So, Facebook Spaces for Oculus is out in Beta now and later for other VR platforms. (See video above.) It's basically a first life for your second life. Seriously:
Be Yourself in VR: It’s easy to create an identity that represents the real you in Facebook Spaces. This helps people recognize you and makes VR feel more like hanging out in person. Just choose one of your Facebook photos and you’ll see an array of options for your VR appearance.
It looks like fun and it makes impressive use of expressive, cartoon-like avatars, so all credit to the development team there. But I'm not quite seeing who, exactly, is going to use it:
- Oculus Rift has a tiny userbase -- like seriously, just some 250,000 units sold last year. So that's going to hurt any kind of networking effect.
- The people who would use an avatar-based voice chat system already have one -- it's called Snapchat, which comes with fun augmented reality-type effects. Not to mention FaceTime and all the many "be together live with friends" apps out there.
That's not even mentioning that there's nothing much to do in Facebook Spaces, and that's actually by design:
Facebook places a premium not on what you’re doing, but who you’re doing it with. Rachel Rubin Franklin, who heads up the company’s social VR efforts, likens Spaces to a dinner party rather than an infinite wonderland... Before Franklin came to Facebook last October, the social VR group had already been exploring various activities: tower-defense board games; music-creation games; even the ability to design a dollhouse and then teleport into it. But the more people had to do, the team found, the more they concentrated on the activity—and the less they concentrated on each other. The group formulated a litmus test for what Spaces would include: Does it facilitate social interaction? Is it going to make my relationship with you stronger, better, more memorable? “If that’s not happening,” Franklin says, “then it doesn’t belong in here. At least not now.”
Emphasis mine, because it begs the question: who wants to go to a dinner party that requires you to wear a heavy helmet on your head? Go to a food court to teens eating at dinner, and you definitely do see them video chatting with friends -- on their phones. And without anything to do, Spaces will be eclipsed by Minecraft and other virtual experiences which are all about doing things.
So unless I'm missing something (and there is a chance of that), Facebook Spaces looks like a high profile VR product from a major company that will fail to gain traction simply because there's very few people who can even use it, versus a vast majority who already have products which can basically do what Spaces does, only with more fun, and more friends. And when Spaces attracts nothing but empty spaces, the "social VR" market as a whole will feel the blow.
Remember 10 years ago, when Google tried and failed to get into virtual worlds with something called Lively? When it failed to grow, tech journalists reported that not only was Lively not lively, but used that failure to write off virtual worlds in general. Facebook Spaces feels like the Lively of the new VR era.