During the third-annual Oculus Connect conference in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, the message was abundantly clear: The future of virtual reality is social.
“The next phase [of VR] is all about building new, great software experiences,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained onstage during the conference keynote. Facebook (FB) purchased Oculus for $2 billion in 2014.
The most compelling moment? A 10-minute demo in which Zuckerberg wore a Rift headset and showed how easily it was for him to perform day-to-day tasks in VR, including playing a game of High Card with two of his colleagues’ VR avatars, checking on his Hungarian sheepdog Beast, viewing photos and even having an impromptu fencing match with a virtual sword one of the avatars sketched on the fly.
It was the first time I was actually impressed by VR. Until now, Oculus, HTC and other VR entrants largely focused on their impressive hardware and a slew of upcoming games. But by emphasizing what Zuckerberg and crew called the “social” element, they connected the dots for me, showed me moments where VR could actually be immersive and useful and helped me realize that VR — clunky-looking headset or not — could actually have a place in my day-to-day life.
It would be wonderful to quickly parse through the gigabytes of photos I’ve snapped over the years, or make virtual house calls to my 10-year-old Shih Tzu staying with my parents in New Jersey. And it would probably be a blast to play a few casual games with my two best friends in New York, represented by their Oculus avatars, of course.
Still, there’s a long way to go before Zuckerberg’s compelling VR demo becomes reality. Those all-new, slick-looking Oculus avatars won’t arrive until some time next year. It will be an even longer time, probably, until my two friends and I each have the headsets we’ll need to fence, play card games or do anything else the Facebook founder showed off.
Regardless, Oculus finally accomplished what it’s long set out to do: Make people like me finally excited about what Zuckerberg called onstage the “next big platform.”
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