Yesterday, Facebook took a leap forward that many had predicted for years: it started putting ads in virtual reality. The company has launched a limited test of ads in three Oculus Quest apps, saying it will expand the system based on user feedback. The move is a turning point for Oculus, bringing one of Facebook’s most controversial features to a medium that inspires both idealism and alarm. And that raises three big questions about the future and immersive computing of Facebook.
The first question is to what extent Facebook will end up linking advertising to data from hardware sensors. Even more than smartphones, Oculus Quest headsets are a gold mine of information about you. They capture precise head and hand movements, images of your surroundings through tracking cameras, and audio from the microphone for Facebook’s voice control system. Future headsets are likely to include even more intimate features like eye tracking, which would offer incredibly precise measurements of what grabs your attention in VR.
Right now, Facebook says a lot of that data never leaves your headset or is completely segmented from its ad system, and it says it has “no plans” for doing things like ads. targeted based on motion data. But as Facebook moves deeper into virtual and augmented reality, using its hardware’s special features for advertising will become an increasingly attractive prospect.
Facebook is reportedly working on a fitness tracker and has discussed building AR glasses that you’ll use to interact with the world. These products are tailor-made to produce quantifiable information about your body and your surroundings, and it’s hard to believe Facebook doesn’t intend to monetize that – even though Facebook Reality Labs director Andrew Bosworth has said the company is “not really business-oriented. model ‘questions for the experimental material. Oculus is Facebook’s first major test case for advertising on its own computing device, and as it expands ads to virtual reality and other hardware, we’ll see how it handles the wealth of new ones. types of data it collects.
The second question is how the advertisements will affect the development of virtual reality. Several of the best-selling VR titles right now look like background console or PC games and sell for a similar price. On the other hand, it is not yet clear what kinds of apps work well with an ad-based model. (blaston, the first game we know of includes ads, is a multiplayer dueling game that you play in short competitive fights.) Regardless of those genres, Facebook just created an incentive to do a lot more, because the developers are getting a reduction of the income involved.
It’s easy to imagine dystopian scenarios like a huge library of catchy but shoddy games and social apps covered in pop-ups, or the corporate hellish landscape causing crisis. Loan Player One. It doesn’t help that Facebook’s first tests look like flat banner ads from a free website or game. That said, Facebook is notoriously picky about what’s going on in the Quest Library and there’s no indication that will change anytime soon.
We also don’t know the final form of VR advertising. Facebook says it is currently exploring “new ad formats that are unique to virtual reality.” He didn’t specify what it looked like, but for a non-traditional ad platform we could look Fortnite – a popular virtual studio world with an impeccable gaming pedigree and one of the most effective ad serving systems in the modern cultural landscape. (A system in which gamers pay to promote the intellectual property of multinational media conglomerates may also be dystopian, but in a way most people seem to agree.) Modern mainstream VR headsets are rife with advertisements. from practically the beginning, thanks to promotional links. ins and sponsorships. Yesterday’s news was just the latest iteration of a long-standing trend.
This iteration, however, has a big Facebook shaped wrinkle. Quest ads are served based on your Facebook profile data, and Facebook’s hyper-personalization is one of its most controversial characteristics – criticized generally as a tool of social division and more specifically for allowing discrimination. . Beyond any larger social effects, if you share a headset with your friends and family, it can just seem invasive for them to see what Facebook thinks you like. You can add multiple accounts to a Quest headset, but the functionality is experimental and it is unclear how many users are familiar with it.
And that raises the third question: How will Facebook and its detractors respond to general concerns about “Big Tech” in the field of virtual reality? Should Facebook, for example, ban certain types of ads – or methods of serving ads – from appearing in headsets? And should consumer protection watchdogs specifically examine how advertisements work within the Oculus platform, which they largely ignored when reviewing Facebook?
It was not difficult to see these debates coming. Facebook has wanted to own the next computing platform for years, and its vision of computing relies heavily on advertising. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey has previously promised that Oculus would not want “Flash ads on you” inside VR, but he (along with Oculus’ other early executives) left the company years ago. Bosworth said in 2015 that the Oculus experience “should include advertisements, because life includes advertisements.”
But Facebook says it’s not just about moving forward with a long-standing blueprint – instead, it promises to review comments as it moves forward with VR advertising. . As virtual reality moves closer to Facebook’s core business, Quest users and developers will see if the company delivers on that promise.