Everything You Need To Know About Oculus For 2020

Beat Games joined Oculus Studios this week and it got me thinking about what this could mean for the VR industry. The mighty makers of Beat Saber have been a beacon of light for so many indie developers within the community. One cannot help but see the cloud of uncertainty emerge around what this move could mean for the Platinum selling game and the virtual reality eco-system in general.

To be worried or not to be worried?

The fundamental factor behind this uncertainty is that Oculus is now owned by Facebook. They bought Oculus for around $2 billion on 25th March 2016. Facebook has received a lot of negative press coverage for their ways of working for some time now. Their tech giant dominance means that many VR apps are non-accessible unless you log in using a Facebook account or profile. There are subtle signs of Facebook methodology if you pay close attention. For example, when you attend any live events via Oculus Venues you will be presented with data gathering/marketing probing questions that are purposely designed in a fun format. The Oculus Quest Guardian scans your real world environment so you can create your safe playing boundary. It also remembers your boundary if you play in the same space. Even if you switch the headset off and on again a while later. Just how much is recorded, kept or even used elsewhere is not known. I can appreciate why there is a nervousness associated around the Facebook Oculus brand.

My VR selfie with John Carmack during the VR Awards 2019 streaming event in AltSpace.

Change is coming.

John Carmack (Chief Technology Officer at Oculus) won Lifetime Achievement Award for VR from the VR Awards 2019 last month. He said he ‘really hasn’t been satisfied with the pace of progress we’ve been making’ with virtual reality during his acceptance speech. John is another voice of guidance within the industry and one of the key drivers who helped lift the Oculus start-up out of the starting position in the early days. The industry respects John and listen intently to his teachings. Two weeks after that speech he announced he was stepping back from being CTO of Oculus.

In August this year Nate Mitchell, the last remaining core founder of the Oculus start-up, left Oculus. The year before Brendan Iribe left. 2017 Palmer Luckey left. Jack McCauley left in 2015. The Facebook acquisition happened in 2014.

The message has been consistent over the years. Source Oculus YouTube channel

The History of the past

One way to consider the future is to review the past. I have attended historic press conferences via virtual reality but only remember a handful of bullet points worth noting. I wanted to know if Mark Zuckerberg had mentioned anything specifically on the theme of Oculus content eco-system and what it would be like for users using Oculus in the future. I researched the historic Oculus Connect (a conference for Virtual Reality Developers) and made some interesting discoveries. The most obvious is that Mark has never deviated from highlighting the importance of presence in virtual reality experiences and games. If you are new to VR, this means believing that you are in a different environment because of its believe-ability. You feel like you are really in this space/world/environment/scenery that you are seeing through your virtual reality headset. That is presence.

Facebook Horizon – changing the ‘o’ but not to the Oculus logo. Source OC6 livestream screenshot

Another theme is the eco-system. Mark has spent time each year going into details of this vision. He believes that experiences should be people centred, the apps should not resemble icons on a smartphone and instead be an open space for people to explore, connect together, build/create and play games. I believe this is the purpose behind the OC6 announced Facebook Horizon. Horizon is a new social experience that is due next year. The quality of the ‘realism’ is questionable, however, a social experience is always welcomed. The avatars look similar to those from Facebook Spaces and that sadly closed down last month. ‘Facebook‘ Horizon made me raise an eyebrow but to be honest, on reflection, it makes perfect sense. Building Social technology platforms is Facebook’s bread and butter. It’s what they do and they do it well with reportedly 2.45 billion monthly active users. It has taken Facebook a long time to reach that number and I presume this is why the Oculus goal of ‘1 billion people in virtual reality’ has no delivery date. During OC5 Mark said that for success there is a ‘threshold of 10 million users on any given platform at the same time for the ecosystem to explode’. Interesting isn’t it. You would be forgiven for thinking that you would need the pull of a platinum selling VR title to create that level of users on your platform at the same time to meet that success threshold…

The evolution of Oculus Headsets (HMDs). Source: Oculus YouTube channel

Technical evolution

Aside from the most obvious Head Mounted Display (HMD) evolution from the Original DKI – DK2 -Rift – Go – Rift S – Quest headsets. There have been other improvements along the way. The Oculus Quest was their first standalone headset and recently saw the ability to link it to a PC for a wired VR experience. Meaning the Quest became a Rift. Which is totally awesome for Quest owners and users. Next we will have the hand tracking thanks to the Oculus Quest inside out trackers. The demo from OC6 showed the ability to move individual fingers and your real world hands are your controllers. Many have said that this hand tracking is quite basic in comparison to the Leap Motion AKA UltraLeap. Still, it’s a step in the right direction. I’m particularly interested in this side of the technology too because many elderly people who are living with dementia has quite restricted hand motion therefore struggle with a controller. So, I can see practical uses for this advancement as well as the better quality of presence.

