It's been two weeks since Facebook has announced its intention to test ads in VR and it has created some major controversies to say the least. Some are angry while others look forward to seeing what opportunities it may bring along. Facebook’s stance is that integrating advertising into VR may lead to bringing "more people into VR, advance the consumer experience, and make progress on our longer-term augmented reality initiatives." The end goal is to find a way for developers to generate revenue and become self-sustainable. At the end of the day, Facebook is a business that is interested in making money. So far, they’ve been doing it successfully through advertising, so why not give it a go in VR?
The experiment, of course, starts with Oculus headsets, which Facebook had purchased back in 2014. In a blog post published on June 16, Oculus wrote, "the experiment will begin with Blaston from Resolution Games and a couple other developers that will be rolling out over the coming weeks." Facebook was certainly building up to this. Since 2019, they’ve used data from Oculus for targeting Facebook ads and in May, 2021, they introduced ads on the Oculus mobile app. So, it should come as no surprise that Facebook is diving deeper into the idea of VR ads by launching this experiment.
What will VR ads look like?
Facebook's announcement evoked three of the most common question words - What? Why? How? The what is clear and so is the why (more money) but the how still remains up in the air. According to Facebook, the first advertisement will look like standard boxes within game interfaces. Below is the image that’s been circulating on the web as a sample advertisement. Essentially, it’s a banner/video ad for Jasper’s Market, in this case and when players hover it, they can Save the Link, View Details, Report the ad, Hide the ad or find out why they’re seeing it in the first place. This is the initial format but Facebook is exploring other options.
It seems like we are going to see the emergence of a new type of ad, an experienceable ad, where we can be inside it instead of seeing flat images or videos on our social media walls.
What are the main concerns?
Concerns related to VR ads are not very different from concerns related to Facebook’s activities. Uninterrupted experience aside, privacy continues to cause major suspicions among users. Unlike Facebook, the social media platform, VR headsets have access to larger and more sensitive information. Oculus has access to hand and head motions and it can even photograph the user’s surroundings. Even though they claim that these data and metrics never reach Facebook’s servers, there have been enough cases to assume that at one point Facebook might use this sensitive data to target ads.
Oculus attempted to address these concerns (see below) but time will show what will happen when the ads actually start running:
- We do not use information processed and stored locally on your headset to target ads. Processing and storing information on the device means it doesn’t leave your headset or reach Facebook servers, so it can’t be used for advertising. Examples of data that are processed on device include raw images from the sensors on Quest and images of your hands (if you choose to enable hand tracking), which are both overwritten instantaneously. Examples of data that are stored locally on-device include any weight, height, or gender information that you choose to provide to Oculus Move.
- We take extra precautions around the use of movement data like minimizing what we need to deliver a safe and immersive VR experience—for example, to keep you safe from bumping into real-world objects and making your avatar duck while playing a game—and we have no plans to use movement data to target ads.
- Finally, we do not use the content of your conversations with people on apps like Messenger, Parties, and chats or your voice interactions to target ads. This includes any audio your microphone picks up when you use our voice commands feature, like "Hey Facebook, show me who's online."
Another major concern is the phenomenon of “Big Tech” and how it might affect the VR world. Facebook is looking at every single innovation through “the lenses of advertising,” and it’s not hard to see that they are not sparing any efforts to dominate the VR world as it’s the next big thing in tech. So, how will Facebook’s vision of VR ads change the whole realm of virtual reality?
So, VR ads … should we hate it or love it?
There is no definite answer to this. Generally speaking, VR enthusiasts are cautious and inclined towards resisting it; however, we shouldn’t discard its potential so soon. Advertising will indeed generate revenue for developers thus paving the way for consumer VR becoming more mainstream. Plus, experienceable ads can transform the whole field of marketing and advertising.
The ads were supposed to be piloted via Blaston but Blaston’s fans were not so thrilled about the test and managed to make themselves heard. As a result, Resolution Games backed out but they still showed interest in testing the ads in a free title instead of a paid one. Having lost Resolution Games, we are yet to see how Oculus and Facebook test their ads and when they do, we will reconvene to discuss this innovation further.