clock menu more-arrow no yes

Don't Ignore the Demos! Little Experiences May Be a Big Part of Oculus' Future.

For the average user -- the Facebook user -- the conventional wisdom about VR may be wrong.

Courtesy Oculus VR

The ideal length of a movie is somewhere around two hours. The ideal length of a mobile game session can be as short as a few seconds.

After trying the newest version of the Oculus Rift, I’m wondering if the ideal length of a virtual reality experience is only a few minutes.

The hardcore VR enthusiasts who turn up for virtual reality meetups and events like Oculus Connect advocate for a future where VR is livable, a place where you could spend hours playing games or socializing with friends. For the average user, though — the Facebook user — those visions may be from a far-flung and not especially interesting corner of the long tail.

The official word from Oculus is that these demos are just that — a too-brief teaser of more to come.

“I hate to say this, but it really is just starting,” co-founder Palmer Luckey said. “You think about a typical game development cycle … we’re two years into the company. Most games are, like, halfway through development at that point. We’re starting to see the beginnings of really cool games but they’re not yet developed to the point where it’s like, ‘This is clearly a win. This is clearly the future.'”

The meta of it all is that Oculus does need to have that “clearly the future” content for marketing and positioning reasons, at least. And over time, the gaming world has come to define “the future” to mean longer playtime, better graphics, deeper stories, more buttons on controllers and overall a higher level of complexity. When I asked about the latest batch of tech demos, Luckey pointed to a decidedly not-complex game, Doodle Jump.

“I’d say that most mobile games are not much further than being a tech demo,” he said. “It’s some great game mechanic, some core thing that makes it really fun to play. But there’s not always a ton of content. Look at Doodle Jump: Is Doodle Jump really beyond most PC tech demos? Of course not. It’s very simple. But people keep coming back to it and playing it. ”

Nevertheless, Luckey maintained that simple experiences are not what will “drive virtual reality to a billion people.” An odd claim, given that mobile devices and their stripped-down experiences already number in the billions.

The tech demos at Oculus Connect were short and simple, but also compelling and diverse enough to have lots of replay value. In one, demo-ers got up close and personal with an angry Tyrannosaurus rex, which bent over to roar right in their faces; in another, they could crouch and lean in close to inspect a tiny town seemingly made of paper, full of blink-and-you’ll-miss them details like an alien UFO abducting someone from a building; one of the near-final demos was an endless psychedelic tunnel of glowing Tron-like panels, which glided toward and past the user’s head.

None of these experiences, on its own, would be a “killer app” for virtual reality. But if there were hundreds or thousands of them at comparable levels of quality, VR might be a more compelling sell for non-gamers.

“A lot of people look at this and their first thought is, ‘Oh, Brendan, that’s really neat, but I’m not a gamer,'” Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe said in an interview. “It’s always going to be about gaming. But these kind of experiences that we’re showing today are comfortable. They’re fun for people to see. They’re eye-opening.”

For better or for worse, though, those traits are not enough for the company’s core messaging. Details about when the Rift will be headed to consumers are still under wraps, but the first big wave of mainstream VR content is scheduled to start later this fall with the launch of the Samsung Gear VR.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.