Last week, I attended Oculus Connect 4 in San Jose, California, with our CEO Damian Collier. It was a fantastic experience and a great opportunity to join a large number of VR enthusiasts from across the globe (over 2,900 according to Oculus' data). Although this groundbreaking event was only two days long, it was loaded with great talks, announcements, VR demos, and opportunities to meet some like-minded people.
I could probably waffle on for days about all the cool things I learnt about, but I think it'd be better to distill it all down into something a little more digestible. I'd like to present to you the 360 things I learnt at Oculus Connect!
Just kidding, it won't be that long! However, here are a few useful VR and immersive content takeaways that I found out at Oculus Connect.
During the opening keynote of OC4, Mark Zuckerberg, announced that Oculus' primary goal is to bring one billion users into VR. That's 13.4% of the worlds current population! Now that is a HUGE number, and whilst they were smart enough to not mention any sort of time frame on that goal, it is an exciting proposition for the VR industry as a whole and other immersive media formats (360˚/180˚/stereo video).
The idea of one billion people using virtual reality is an incredibly exciting prospect as it'll begin to bring new audiences to the medium outside the hardware VR and gamer crowd, of which I'm totally a part of.
We at Blend are naturally all about immersive media, but in the VR enthusiast space, immersive formats such as a 180˚ or 360˚ video has sometimes been denoted as a 'lesser experience'. That criticism has merit because a fully fleshed out interactive VR 3D world, even if it lacks photorealistic graphics, should be considered a completely different, unique experience altogether.
This year, I was delighted to discover that Oculus focused a great deal on immersive video content in their talks, and John Carmack (CTO of Oculus VR) even spoke about the growing popularity of this format during his legendary second day keynote. There has been some significant Oculus data collated around the power and accessibility of 180˚ and 360˚ video, where the majority of the user's time has been spent exploring these formats in the Gear VR mobile device headset. It's no surprise Oculus are now focusing heavily on this medium, especially as they have just announced their new standalone headset: Oculus Go.
With the announcement of Oculus Go, and Oculus' continuous development of the Santa Cruz prototype, they really are doubling down on their mobile presence. It all makes sense. At the moment, the larger install bases for VR are all on mobile, and GearVR and Google Cardboard devices have flooded the market over the years. Whilst these offer less intensive and less powerful experiences than their desktop counterpart Oculus Rift, the same can be said for traditional media, such as hardcore gaming PCs vs mobile phones/tablets for games and TV. John Carmack himself spoke about the Oculus Go as a device that would take the place of your tablet. However, it wouldn't replace a powerful work PC and nor a full day frequent use device like your phone, but a portable accessible place for entertainment instead.
And let's be honest, a lot more people own a smartphone or tablet PC, than those of us with gaming rigs at home.
Ok, so I didn't just learn that! We all know being a superhero is cool, especially if Marvel's box office sales are anything to go by. But almost none of us have ever been a superhero.
Above you can see some sped up footage of me playing Oculus' recently announced VR title: Marvel Powers United VR. I might look like a crazed mad man to you (we weren't allowed to record footage of the game), but I assure you I was saving the world with my mind lasers.
The demo I was shown puts you into an arena not unlike the scene in the recent Thor: Ragnarok trailers. It is then down to you and three other team members to defend some sort of energy pulse and was trying to figure out how to control my new found mind blasts while flying.
Needless to say, it was awesome, and we successfully defended the energy generator from Norse Gods and intergalactic accusers.
To round off the first day of OC4, the evening event was a hosting of the VR eSports challenger league finale. If you've never heard of eSports I'll give a brief run down of what I have learnt.
eSports is based around the concept of your regular spectator sports such as football or tennis. Teams also compete in sponsored leagues and travel the world. However, all of the competition is around playing video games - extremely well. Rather than team members being paid by a club owner or being sponsored, they make cash by winning prize money in tournaments. The prize for the VR challenger league was an incredible $200,000 for the winning team, which believe it or not is on the low end of standard prize categories. This money is offered up by the league's sponsors, in this case: Intel, Oculus, & ESL.
These matches are generally hosted in an arena with spectators and commentators, somewhat similar to the format of NFL games.
The new VR league that started this year is where things get really interesting; it brings back some of the physicality of traditional sports but with that nerdy kick we all need!
The event was spectacular, and they used the large keynote stage to host the commentators and competitors (up to six at a time).
If you're interested in the event, it was live streamed in it's entirety and is available on Twitch here.
I'll finish up this post by revelling in a simple but striking phrase stated by Jason Rubin (VP Content, Oculus) during the opening keynote: 'Infinite Potential'. In the context of Jason's talk, this is referring to the endless possibilities of VR content, and I have to agree with him. It also seems the rest of Oculus do too, as a lot of talks I went to went against the core principles that Oculus have been pushing for the past few years. A lot of us are familiar with these principles, such as don't move the camera or don't jerk around the player.
This year a lot of the speakers at OC4 encouraged us to bend the rules and asked us all to experiment. We shouldn't be afraid to 'mess' with the user, move them about or try to make them feel uncomfortable if that's your aim. However, it's important to test it out with a varied audience and educate your user base with the intended effect.
If there's one thing I can encourage you to take away from this post, it's the same message that was echoed at OC4: Experiment. Whether you're creating a fully 3D CGI VR experience, a brand new piece of immersive content, or messing around with brand new ways to generate content, play around, get out of your comfort zone and don't hold back with new ideas. Just like Rubin says, there's 'infinite potential' there.