When Facebook purchased Oculus, we all had seriously mixed feelings in the VR world. On the one hand, having one of the biggest companies in the world buy Oculus all but guarantees it won’t go under. After all, Facebook presides over an ocean of cash. On the other hand, Facebook makes that very same money by selling advertisements. Inevitably this means that Oculus has to start contributing to that revenue stream at some point. While Oculus users have been spared the ad-pocalypse so far, the end may be nigh. Oculus has started testing in-headset advertising, and I believe that’s something that should be resisted. Requiring a Facebook account to use a Quest headset was bad enough, but in-headset advertising sounds a little too much like the Fifteen Million Merits of Black Mirror.
The Oculus Advertising Experiment
So what is Oculus actually testing? To start with, they are trying out in-game adverts for the title Blaston. The idea is that you’ll see advertising within the game world. Oculus says that their advertising policy will follow that of FaceBook.
Oculus does note that they have three main privacy policies in place:
- No information processed or stored on the headset is sent back to the server for advertising purposes.
- None of your movement data is used either.
- The contents of your messaging apps on the headset are also never used for advertising.
Facebook has come a long way when it comes to treading the thin line that separates privacy respect from privacy abuse. However, it can be argued that there’s a difference between advertising seen on a screen and advertising that enters an embodied, immersive space!
The Test Isn’t Going as Planned
So how is the test going? So far, the only developer who agreed to be part of the test has backed out. Blaston players, which is not a free-to-play game, was review bombed, and the developer has pulled out.
According to Road to VR, the developer won’t go ahead with adverts in Blaston but are considering it for one of their free-to-play games.
Why We Should Resist Advertising in Headsets
While the idea of real-world advertising within VR applications isn’t necessarily bad by itself, this is a road that leads to dark times for VR fans. The Oculus Quest was designed to be the VR equivalent of a gaming console. Imagine that you pay $300 for a gaming console, buy your games outright and then have to deal with third-party advertisements.
While adverts in free-to-play games are acceptable in my view, premium software should never subject users to it. In VR, it’s even worse since it feels like an invasion of your own personal space. VR is qualitatively different from the flat screen, and advertising feels different in that context.
An Ad-Free Revenue Model
So, is an ad-free Quest experience not financially viable? Facebook may think so for all we know. However, if we use game consoles as an analogue, it does seem viable. The hardware maker and platform owner get a share of every game sold. Developers can keep things going with paid expansions and optional microtransactions.
We also shouldn’t forget that Oculus recently introduced subscription services for apps, which is yet another more subtle stream of income. In the face of this and the rapidly growing Quest install base, I really think that advertising isn’t necessary to make the Quest profitable, and it’s definitely something that can detract from the experience.
Could Ads Be a Good Thing?
Playing devil’s advocate for a minute, are there any advantages to having in-headset advertising? As with other game platforms, real-world advertising makes sense in some titles where advertising would be part of the world anyway. It also offers a way to finance free-to-play titles. Quest games are expensive, so for many users, it could be a way to have more to play in return for putting their eyeballs on some ads.
When it comes to premium Quest apps and ads? That’s hard, no, and you should let Facebook know through reviews and other communication channels that we don’t want it.