As we recently wrote, Facebook is pushing forward with tests to see how people would react to advertising in their VR application. As we also noted in that article, the first developer to opt-in to the experiment quickly backtracked once users got wind of the idea.
It seems that the negativity towards this new move by Facebook has been more intense than anyone could know besides the folks at the company themselves. That’s according to a video posted by Facebook Reality Labs VP Andrew Bosworth. A copy of which has been posted to the YouTube channel over at UploadVR.
It’s worth listening to his entire response, but the most important points are:
- Ads are meant to help developers make more money.
- They have the potential to drive down app costs.
- Quest ads were not “communicated very well”.
Bosworth feels that the backlash was “frankly too much” and emphasized that ads would not be at the expense of the user experience. Most importantly, they are in the early phase of testing, so it stands to reason that the optimal solution won’t be there right out of the door. Despite this, the pushback from Quest owners has clearly taken Facebook by surprise, which suggests they don’t really understand why it’s such an issue. While I touched on this in the previous article on Quest ads, it’s worth unpacking here again.
Where Could Facebook Be Going Wrong?
One interesting and telling part of Mr Bosworth’s response is this part taken from Upload VR’s transcription :
“So, you know, I get it. People were like, “you’re going to put ads on a device that I bought.” It’s like, yeah, like every other device that you bought. People are tweeting me that from their iPhones. So they bought a device, an iPhone, that has ads on it and their TV and every other device. It’s up to you what you engage with.”
Bosworth is making the fundamental mistake of equating flat-screen devices with VR experiences. There’s a qualitative difference between seeing an advert on a screen somewhere and seeing it in an immersive VR space. Without that piece of glass separating the digital world from the real world, advertising can feel much more invasive. Of course, VR-based advertising can mimic real-world ads seen on billboards and so on. It can even be good for immersion, depending on the title.
However, the rules around ad usage within VR will have to be carefully crafted because the scope for abuse is wider than any existing flat-screen advertising nightmare you can imagine.
Of course, that’s the whole reason the test was run in the first place. To see what would work in VR and what won’t. Unfortunately, the first lesson from the test seems to be a pretty harsh one. Personally, I believe one important rule would be to respect customer choice. In other words, always offer a way to avoid ads and those who think it’s worth the cost will take the offer with both hands.