Let’s not forget the promise that any tech improvements will be compatible across all new devices too eg Quest 2, 3, 4 etc. They really are fine tuning the machine. Most shockingly is the the next wave of input ‘where you can just think something to make it happen’. Now, this sounds pretty futuristic but CTRL-Labs (who have also been acquired by Facebook Oculus) have already developed the technology and the dev kits have been dispatched this year. This is exactly the sort of thing that quantifies as ‘shaping and improving the underlying platform’ (Mark, OC6).

Making Virtual Reality work the same way we function in the real world. Source Oculus YouTube channel

What does it all mean?

Well it means that the open Metaverse that we all dream of is going to be like the walled Truman Show set. It will appear open but in actual fact it will be restricted within Facebook’s walled garden. Am I wrong? I hope so but earlier this year Virtual Desktop was prohibited from allowing Oculus streaming services through their app. Many devs were frustrated and vocal about the number of Oculus Quest applications being rejected. Thus bringing Side Quest to life for an alternative route for content. The success criteria for Quest content was extremely high and not clearly transparent at the time. New users were frustrated at the lack of content and some even returning their new headsets because of it. Thankfully the popularity and excitement during the launch months of Quest & Rift S was more positive than negative but it is still a reminder of when the doors were closed.

A rare look at the future roadmap of Facebook Oculus. Source Oculus YouTube channel

augmented & virtual reality will be the next computing platform

We won’t expect to see a new Oculus virtual reality headset anytime soon but perhaps we will see more unfolding in augmented reality hardware next. I found the image above with the future projections splashed out that struck me as completely undervalued and forgotten about. With Oculus Quests selling out almost as fast as they are being made then it is obvious that content is king. If you have that influx of users coming in then it makes perfect sense to open up a virtual landscape to host everybody for games, socialising, events, creating, learning and utilise the power of the people to help shape what that looks like. For the people, by the people. It’s very smart. Obviously they will have taken their learnings from Facebook Spaces and other apps such as the photo share to Facebook as demonstrated during OC3 in 2017 where Mark was an avatar and his wife Prescilla was at work in the real world and called him, he answered the video call whilst in VR, took a selfie and shared it on FB. Therefore demonstrating the seamless interactivity between the Zuckerberg infrastructure. Plus demonstrating the various levels that virtual reality was at 2 years ago.

Next year is all about churning out virtual reality content for the community. Monetisation is still an area that needs to evolve in the industry but that could be about to all change too… Whilst the VR devs & community are hard at work then maybe Facebook will focus on growing the augmented reality eco-system instead. They have already opened up Spark AR for content creation in August this year and my gut tells me 2020 will be more AR driven focus because the VR side knows the brief and just needs to deliver it.

If you want to learn more about how to build then check this out or join the Design, Develop and Deploy course by Unity and Oculus (thoroughly recommended!). Don’t want to be a VR dev? No problem, other areas to train in so that you don’t miss being at the front of the wave is: VR testing, graphics, modelling, optimisation, marketing are all skills that will be required going forward. The list is endless: educating, demo’ing and advocating are important skills too.

Definitely consider this free course if you wish to ever make a VR application/experience/game

OC6 – Oculus Quest Is The Next Computing Platform

The Highlights of today’s Facebook’s Oculus Connect announcement

I attended Oculus Connect via Oculus Venues in Virtual Reality rather than the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in California. It felt engaging to be part of the crowd even though I was only there as an avatar. Before we dive in to the highlights let’s cover off what we didn’t hear… Mark Zuckerberg has been very vocal about aiming to have 1 billion virtual reality users by 2020. That’s only 3 months away or 1 year 3 months away if we are going to stretch it out until the end of the year in 2020. We were told today how much they’ve made from VR Oculus Store content during its lifetime yet (spoiler alert) we weren’t told any numbers around how many HMD units have been sold overall, no breakdown of how well Rift S or Quest is doing. Well other than we are selling Quests like hot pancakes and struggling to meet the demand. Why then were we not told any numbers? We’ll go through some of these points later on in detail but how come when we are looking to support developers with building content & aiming for “critical mass adoption” of virtual reality we are not told how many players are in each team or even what size the playing field looks like in general? If virtual reality is now then share those numbers please.

