Facebook to launch Horizon virtual reality ecosystem: Will this fulfil Oculus’ long-awaited promise?

Facebook has been biding its time a full five years after it bought Oculus – but with the launch of virtual reality ecosystem Horizon, it could be the start of a major push for both the company and the technology.

The app is aimed at being a ‘mix of social places where users can mingle and chat, and other areas where they can play games against each other’, as per the BBC. The product, which is set to be made available for launch by early 2020, was showcased at Facebook’s Oculus Connect 6 developer conference late last week.

In a blog post, Oculus described Horizon as ‘a culmination of everything we’ve learned so far about virtual spaces and communities.’ “Facebook Horizon is the first step into an ever-expanding world of connection and exploration where anything becomes possible,” the company wrote. “Explore new places, play games, build communities, and even create your own entirely new experience with easy-to-use tools that require no coding skills.”

“VR is already a great place to hang out with friends, play games, and watch movies. It’s also a fantastic way to learn new skills and explore our world,” Oculus added. “Human curiosity and connection are central to each of these experiences, and they’re also at the heart of Horizon.”

Given enabling social spaces without moderation is a less-than-good idea, according to Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech Facebook’s approach will be to fully staff Horizon rooms. This is different from existing social VR applications, such as Rec Room and VRChat, and according to Facebook AR/VR experiences director Eric Romo, the ‘closed beta’ aspect will be key. “It’s completely fair to say that we have a lot to learn, which is why we’re starting slowly,” said Romo.

The move makes sense in a wider context with regards to Facebook’s plans for Oculus. As per Thinknum Alternative Data, July 2018 saw job postings featuring the word Oculus fall off a cliff; between July 12, with 151 jobs on offer, and August 29, with only 24 jobs on offer, the drop was vast. However, in August this year, 87 new positions appeared tagged with Oculus, with that number slowly rising since.

Thinknum noted the majority of new job postings are engineering-focused, “indicating that Oculus and Facebook are hard at work on new technology – including hardware – to dovetail with the launch of Horizon as interest in the technology (hopefully) picks up.”

A Zacks analysis argued Facebook’s “array of new features and updates to Oculus Quest are expected to strengthen its presence in the VR space,” with Horizon “expecting to pose competition for Microsoft’s Minecraft and Second Life.”

The launch of Horizon means that Facebook Spaces and Oculus Rooms are surplus to requirements, with a shutdown date of October 25.

Picture credit: Oculus/Screenshot

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