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Keywords on Oculus Connect: ‘Not just a game changer but a life changer’

Last week Oculus Connect 6 brought the AR and VR industry together in San Jose. Attending was Detroit Burns, functionality QA manager for Keywords Studios, who provides his take on the event for MCV. 

This week all eyes in the VR QA world were on San Jose, California as Oculus Connect and Facebook rolled into town for the sixth instalment of the annual conference.

There were plenty of key announcements and talking points, but what was critical for me were the implications for the future of Oculus and VR as a whole? And, in turn, what are the implications for the development community?

Keywords Studios, developers, engineers, artists, content creators, press and the VR curious (and obsessive) were all on hand to ‘connect’ and share ideas to push the AR/VR industry forward. More importantly, we were there to learn first-hand what Facebook is planning for the immediate future of the platform, including its commitment to backwards (and forwards) compatibility, Facebook Horizon and improving the accessibility of all devices for all users, regardless of their familiarity with the platform.

Detroit Burns, Keywords Studios

Compatibility

Mark Zuckerberg and AR and VR vice-president Andrew Bosworth wasted no time in their opening keynote, focusing on the immediate next steps for Oculus as well as the soon-to-be future. 

Both leaders put forward the sentiment that AR and VR have reached critical mass, and that to support this momentum they would be opening up the ecosystem through backwards compatibility, ensuring no users would be left behind in the coming years, but also letting consumers with lower budgets benefit from the technology.  

In what is definitely a move to future proof, users will now be able to access Rift content for PC on the standalone, and less powerful, Quest headset, via Oculus Link, a high-speed cable that connects Quest to the PC. In short, that means high-end VR games can be played on Quest, which is a massive opportunity to open up the user base for both hardcore gamers and more casual enthusiasts to VR.

This is big news for us at Keywords, as our fingerprint can be found on the requirements that games must meet before being placed on the Oculus Store. That’s because backwards and forwards compatibility is likely to continue with future headsets from Oculus, improving the available library to users.

Of course, there are still some concerns that a thin, fibre-optic cable will take away from the natural presence and freedom of the Quest. Tripping over cables, tangling wires with controllers and having your dog chew through the cable still seem like real possibilities.

But, regardless, this move will ensure the longevity of the format and increase the demand of experienced industry folks to support pre-existing releases, as well as ones which break new ground. As with the next generation of consoles, VR developers and VR QAs will need to take into account future and pre-existing key hardware when developing and optimising their games.

Microtransactions in VR

Micro transactions (or lack thereof) is another area with potential implications for us in the QA community. According to Oculus CTO John Carmack, VR developers aren’t leveraging micro transactions heavily at present and his recommendation is that they integrate more methods for users to engage with their content, and engineer opportunities to support apps for a longer period through additional means to make purchases. 

Carmack stressed the importance of having these options built in early, preferably upon launch of an app versus being added on later, which would have the potential to increase the amount of content developed and therefore the need for additional QA, through testing of more add-on content in VR.

Bringing the digital and physical together

Facebook also drove home the overall mantra of bringing the physical and digital together. On one hand, this means removing clutter and making VR more accessible and immediate to users. As Facebook put it, preventing “hardware getting in the way”. With the newly announced hand-tracking for Quest, that should mean less broken controllers, less battery usage and less intrusive elements taking the user away from that immersion, without compromising on the mobile CPU or GPU demands. 

In one respect, this was also seen in their more experimental and forward-looking research announcements. For example vari-focal lenses – opening the possibility for a smoother VR experience that is moving closer to mirroring the perception of the human eye. On an even grander scale, they revealed their desire to develop thought-control devices (through the recent acquisition of brain interface company CTRL-Labs). Both of these would bring an entirely new paradigm for us involved in QA testing.

Additional mentions of AR glasses and mixed reality videos hold an amazing amount of potential for live motion capture and rendering in the future. What’s more, and as seen with Microsoft’s previous Hololens demos, they could change the way we work: think factory training, industrial businesses and automotive design just to name a few. 

We were told, for example, at Connect 6 London’s Imperial College – the world-leading university focusing on the sciences, medicine and research – trained staff in VR as well as through traditional methods. Interestingly, some 83% of those trained in VR performed successfully in practice, whereas 0% met that criteria from the traditionally trained. 

By removing the conventional classroom, Facebook is laying the seeds for VR and AR to change how we inspire and educate one another. Just think of the possibilities that would be created by eliminating commutes and relocation by adopting virtual workspaces with full interactivity.

The Social (and Virtual) Network

Ultimately, Oculus Connect was a culmination of Facebook’s objective to further the utility and potential of virtual-reality as not just a game-changer for consumer entertainment, but also a ‘life-changer’.

Bringing the world together has long been the suspected stated aim of the social network giant and many industry analysts have long predicted Facebook’s objective to have AR and VR become a social / communications platform where users can share not only the virtual world, but enjoy complete shared experiences. And I believe this week’s event may as well have been an official declaration of that intent. 

The implications of Facebook Horizon, a new virtual reality sandbox universe, brings us one step closer to the world portrayed in Ready Player One. For those who remember PlayStation’s “Home” during the PS3 era , it’s a persistent online universe populated by VR users, who are free to create whatever games and worlds they want, which is mind-boggling to think about and, given the short timeframe in which VR has evolved, is quite a surreal statement to be making in 2019.

People located in different cities, countries and continents will be able to communicate with each other as easily as a phone call. For the VR world, it’s potentially the next ‘Skype’ moment. Facebook has a big bet on these large social persistent experiences, similar to Minecraft Earth and VRChat, that let people come together through a new medium.

This is just the start for virtual reality becoming a significant technological platform, not just in terms of video games, but an all-encompassing platform where users will educate, converse, have fun, experience, and ultimately live a second virtual life. 

Detroit Burns is Functionality QA Manager for Keywords Studios and has been head of the VR and Oculus support program since 2015. He has overseen the Keywords vendor pipeline for Oculus developers, working on more than 250 games and applications

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