As it so happens, I do believe that virtual reality is now even if I don’t have the corporate figures to back it up. I’ve been watching the market and community grow with a keen interest this year. The hype for the Oculus Quest and Rift S was the instigator for most of the new faces but we have had other hardware companies come along for their debuts this year too. Social media communities have bloomed too, there’s a handful of communities all around the Oculus Quest by itself, not to mention VR in general or other VR devices. Stepping outside the Oculus bubble a second, other external evidence to show that VR is now is all the amazing work that is being done! It is actually overwhelming now and I feel we are at a point for anybody joining us at entry level, will struggle to know which direction to focus their attention on with what platforms targeting what device. Its an amazing problem to have because it is a side-effect of this recent growth spurt but you get what I’m saying, there is evidence if you look. It would just be more compelling to be backed up by the various headset sales numbers is all…

Perhaps a reason for not mentioning the hardware sales figures is because the Rift S hasn’t been doing so well or as well as expected? I would be surprised if that were true but then again the standalone capability of the Quest is a pull point for most people. Perhaps the difference between the sales figures was too shocking to call-out? One thing we do know is that the Oculus Quest appears to be favoured by customers: “Oculus Store has made over $100m dollars in its lifetime and Oculus Quest accounted for over 20% of that!” That’s an extraordinary stat considering that the Quest is only 4 months old!

First up, we had the announcement of the new Oculus Link which will be released in November this year. This update will allow for Oculus Quest owners/users the ability to play Oculus Rift S games on their Quest simply by connecting to a compatible gaming pc using USB. Oculus will have a customised USB cable for this use too that you can buy and expect to be delivered in November too. Who remembers the controversy around Virtual Desktop’s ability to stream & play games from other platforms to Quest? And what does this mean for SideQuest? There’s still plenty of unique games in platforms outside of the Oculus Store I guess. To me this is the 1st aggressive competitor/market closing manoeuvre I’ve seen from Facebook and one that I am now switched on to. In fact, this triggered me into being alert for the rest of the 2 hour long keynote. Unfortunately, you will see other industry wide similarities and stake claims being announced as we proceed.

Mark Zuckerberg during OC6 Keynote

Hand Tracking coming to Oculus Quest early 2020!

That’s right! The Quest has the 4 cameras at the front for sensing your external environment as well as picking up the sensors on the existing Touch controllers. Well now it looks as though the research & development team have cracked the Machine Learning requirements for real time hand tracking using the Quest. Although, we have seen real time hand tracking in the industry already so this is not groundbreaking or new, however, absolutely a step in the right direction for complete immersive embodiment. Leap Motion being the most obvious, it was reported that Google and Media Pipe had cracked it too and Vive Cosmos is going to support finger tracking soon as well.

The ability to use simply your hands instead of controllers will open the accessibility door too. I work with elders who sometimes struggle mentally to grasp the concept of working controllers not to mention physically being able to grasp them. Speaking of which, I was hugely excited about hearing more about CTRL-Labs! I had only learned about this company a few hours earlier by watching this mind-blowing interview before the Facebook acquisition was announced. I recommend giving it a watch, it’s truly incredible! They use electrical signals from the nervous system and their modelling systems to make muscle movements through your thoughts! Perfect for accessibility as well as general evolution of interacting with computers & machines. The interview below really brings it to light and their dev kits are already shipping (be prepared to be on a waiting list for a while though given the interest in this groundbreaking technology).

Social VR comes to Facebook through Horizon

I’m a huge fan of social VR and I have never tried Facebook Spaces before. I’m not sure what has happened to Spaces but Horizon is the new thing. A social VR place where you can connect, create, interact and play games all within your VR headset. Learning to build things without coding is always appealing. Would I prefer this to existing platforms? Not sure. The intro video was quite cheesy for my taste… There were similarities to everything that is working well currently within the social VR sector of the industry. There were cross-overs with AltSpace VR and Rec Room with a particular focus on creating art. VR artists are making their way into the spotlight with their outstanding creations. Again I can’t help my thoughts turning towards Facebook taking the things that are working well and incorporating those for themselves. It is how business works I guess but I would be upset or lost if these other platforms were to be swallowed up as a result. Perhaps I’m jumping the gun especially given how early stage Horizon is.

Source: Oculus

The Evolution of Avatars

My words wouldn’t do this any justice so I found a tweet with a video clip so you can see for yourself

Credit and source: Robert AKA @webjournalist

Mixed Reality Capture Shared Spaces and Passthrough+ upgrade

It was briefly mentioned that we will be able to capture not only the VR gameplay footage but also ourselves playing in VR too. The mixed reality Beat Saber videos are extremely effective for sharing fun & engaging content. The ability to do this is coming. So is being able to have shared spaces virtually such as the basketball game photo below were 2 people are physically located separately but are together virtually.

