Oculus launches Rooms so you can ‘hang out’ with friends in VR
To most people, the idea of strapping a virtual reality headset to your face doesn’t seem like a particularly social experience — after all, the very nature of virtual reality is premised on isolating you from your physical surroundings.
Facebook is challenging that notion. The social network has invested heavily in virtual reality and Mark Zuckerberg has said time and time agin that virtual reality aligns perfectly with his company’s vision of “connecting the world.”
To help them get there, Facebook is releasing two new updates for Gear VR aimed at enabling more social experiences: Parties, a VR version of a phone call, and Oculus Rooms, a space where you can virtually “hang out” with friends.
Parties, sort of like Facebook’s version of Face Time for VR, allows up to three people to connect and speak to each other while in virtual reality. The goal, says Madhu Muthukumar, product manager at Oculus, is to provide an easy way for friends, who may be in different physical spaces, to connect in virtual reality.
“It sounds simple but it’s really powerful, especially for folks who are just putting a headset on to know they can just connect to a friend right away and maybe plan the next thing they are going to do together,” Muthukumar tells Zibivi.
If Parties are the phone call to make plans, then Oculus Rooms is where they will likely end up. The feature creates a virtual space that looks a lot like a living room where friends can play games, watch video or otherwise “hang out” with each other’s avatars.
Once you arrive in the room, you can watch video (pulled in from your Facebook account), play minigames like Memory or trivia or compete in other Gear VR games like Drop Dead.
Eventually, you’ll be able to fully customize your avatar the way you can with a Rift, but for now you can only change a couple elements like face shape and hair style (though Facebook photos help you keep track of who’s who.)
First unveiled at the company’s Oculus Connect conference in October, the updates mark some of Facebook’s most ambitious efforts yet to make virtual reality feel social. Whether the approach will stick is another matter.
Facebook still has many hurdles to overcome if it hopes to indeed make VR as social as Facebook made the web. But, after having done a demo of Rooms and Parties, it is clear that hanging out in with other people in VR is far better than being by yourself all the time. Avatars hardly feel like a “human” presence but interacting with others makes it far less isolating.