company such as Facebook (something we’ve commented on will hurt the headset massively, citing a game developer who claimed, ‘This will set VR back 20 or 30 years.’
So, the Oculus is doomed, the gaming industry is doomed, VR is doomed. R.I.P. the Oculus?
You see, I can’t help but feel all this naysaying is a premature knee-jerk reaction. The Oculus Rift has always been a really exciting piece of technology, and yes, it was created for gaming and mainly backed by gamers. To kickstarter backers, selling the project probably does seem like a betrayal and it’s a fair reaction. But a properly working VR headset could be used for so much more than just gaming. People have already started making films for the Oculus Rift, with a 360 degree field of view. and from my perspective, social media applications for the Occulus Rift would be amazing. Imagine a kind of Skype or Google Hangout where you can talk to other people as if they were in the same room? Or even create a virtual hangout space which you can customise however you want. One of my favourite novels of all time is Idlewild by Nick Sagan, which takes places in a future where people attend a virtual reality boarding schools (online teaching could be another application, maybe?) and very cool idea in that book was the characters creating their own fantastic worlds to live in while they were online. Sony went some way towards creating this with the PlayStation Home, but VR could take it a lot further.
After all, there are plenty of people in the world who don’t game, but would still have a use for this. Personally, until recently the Rift felt like a gimmick to me. A great idea that people then used to make short indie demos and, um, porn simulators (yes, it exists, no I’m not linking it. You can google that at your own peril.) I could be wrong, but I do think the injection of investment and social media aspect could be the first step towards virtual reality headsets becoming a part of everyday technology.