The Passthrough+ on the Oculus Quest will have the ability to switch on and off so that you can flip back between real world and VR whenever you choose to. This is such a simple but useful function to add.

Oculus Media Studio

Media Studio sounded fantastic for content creators, developers and users alike. I’m not entirely sure I grasped all of this correctly though… So in essence for creators/developers it is a dashboard to help you to market your work through word or mouth because users will be able to see their friends playing your stuff through the ‘location’ section. Content creators will have the ability to use the media studio to stream and reference your work. But there will be dashboards to show numbers relative to your product & users. Next was the reason I can’t be sure of the detail beforehand relating to Media Studio. Next was, the newer style Oculus TV. I got lost in my thoughts again at this point, completely lost in my thoughts so can’t report on this other than saying it sounded exactly like Bigscreen VR. It was the ability to watch things together in virtual spaces – so perhaps this was the how the basketball example above worked or how you do that? Not sure, but yeah Oculus TV is being revamped into shared spaces to watch & stream content to. Another reason for Virtual Desktop to be told not to be compatible with streaming on Oculus platforms.

VR for Business

A smarter API and ability to manage multiple headsets simultaneously. Amazing case studies shared about working in virtual environments from remote locations. But the headliner was from Johnson & Johnson, Osso VR and partner’s surgical training outputs. They shared that 83% of newly trained surgeons who used VR training were able to carry on with surgical procedures unguided afterwards compared to 0% of students who received traditional training methods! The evidenced source or published research would be much appreciated if anybody could share that please.

Source OC6

AR Strategy at Facebook

Were we expecting Facebook to make AR glasses? I guess so, I mean AR is all over the many platforms and probably the driver behind the growth in mainstream awareness there too. Spark AR was only mentioned by name during the keynote but nothing more. However, aside from the glasses, we heard how Facebook are looking to do live maps. It works by using crowd source info from connected devices eg smart phones or AR glasses. The video looks impressive but I told you I was triggered and in that moment couldn’t help think about 6D.ai and the amazing work they are doing for smart phone photogrammetry real time mapping. What was exciting was the hologram AR part of their explanation video. Again, it’s nothing new but it is exciting. Yet, another way that Facebook are enforcing themselves as the tech giant that they are in the immersive space.

Game releases!

We heard a Beat Saber announcement about a new Panic At The Disco music pack being released next week and 360 degree gameplay being released next year. Stormland, Asgard’s Wrath, Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond and Vader Immortal 2 all announced. Vader being the only one released with immediate effect & the others can be pre-ordered (not sure Medal of Honor release date). Incidentally, Medal of Honor looked intense!!! You saw a lady pulling the pin out of her grenade controller with her real world TEETH before chucking it into the enemy line. It looks to be so immersive and as close to a war like simulation as you are going to get without getting hurt in real life.

The Future of Hardware

There was quite an interesting talk about the evolution of Half Dome’s. I’ll be honest, I had never heard of these before this talk. The level or detail in the research and prototyping is quite remarkable. Essentially, it the next gen HMD with specific sharp verifocals/lenses for clearer vision within an immersive experience. We watched footage of some of the basic VR intro programs with and without these specially adapted lenses. The Half Dome 3 (the newest one) was crystal clear – there were 6 lenses altogether that help to achieve this result. I listened to this intently but I’m sorry I can’t articulate how genuinely interesting it was!

Summary

This was an action packed keynote speech with many different things to take in and digest! The Oculus Quest came out best throughout the messages by being upgraded quite significantly I felt. The Rift S, I actually feel sorry for and think it’s being overlooked – could that be because of the Half Dome coming even though we’re being told that it’s not there yet? Well, what about the Oculus Go? The Go didn’t get mentioned really – only when it was said that we will be able to play our Go games in, yep you guessed it, Quest… I don’t think Go games were coming to Rift S? Surely they must, it’s just through the Oculus Store right? Hopefully you Rift S users will have that at least, not much of a party bag but at least you didn’t go home empty handed… like the Go users have… I dunno what to make of it all. Great to be able to experience all of these technology elements with my Quest – especially hand tracking and easier content creations BUT mixed feelings about the dominating strategy. With any luck I’m just being over-sensitive to it all because I was initially triggered…

Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas if you want to get in touch @TheHappyLass

Evolution at Oculus (Minus the Go)