When you load up your Chrome browser, what’s your go to site?
The default one that you type in without thinking. It’s probably something like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, asks Tom Sharman writing on #VirtualLibrary from VR marketing agency, Virtual Umbrella…
Social networks feel like they are the foundation of the internet. A grounded, albeit chaotic space to connect with old friends, make new friends and keep up to date with the latest news. Social networks are not perfect, they’re littered with issues such as fake news and online harassment, but they feel like a broken home. The default web address you type in before you start your working day, or the place you go-to during your lunch break.
As virtual reality matures, social VR apps are likely to become a foundation for the technology. Seen as a default app that a user loads up before they start their gaming session to reconnect with friends.
What is Social VR?
Social VR gives users the experience to meet other people and talk to them in virtual reality. Players can choose or create an avatar, hook up their VR headsets, and walk around in either a developer-created world or a world that users created themselves.
The race to the top
With social VR apps like AltSpace, VR Chat and Big Screen already topping the charts, the race to the top has already begun. These apps have pathed the way for how users interact and communicate using the technology and have seen huge successes. But now we are seeing the entry from big players — a sign that things are about to become much more competitive.
We’ve already seen AltSpace acquired by Microsoft for an undisclosed figure. It came at the time that AltSpace struggled with their finances seeing daily active users grow, but an unclear path to monetisation.
We’re long awaiting the launch of Facebook Horizons. A new social VR world coming to Oculus Quest and the Rift Platform in 2020. Facebook claims that: “Horizon is the first step into an ever-expanding world of connection and exploration where anything becomes possible.”
Facebook continues to say: “VR is already a great place to hang out with friends, play games, and watch movies. It’s also a fantastic way to learn new skills and explore our world. Human curiosity and connection are central to each of these experiences, and they’re also at the heart of Horizon.
“Starting with a bustling town square where people will meet and mingle, the Horizon experience then expands to an interconnected world where people can explore new places, play games, build communities, and even create their own new experiences.”
The Facebook effect
Facebook’s introduction into social VR is not surprising. They’re the largest social network in the world owning some of the most valuable IP in the world like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. Their platforms individually reach billions of people each day and they understand how to monetise it.
Their ability to create a great platform isn’t solely down to their talented developers, designers and product managers. Facebook hires an army of leading experts in psychology. They understand how we think, how we interact with others online and how to keep us there.
They are probably your default web address when you load up chrome.
Facebook is also the owner of Oculus. Facebook’s Horizons app will likely become a default pre-installed application on every Oculus device. A sure-fire way to bring millions of people into the app, something competitors like Bigscreen and AltSpace have to spend marketing dollars trying to acquire.
For many consumers that purchase the affordable and accessible Oculus Quest, Facebook Horizons will meet their expectations and will be unlikely to seek an alternative within the app store.
Facebook is arguably one of the best companies at doing this. Let’s look back a couple of years at Snapchat. Snapchat built a story format, it was brilliant and changed the way we used social media. And it was massive! Then Instagram (a Facebook company) took stories and ran with it. Today Instagram features stories in it’s prime screen real-estate and works with developers on AR filters — it’s one of, if not the most popular element to their platform these days.
Is it the future?
Social VR could be future of social media, but I think it’s unlikely to be any time soon.
This isn’t a new concept, we’ve seen the likes of Playstation Home. Where Sony spent millions of dollars creating a social platform which was eventually removed after never reaching a critical mass of users.
Social VR apps need to feel inclusive, trusted and safe without feeling like a big-brother state. There is a fine line between keeping it PG and censorship.
VR Chat hasn’t moderated their platform. It is a place of outstanding creativity but it become a breeding ground for virtual abuse and bullying. Facebook will not adopt this approach.
I do think there is an interesting future for Social VR — especially in a post COVID-19 world. AltSpace enabled full-body tracking and is hosting virtual dance, yoga and meditation sessions for it’s users.
Not only first, but best?
But social VR has a challenge, a social media platform is a foundation. Built by the people who use it and the content created on it.
Facebook has content, Instagram has content, Twitter has content, and most recently Tik Tok has been the best for creating content — and part of the reason for it’s HUGE growth.
But how possible is content creation within Social VR, and who will crack the code not only first, but best?
Top image: An image from Facebook Spaces. The precursor to the soon to be released Horizon platform