Oculus buy could make Zuckerberg’s vision a virtual reality

Oculus buy could make Zuckerberg’s vision a virtual reality

Facebook’s purchase of virtual reality firm Oculus Rift could, in theory, become a golden goose for advertisers, says ISBA‘s Mario Yiannacou – but let’s not get carried away…

So, Facebook has just bought Oculus Rift for a reported $2 billion. Good move? Hardened gamers looking for the next step-change in sensory immersion would say so. Less enthused would be those initial investors in Oculus’s Kickstarter project, who apparently feel much maligned.

An understandable reaction; as one commentator put it, it’s like McDonalds buying your favourite local restaurant.

Oculus clearly plays to Zuckerberg’s own multi-dimensional vision of ‘connecting everyone’ with, what he fervently believes to be, the major new computing platform for the next ten or more years.

Certainly, the deal plays to his expansionist policy of buying existing tech/platforms thereby saving Facebook from having to invent its own. Pretty sensible, and the fact that this latest acquisition was a mere snip at $2 billion (a fraction of the $19 billion Facebook paid for WhatsApp), makes it all the more reasonable.

However, despite Mr Zuckerberg’s zeal that this purchase will give Facebook ownership over the ‘platform of the future’ and his belief in the technology itself, I have my doubts.

Let’s not get carried away. As far as the tech is concerned, this is – after all – nothing new”

First, the acquisition of this rather neat bit of kit does rather indicate that Facebook is unable or unwilling to create its own. And to convince advertisers that it will be the [virtual] game changer that Mr Zuckerberg believes it can be as the ultimate communication tool, rather than just a novel way of shooting high-resolution zombies, will require more than effusive rhetoric.

There are obvious advantages that this tech affords. With it we will be able to sit in the same room as beloved relatives who we haven’t seen for years because of actual gaps in geography. And who wouldn’t want to be virtually transported to the top of the Empire State without having to leave their armchair?

Although let’s not forget it is just a headset now, and until the full body suit is available it would be hard to replicate the experience of a trip to the Sahara, say, even with the central heating cranked right up.

Eventually, Zuckerberg expects Oculus virtual reality to be “the most social platform ever”. A not-inconceivable-concept given that a surprisingly high 48 per cent of teenage gaming happens in shared family rooms, not just darkened bedrooms, according to Nielsen.

But let’s not get carried away. As far as the tech is concerned, this is – after all – nothing new, and has been around since the 90s; I recall a sketch from the excellent Mary Whitehouse Experience parodying the high-minded premise that VR headsets could be a tool to bring people together in a virtual reality world unfettered by practical considerations, but where instead the ridiculous headset wearers simply watch Neighbours alone and in their virtual living rooms. VR failed to realise its potential then, so why do we think it will work now?

We might even see a new category of advertising crop up: indoor outdoor advertising, anybody?”

In theory, it could well become a golden goose for advertisers. By tying in social data from Facebook along with social behaviour within a game, the old marketing tactic of product placement is exponentially enhanced. We might even see a new category of advertising crop up: indoor outdoor advertising, anybody? But, again, the fundamental premise is nothing new; gamers have been subject to product placement for years.

What advertisers will be keen to find out is will Oculus virtual reality match Zuckerberg’s aspirations and capture the imagination of consumers looking for the next big-ticket, can’t-live-without-it item? If it does, it will become another channel through which to target groups, but with a precision and power that not just taps into the needs of consumers but could be attuned to their emotional responses too.

Advertisers will have to take care not to kill the goose, though. Gamers and virtual reality thrill seekers will no doubt find the appearance of oh-so-cleverly positioned ads cropping up during their favourite role-playing fantasy as irksome at best, and a rather unwelcome dose of reality. At worst it could ruin the illusion of the virtual world that is being sought and act as a reminder of the rather more humdrum one that is being escaped from.

If reports of display advertising’s decline are to be believed (and I would take any such claims with a liberal pinch of salt) then this virtual world could provide advertisers with a very appealing alternative channel.

But ultimately for advertisers the value of this technology will come down to one thing. You guessed it: data. If an advertiser can capture the super smart data that virtual reality promises, and then apply it effectively, and with acute sensitivity to the audience it will affect in a virtual environment, then Zuckerberg’s vision could well become a reality.

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