AR/VR

Facebook Tiptoes Into Advertising Inside VR Games

Over the next few weeks, people with Oculus Quest headsets will start seeing some advertisements in virtual reality. Facebook calls the introduction of these in-app ads “a key part” of building a sustainable VR business. 

But many VR users are likely to view them as intrusive. And the ad rollout is sure to raise concerns about whether the uniquely personal information gathered in VR experiences will one day be used in ad targeting. 

After the announcement Wednesday, some VR users complained that they hated to lose a rare ad-free zone. “I’m bombarded with ads everyday, wherever I go and whatever I look at,” wrote one VR enthusiast on Twitter. ”When I put my headset on, which is my escape, I don’t want to see them in there. I would rather pay more for games and experiences to be ad free in VR.”

In a post on the Oculus blog, Facebook called the rollout “a test with a few apps.” During the test, Facebook promises that the only information collected inside VR for ad targeting will be whether a person interacted with an ad and, if so, whether they hid it or clicked for more information. 

Facebook explicitly said it won’t be using any visual, audio or movement data captured by the headset in targeting ads, nor will it use personal bodily data entered into the Oculus Move VR fitness tracker. But information from a user’s Facebook profile—required to use a new Quest—is fair game for targeting.

Blaston, a multiplayer action game produced by Resolution Games, is the first VR title to incorporate these ads. It’s an interesting choice. Themed like a futuristic sport, ads will appear off to the side of Blaston's arenas.

With ads already ubiquitous in daily life, adding them to VR games and other experiences isn’t likely to be jarring for users, said Resolution Games CEO Tommy Palm in an email. “While ads may not fit all games, as we see it, non-intrusive—and that bit is a key factor for us—ad space in an arena like we have in Blaston is a natural fit that aligns with what you would see in a real-world sports setting,” Palm said. Facebook and developers are expected to split revenue from the ads.

But users are certain to worry that future VR ads won’t be so restrained. Facebook said it is also exploring formats for advertising that are unique to VR. That could be taken to mean ads that are more interactive, or harder to ignore.

With Facebook the dominant player in both VR hardware and services, it’s difficult to imagine a world where VR is both mainstream and utterly ad-free. You could even argue that it took surprisingly long to get to this point. Many VR developers probably won’t be able to survive over the long term without ads, just as we’ve seen in older digital mediums. 

There will always be users who hate ads—the question is whether Facebook will give developers a good enough deal to make the heat from ads worth it.

Cook Plays Coy, Talks Apple’s Failures

Speaking online at a French tech conference Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook bemoaned proposed EU legislation that would force the company to allow sideloading of apps on iPhone. He also took a moment to talk obliquely about Apple’s work on a car and AR wearables, mixed in with some talk of failed Apple ideas.

Cook told the audience that Apple’s AR work on phones and tablets is exploratory. If that seems a bit flat compared with Cook’s recent remarks about AR being “critically important” to Apple’s future, his accompanying discussion of ideas Apple has abandoned might throw even more cold water on the notion.

“We do allow ourselves to fail,” Cook said. “We try to fail internally, instead of externally, because we don’t want to involve customers into failure. We begin going down a certain road and sometimes adjust significantly because of the discovery that we make in that process.”

There is only so much that can be read into Cook’s musings at a conference, but it’s worth the occasional reminder that while we do know Apple has been working on a headset and AR glasses, there is still no guarantee that either product will see the light of day. Cook could also be referring to Apple’s car project—and at this point, it’s hard to say which product might be more damaging to Apple's reputation if it flopped. Judging by Cook’s words, it sounds like he would rather quietly nix any of Apple’s current prototypes than rush to market prematurely.

Other news:

  • Ultraleap is getting a $50 million investment from Tencent, Sky News reports. On top of AR/VR hand-tracking tech, Ultraleap sells its tech for touchless interfaces.
  • Lou Wang, product manager on Google Lens, gave an interview to GQ U.K. Wang said apps like Lens are “absolutely applicable” to AR glasses, but predicts that phones will stick around for a while. No real hints about Google’s product roadmap there.

I’ll be taking time off next week to enjoy some genuine, non-VR nature, so Reality Check will be on hiatus until Monday, June 28. Until then, thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts any time at mathew@theinformation.com. And if you know someone who might like this newsletter, just forward it along and point them to www.theinformation.com/reality-check so they can sign up for it.

See you on the 28th,

Mathew


Mathew Olson is the writer for The Information’s Reality Check, a newsletter devoted to following trends, innovations and news in AR and VR. He is based in New York and can be reached by email at mathew@theinformation.com or Signal at 646-694-0692.