18th June 2021
Facebook has announced that it is testing in-headset ads for its Oculus Quest VR system, starting with the multiplayer game Blaston.
The latest move follows the introduction of ads in the Oculus mobile app last month – the mechanism used to find and manage purchases for the Oculus Quest. Whilst mobile ads are not unusual, placing ads into the virtual reality environment is newer ground.
The company will initially test the ads with Blaston from Revolution Games, along with two other unspecified games. Developers will get a share of revenue from ads in their apps, although the percentage has not been shared publicly. The aim is to create a self-sustaining platform for VR development that can support a variety of business models and unlock new types of content and audiences.
The first ads are appearing as standard boxes inside game interfaces, but Facebook is exploring other options too. In a blog post the company stated: “We’re currently investing in unobtrusive ads as a new way for developers to build businesses — and though we’re not quite ready to test them yet, we’re also exploring new ad formats that are unique to VR”.
Facebook said that it does not currently intend to use any of the sensitive VR data stored locally on users’ headsets such as images from Oculus headset cameras, weight or height information from Oculus Move fitness tracking. Nor will the company use movement data or voice assistant recordings to target ads. Instead, the ads will use information from your Facebook profile as well as whether you have viewed content, installed, activated or subscribed to an Oculus app, if you’ve added to cart or purchased an app on the Oculus platform or if you have interacted on an ad within a third-party app. This path is similar to the app install based advertising that underpins most App stores.
Ads in Oculus follow Facebook’s existing advertising principles and allow Oculus users to set ad preferences in its controls and block certain ads or advertisers.
Facebook Reality Labs VP, Andrew Bosworth, explained that the move is to allow developers to "generate revenue and help people find great experiences at better prices". He also confirmed that that there will be controls to allow users to hide specific advertisers and the inclusion of ads will be entirely optional for developers.
Facebook will use feedback from developers and the community to inform its future advertising plans for Oculus. Perhaps unsurprisingly there has been some widespread criticism from the virtual reality community who have concerns that the ads will detract from the escapism of VR and also that Blaston is a paid for game, so is being updated to include ads after the fact.
The introduction of ad support in Oculus is no real surprise given Facebook owns the platform and it could be a significant move. Facebook would argue a profitable ecosystem is critical to make consumer VR mainstream, allowing brands to connect with audiences in new ways, as long as the ad experience is relevant and gamer friendly. Gaming doesn’t have the greatest of histories with advertising as it has struggled to be a contextually relevant part of the game and jars the user out of their experience if it is not…and in a VR environment this is arguably even more important.