At Oculus Connect, the VR giant’s annual conference, co-founder Nate Mitchell confirmed a major update for the Rift’s Home setting: user customization and social interaction.
When Oculus Rift users boot up the headset, they begin in their “home.” Home used to be a static room that allowed users to look around but couldn’t do much else. Now, with the introduction of Dash, a touch-controlled revamp of the entire user interface, Home enables people to decorate their own rooms however they like. Games, paintings, appliances and furniture are among some of the items that can be plopped in. Rooms can be used for people to various activities in VR, making each completely unique to their needs and desires.
Best of all, however, once people are inside their Rift Home, they’ll be able to visit other friends’ places.
This represents two big pushes for Oculus: the effort to make VR more social and less isolating, and create a more welcoming experience. Instead of a static room that Rift owners sit in for 15-30 seconds before jumping into their chosen app or game, Oculus wants people to feel like they’re stepping into their second home; a virtual space that is representative of their true selves.
The philosophy is simple: if time and effort is invested, then more people will spend time in those spaces. The cherry on top is being able to visit and hang out in a friend’s room. You can check out how they’ve decorated their space and, theoretically, be able to enjoy the same activities in a different area unlike your own.
It’s not a bad idea, but it’s also not new; this is what games like Habbo Hotel and The Sims have always existed as. In a 2004 interview with AP around the time of Sims 2 being released, The Sims creator Will Wright said people spend an enormous amount of time on their houses and environments because it represented their personality in some light.
“You can look at somebody's house and get a good sense of their personality,” Wright said. “What a lot of people do right off the bat is they'll put themselves, their family, their house and their neighbors in the game.”
The idea, Wright said, is that people want total control over being able to build a fantasy environment they might not be able to construct in their day-to-day, non-virtual world. It’s the same reason the concept of “furni,” short for furniture, was aggressively pursued in the early ‘00s and the heyday of Habbo Hotel’s community.
Nothing has changed between the concept that drove Habbo Hotel and The Sims forward and what Oculus wants to do with Home ... except that the virtual, 2D world has gone completely immersive in VR. Oculus isn’t even the first major technology platform to try and jump on the idea of a 3D social interaction phenomenon. Sony launched a beta program for a similar concept on the PlayStation 3, also called Home, that required a PlayStation Network account. Development on the program began in 2005 and stayed in a perpetual beta period between December 2008 and March 2105, when the beta was closed. It was, ultimately, considered unsuccessful.
With that knowledge, why is Oculus and Facebook making the same push? Oculus and Facebook are pushing the social aspect of VR — even in its most basic use of the platform. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been fighting back against the concept that “VR is isolating” since 2016. In an interview with Business Insider, Zuckerberg said that the concept of VR being isolating “couldn’t be further from the truth.” When Zuckerberg came out to open the keynote presentation, he once again stressed the importance of social interaction in VR.
By making Home a destination to build a virtual environment that promotes individuality and personality — and allowing others to hang out in those spaces — he might be on the right track. The question, naturally, is whether or not this will work the way Zuckerberg wants it to.
We’ll find out in December when Oculus Core 2.0 launches.