The journey to make virtual reality more social could get a little weird.
Facebook’s Oculus VR subsidiary has been tinkering with some ideas, one of which includes planting an LCD on the outside of the headset. Curious onlookers could then tap the display and see whatever virtual world you’re visiting.
“It’s not a completely insane idea,” Oculus VR CTO John Carmack said during a presentation at the Oculus Connect conference on Thursday, during which he discussed his attempts to make VR headsets more than just a solo experience. (The display could also show “Googly eyes” or an animation too,” he added.)
“We want to make this less isolating. We want to bring more people into it,” Carmack said.
The LCD idea probably won’t take off anytime soon over concerns it’ll generate too much heat on the headset. However, the company is set on bringing VR to 1 billion people, which means coming up with ways to make the technology more than just a gaming device.
“We have marching orders that social is one of the most important things that we need to be working on. We need to be combating the isolation of VR,” Carmack said.
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His mention of “marching orders” refers to company parent Facebook, which bought Oculus VR in 2014. Facebook is betting that VR will become the future of digital communications, in which people will slip on a headset and converse with their friends and co-workers in virtual worlds. However, this vision doesn’t always mesh with Carmack, a famed gaming developer who joined Oculus in 2013 before the Facebook acquisition.
“Facebook is all about connecting the world,” Carmack said. “It does mean that I’m a little out of step sometimes as the champion of the power of isolation.” He described VR as “like headphones for your eyes,” which can help you escape the real world and remove any surrounding distractions.
Nevertheless, Oculus has been experimenting with some ways to make VR headsets more social. Another idea is to let some of the real world in by cutting away the surrounding plastic that covers your eyes. This will allow wearers to not only see their keyboard and mouse, but also have conversations with those around them.
That’s more akin to augmented reality, which Oculus plans to integrate into its products down the line. But the path to making VR more social may also go through the smartphone. Gaming developers are already creating co-opt games, where one player uses a VR headset to play, and the other uses a smartphone to assist. So far these games are pretty niche, Carmack said, but the company is working on the ability to let VR headset wearers cast their display to a smartphone or connected TV.
“It makes it so much more fun … even if you’re just looking over their virtual shoulder through the casting on to the screen,” he said.