Facebook and Oculus eyes VR content potential citing education as an example

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has committed to the company’s ongoing investment in the development of high-quality VR content.

Facebook has invested $250 million over the last few years into funding VR games and applications. Now it plans to invest another $250 million in order to continue to help developers fund virtual reality projects and accelerate development.

Mark Zuckerberg, opened Oculus’s annual developer event in Silicon Valley by saying that the virtual reality industry was expanding at a “faster rate than any of us had expected”, as Google and Sony launch their new VR headsets.

“We are here to make VR the next major computing platform,” Mr Zuckerberg said. “At Facebook this is something we are really committed to.”

“We’re committing another $250 million to fund even more content development to developers in this community,” said Zuckerberg. “We’re really excited to do this.”

A total of $50 million will fund the development of new VR content, from games to 360-degree videos. The $50 million will be earmarked for mobile game developers. While the tethered Oculus Rift gets a lot of the attention, mobile platforms like the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR and Google’s Cardboard and Daydream headsets are the front line of the VR revolution. Their portability and affordability make them easy for new users to try, giving them their first taste of the larger VR landscape.

“The breadth and depth of content Oculus has secured reflects the unrivaled scale Facebook brings to the table,” said Ben Wood, tech analyst at CCS Insight.

The social-networking giant also revealed that they want to go beyond tools and games for consumers and businesses. Facebook plans to also start a $10 million education fund that is focused on the development of education-based applications in virtual reality.

The $10 million will go toward Oculus’ NextGen program, which will bring Unity workshops plus hardware from Samsung, AMD and Oculus to universities so they can expand their own VR content creation programs.

VR also holds huge potential for invigorating learning of other subjects beyond computer science. Educational VR apps could make the classroom more exciting, allowing students to step onto historic battlefields instead of studying them through bland textbooks.

The use of virtual reality as a learning tool could have a significant and positive impact on the way students learn and absorb information that can go beyond just textbooks.

“Education is going to be a powerful example of the potential of VR,” said Zuckerberg. “Already today, 10 percent of the experiences in the Oculus Store are education.”

On top of the funding, Oculus will get a specific spot in its store just for education. This could transform how teaching works going forward, and Facebook will stand at the center of that change.

Oculus has also announced it will put $10 million toward supporting VR app and video creators of diverse backgrounds, including women and people of color. It will invest the $10 million for programs like Launch Pad, VR for Good, and Amplified New Voices, including new programs like the Diverse Filmmakers Project to ensure diversity-based content makes its way into virtual reality. Oculus is partnering with Walt Disney to bring some of its best-known characters to VR later this year.

The funding doesn’t just stop there. Oculus announced that the company will cover the royalty fees for any app using Unreal Engine that sell on the Oculus Store up to the first $5 million in gross revenue a developer earns to make it risk-free for developers to build on the Unity platform. This way, they only pay if their app succeeds.

All in all, it’s a good time to be a VR developer, because Facebook is fronting a ton of money to give them a jump-start. Facebook acquired Oculus VR way back in 2014 by spending $2 billion. The company has continued to put money into virtual reality. Analysts predict VR could generate as much as $50 billion in revenue by 2020, and Facebook is well positioned to capitalise on that.

Mr Zuckerberg also showed off new kinds of communication between people both inside and outside VR. In one demonstration, virtual avatars chatted with a video caller using Facebook Messenger. Oculus is also enabling users to create avatars that they can use across a variety of games on its headsets.

“Virtual reality is the perfect platform to put people first because of [its sense of] presence: you feel like you are really there in another place with people,” Mr Zuckerberg said.

He also revealed that Oculus is working on a standalone VR headset that promises to combine the best of PC and mobile VR and follows similar demonstrations of standalone VR prototypes by chipmakers Intel and Qualcomm in recent months.

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