Sharing is Caring: Is VR Making Us More Social?
Think about the future of VR and what do you see – hundreds of people with headsets stuck to their face, with no clue about the world outside and no real memory of what their family looks like? Well, you’d be sorely mistaken because contrary to that, Virtual Reality is actually going to make us all a lot more social.
“VR is actually going to make us all a lot more social”
No, we’re not just talking about sending a couple of extra messages to your boyfriend or liking more of your colleagues tweets about fantasy football. The virtual world could bring us all closer together – offering even more interactive ways to engage with people all around the world.
With social VR, distance is no barrier. You can just as easily interact with a friend in the States as you can your gran in Southampton and just like any digital platform, like laptop and phones, it’s ultimately a way to connect. And there are already a few early adopters out there who prove that sharing is caring when you’re part of the virtual world. So, get ready to get your social on and jump into the virtual space.
Starting strong with the social media giants, Facebook, everyone wondered what Zuck was up to when they bought out Oculus for a whopping $2 billion, three years ago. After much bemusement and wild guessing, they eventually revealed their master plan – to bring VR to the social space.
“through the power of VR, you can chat to your mates across the other side of the world.”
Enter ‘Facebook Spaces’ (quite literally) – the virtual realm where you can interact with your mates in real time, through the guise of an animated avatar. Whether you’re sat beneath a digital blossom tree or looking at your holiday snaps together round a table, you can customise your very own digital self and through the power of VR, chat to your Facebook friends across the other side of the world. Capturing head movements and hand gestures, it even listens to the voice and the way it sounds, to mimic what your virtual mouth looks like.
And that’s not all from Facebook in the social landscape. Rather than simply gathering virtual versions of your nearest and dearest together, they’ve taken the selfie game by storm to create the first VR selfie stick. Demonstrated off at their F8 conference this year, they dubbed their stick the start to “Virtual tourism” – showing how this tech could bring us to new places, we wouldn’t ordinarily visit, to meet new people. And it’s not just people with a luxury travel fund who can now explore the world with their friends. Facebook thinks there’s a place for Virtual Reality to carve out its own social niche. Whether or not it will actually take off still remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure – sharing your holiday pics will never be the same again.
Stepping away from the virtual world of Facebook and into a slightly more chilled environment (literally), another space that VR could bring us all to is a trendy little bar, somewhere in the social sphere. Whereas social media currently relies on us being fixed to a screen, typing out how we feel, documenting what we’re up to, a Virtual project called Pool Nation wants to tempt us all to a new social scene and use tech in a far more engaging way.
“Pool Nation want us to use our tech in a far more social way”
Complete with neon cocktail lights and high end pool table, Pool Nation VR, launched fairly recently on the HTC Vive, brings several people at other ends of the country, into the same environment to hang, shoot some pool and enjoy a virtual beer. Letting you line up your pool shots with pinpoint precision, you see the game unfold in real time and get the option to see your cue from a range of angles.
At the end of the game, the winner can claim their virtual victory – leaving the losers to down a very sorry digital pint. Or, if pool’s not really your thing, you can throw a game of virtual darts instead and try to claim some of your pool pride back. Using move controllers to mimic hand gestures and offering a gamified way to virtually hang out with your mates, is something fairly unique and something which if harnessed in the right way, could allow us to share even more unmissable moments with our mates; even if they are in Australia.
Another of the big video players, YouTube, could also be transforming the virtual space into a more social place to be. Announcing an update to their 360 degree capabilities, along with your friends and co-workers, you’ll be able to watch 360 experiences live with a group on Youtube VR.
“It’s a step towards the kind of VR experiences possible outside a headset, yet still in the social space”
Whereas Oculus’ ‘Rooms’ function has been out some time, allowing people to play cards and chat together in a virtual space, YouTube’s approach is a sign of the social times. Rather than simply experiencing something alone, the update will let you connect with others, wherever they are in the world and hook up your microphone so you can chat about how remarkable that 360 waterfall is, together. Hitting the social streets later this year, it’s a step towards the kind of VR experiences possible outside a headset, yet still in the social space.
Putting It In Virtual Practice
With so many platforms jumping on the social band wagon and proving that sharing really is caring, how will it actually work out there in the big bad world? And what should we be doing to give social VR its best chance to succeed? Here are a couple of thoughts to bear in mind, when it comes to making a more social virtual space:
Think about your audience, not the platform: If you want to make something truly more social, consider what experience would actually be benefitted by VR. How can you use tech to bring people together in a new, helpful way.
Don’t just recreate ‘In person’ experiences: Rather than simply just simulating something which people would rather be doing in real life, or are able to do, consider what you can create in Virtual Reality that they wouldn’t have seen. Like a fantasy land, or a 10,000 foot TV screen they can watch with their friends.
Consider social interaction early: When you’re developing your VR experience, if social interaction is something which is important for you, build it into the process early on. Consider how your audience will interact with it, from start to end.
Think about the movements: One benefit of social VR, is that you can use move controllers to mimic hand gestures, or tracking to see where the eyes are looking. This helps create more of a social connection and allows users to feel like they’re part of a more social experience.
“VR’s going to make us all a whole lot more social”
With a wide, virtual world of social possibilities out there, the VR space could be ripe for platforms like Facebook and YouTube to put their own interpretation on the type of experiences we have. It’s not quite a novelty but it’s not quite mainstream yet – the perfect place for platforms to now experiment with how social VR works. Once all the kinks are ironed out and we have a solid understanding of how we can all interact with it, VR’s going to make us all a whole lot more social. But don’t take our word for it – chat to your mates in a VR bar instead whilst sipping a virtual ale.