SAN JOSE, California — Facebook announced a new social virtual reality app for its Oculus Rift headset today at F8, the company's annual conference for software developers. It's called Facebook Spaces, and you can download the beta version from the Oculus Store now.
In her keynote address, Rachel Rubin Franklin, Facebook's head of social VR, said that Spaces signaled "the very beginnings of social VR." People on Twitter said it looked a lot like Second Life and The Sims. Perhaps not coincidentally, Franklin previously worked as vice president at Electronic Arts managing the Sims game.
Oculus Rift already supports the social game Altspace VR, made by an independent game publisher of the same name, where people can gather in virtual rooms via human or robot avatars and host events, play games, make art, watch 2D videos, or socialize.
Here's how Spaces works:
First, you connect your Facebook account to Spaces in the "Devices Requests" tab of the Facebook mobile app. Then you strap on your Rift headset and navigate to the Spaces app, which will appear in your library. You'll need the Rift Touch controllers, which retail at $100 a pair, to use Facebook Spaces.
To create your virtual self, you choose from several versions of an avatar whose features are drawn from scans of your Facebook photos. You can customize some features, like hair, eye color, and glasses. The majority of the avatars seem to have large foreheads.
You can invite up to three friends to your space.
If they accept, you'll find yourselves sitting around a virtual table. They'll see your virtual avatar and the backdrop behind it. (You can choose from default backgrounds or use your own 360 pictures.) Your avatar can also video call friends via Messenger, which you can pull up as a flat menu in the virtual space. The video will appear as a 2D screen that you'll be able to grab and move around. If they're not in Facebook Spaces when you call, you'll see their IRL face and surroundings, and they'll see your avatar and your virtual setting.
If you get tired of your friends, Facebook has included the ability to mute them or wholesale remove them from your virtual space. Gurl, bye.
Here's a friend appearing!
To entertain yourselves, you can draw in 3D and take selfies.
Here's my virtual selfie with Christian, who works at Facebook.
I was really into the 3D marker. He was unamused.
And here's BuzzFeed video producer Allyson Laquian's selfie, where she has a piece of pizza in her head.
The background is a 360 video of the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
360 videos can totally change your environment.
To play a 360 video, you open a menu of options using the virtual control interface, and you select from content Facebook publishers have made or that you've recorded. When you grab a video from that menu, it'll appear as a small orb in your virtual hand. To play it you can either put it in your avatar's mouth or in the center of the communal table.
The videos will play all around you, turning your virtual environment into the video. You'll also be able to view two-dimensional videos and pictures from Facebook publishers and your own timeline within Spaces as movable flat screens.
Facebook said in a statement that it's hoping to bring the app to more platforms in the future but didn't specify which ones.