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Oculus Rift, a Steam Engine for the modern age.


Does anyone remember the concept of web rings? Before Google was a thing and search was still a disorganized child, web sites that shared common interests would form rings with other like sites. If you found yourself on a website about medieval armor engraved with fractal patterns and wanted to go to OTHER websites on the same topic, you might use a webring at the bottom of the page to travel to the next site in a "ring" of sites catering to this specific interest. Website creators would reach out to each other and build these little doors between their sites.

"I believe flip-flops will rule the day in VR."

Google, of course, killed this completely. Google is like having an Learjet at your front door instead of a pair of flip-flops. You fly to specific destinations using Google search, you don't wander between things anymore.

I believe flip-flops will rule the day in VR.

We will wander. ( Google will no longer be a Learjet, Google is rapidly evolving into a companion. )

"The modern web has no horizon."
One of the greatest gifts of VR will be in the value of the space it creates around things.

The discovery of valued things you were NOT searching for is something VR will provide us.

The modern web has no horizon. We are in the forest with our face pressed up against a tree so hard it hurts. We go from site to site with a complete lack of situational awareness. Here's a few things you rarely know, ever know while travelling the modern web:

Some of the most successful sites on the internet are the ones that even begin to provide answers to these questions. We are social animals that spend most of our time looking fixedly in the direction of other members of our troop.

You might argue that the modern internet has done far more to isolate us than to bring us together and you might even win that argument.

We spend vast amounts of time on the internet, we live there for part of our day and that portion is only getting bigger and more intertwined with time. Right now, we scrawl notes to each other in 2D space, sometimes in real time, often not. We share video and express ourselves in monologues. It is pitiful substitute for real contact (and yet worlds better than no contact - don't get me wrong.)

"Persistence, Paths, Proximity, and People."

We will explain how things are now on the net to the generations to come, how it used to be in our 2D world, and they won't understand. It will be as big a shift as trying to explain to a 10 year old today, what it was like before the internet. They simply won't get it and we will soon forget ourselves.

I believe there will be four P's that will be be cornerstones of VR over the next decade and define the value of this technology.

Persistence, Paths, Proximity, and People.

Humans place value on persistence, we've rather come to expect it of the universe we live in. While we claim to be explorers, we are mostly creatures that of habit that live and die in our own small corners of the world. We have our home, our work and then about a dozen places that we regularly visit. Most of our time is spent in these places or making our way between them. We could choose to visit a different restaurant each weekend, or drive a different route to work each day, but we generally don't. The genetic alarms that warn us of the danger of predation, accident and lousy food service makes us want to revisit places we have been before. Places we know to be safe. On a more fundamental level, humans gravitate towards persistence because it gives our worlds order, consistency. If I place my keys in a bowl by the door, I expect they will be there when I come back for them. I'm disappointed if they aren't where I expect them to be when I return; and I'll be extremely disappointed if my entire house disappears overnight or changes color while I'm sleeping. Humans will place value on a consistent, virtual world, when we find places that we like, we will want to be able to return to them. VR environments and services that provide persistence to us will be valued and provide comfort to our brains. A little at first and then, later, I firmly believe some virtual properties will far outstrip the value of many real world locations. We will grow very attached to these places that are not yet built, they will mean a lot to us and we will form strong associations between virtual spaces and real emotion / memories.

"Our brains seem to actually experience a form of agony when the perceived VR world breaks."

Let's take a moment to talk about a funny quirk of the Oculus Rift and presence. The goal of VR is to trick our senses into believing what we are seeing and hearing has as much importance as what we perceive in the real world. During a VR session, if you suddenly turn off head tracking while immersed in presence, the illusion is shattered and the resulting feeling has been described by some as "jarring mental pain". Our brains seem to actually experience a form of agony when the perceived VR world breaks. Our brain feels revulsion to this kind of disturbance, we really don't like it. This means that the favored VR experience will be one that provides a seamless, continuous world. Yes, you could push a button and be transported to a new area instantly but I believe we will prefer to travel between places as we do in the real world. Doorways instead of hyperlinks. Very clever doors I expect. This means we are likely going to be driven towards building seamless, coherence world experiences.

"The concept of social media will melt away and simply be replaced by undoctored social interaction and the world will utter a collective sigh of relief."

This then brings me to paths. If travel is part of VR (and I believe it will be an essential part), then the real action will likely be on the street and along the paths you take to go places. Advertising will live here and it will be a spectacle beyond all imagining. You will be able to look into the distance and see where people are going, where the crowds have gathered and what's "hot" today. The concept of social media will melt away and simply be replaced by undoctored social interaction and the world will utter a collective sigh of relief.

Proximity. Accepting a model of a persistent world means that then you also agree to place limits on your landscape. Two places cannot occupy the same space at the same time. So when we start to build this world, it will be necessary to start building things in relation to each other. Some areas will have more value than others, some property will be immensely valuable.

You can be sure that any organization that looks to place limits on the world in VR is looking to generate money. It will be a simple equation.

Proximity means that I can overhear music.
Proximity means that I can overhear a conversation.
Proximity means that there will be areas that I know of where I can immerse myself in people that I find interesting and share a space and time with them.

People are the real resource in VR and the driving force behind why we will return to it and need it. We will no longer be restricted to our homes, neighborhoods, cities and countries. Just as the telephone allows you the option of calling anyone, VR will give you a tool to get a chance to meet them. I think the simplest description is this:

VR will give people the chance to meet, who would never have had the opportunity otherwise.

I don't think I can think of a greater mechanism for changing the world than this. The implications are profound.

I look forward to what is to come.

- by Robert McGregor, February 2014