Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took to the stage in San Jose, California yesterday to give the world a peek at the future of the world's most popular social network: the intersection of virtual reality, video chat, and the clunky Facebook website that we're all used to.
This was the opening of Oculus Connect 3, the third annual gathering of developers working with the Oculus Rift VR headset, the parent company of which Facebook purchased in 2014 for $2 billion. Notably absent from the proceedings: Palmer Luckey, Oculus's 24-year-old co-founder, who was recently exposed by The Daily Beast as a funding source for a group dedicated to posting anti-Hillary Clinton memes online.
Still, at Oculus Connect 3, the show went on. Zuckerberg and his colleagues were outfitted with Nintendo Mii-esque avatars around a table, playing card game and goofing off, setting up a couple themes that were present throughout the event: VR for non-gaming uses, and VR as part of a community, as opposed to the user shuttering themselves inside their own world.
The latter included products like Haromonix's Sing Space, a karaoke video game that allows you to play against friends online, as well as Oculus's own "Parties" and "Rooms."
According to an Oculus press release, Parties allow you to make a voice call with up to eight people "from anywhere in VR," while Oculus Rooms, hang out with friends in VR, watch movies together in the VR space, or launch games. Both ship "in the coming weeks.".
But the centerpiece to the Oculus Connect 3 keynote on Wednesday was the unveiling of the Oculus Touch controller, available for $199 when it launches on December 6th. The controller, which comes as a set of two, each have a camera for hand tracking purposes, and are designed to make hand positioning more comfortable, and allow for more natural movement and pointing inside virtual reality games and programs.A model uses the Oculus Touch controllers to "touch" in virtual reality. Credit: Oculus VR
In concert with the $599 Oculus Rift headset package, an Oculus system is now competitive with the $799 HTC Vive, which also ships with motion controllers, though an additional $79 sensor is needed for the Oculus setup to achieve "roomscale" experiences.
On top of that, Oculus announced a $499 gaming PC that's specced to be ready for its software, down from the $800-$1,000 range that previous Oculus-ready PCs occupied. There was emphasis on the accessibility of the price points throughout, even for the company's new $49 earbuds. Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe stressed the value, saying that they sound as good as $900 earphones, which remains to be seen.
Developers weren't left out of the fiscally-themed announcements, as a new perk was announced for those producing apps for Oculus. The 5 percent royalty fee charged by Epic Games for using the wildly popular Unreal Engine will be covered entirely by Oculus for each game's first $5 million of gross revenue.
Titles coming for the Touch/Rift combo include 4A Games' "Arktika.1, a shooter set in a "frozen dystopian future," Ready at Dawn's "Lone Echo," a "high fidelity" adverture game based in outer space, and Epic Games, "Robo Recall," a first-person shooter with "creative combat tactics." No release date was given yet for these games.
There was a heavy emphasis on the company's investments as well. Oculus says that it has put $250 million into VR content so far, with another $250 million coming in the near future.
Notably, the company also says it will commit $10 million to new diversity programs and "continue our investment in programs like Launch Pad, VR for Good, Amplified New Voices, and new programs like the Diverse Filmmakers Project," with that last one launching today.
The diversity announcements come just two weeks after the initial report from The Daily Beast on Luckey's funding of the "alt-right" group Nimble America, which he later admitted to in a Facebook post. Motherboard soon discovered that this shouldn't have been a big surprise, given Luckey's history of "liking" various "alt-right" Tweets, a list of which are available as long as you don't have a protected Twitter profile.
In the days since then, various VR developers have come out saying they won't be developing games for the Oculus platform due to Luckey's activities, instead choosing alternatives such as HTC's Vive, with some calling for Luckey to step down from the company.
However, Oculus and Facebook appear to be attempting to repair their image among VR devs. According to the Oculus release, "this new program will fund and support women and people from underrepresented groups to help accelerate production of their VR films -- from 360 documentaries to interactive experiences made for Touch."
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