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John Carmack 'Embarrassed' On Facebook Social VR COVID Plan

Facebook Reality Labs Consulting CTO John Carmack says he’s “kind of embarrassed” about Facebook’s social VR offerings on Oculus headsets over the course of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In his talk at Facebook Connect today, Carmack touched on the problems Facebook had experienced keeping the Oculus Quest headset in stock this year, even before the pandemic began. But, going a step further, he also expressed disappointment at the company’s lack of social apps that could have helped friends and family meet in VR while they couldn’t see each other in real life.

“But, worse, all of our social experiences were basically killed or deprecated,” Carmack began. “We had Rooms, Spaces, co-watching and all those are gone. Venues has been in maintenance mode for this entire time. So we made this huge bet on Horizon and we’ve had all these people working on it and you’re seeing some of the fruits of that finally with the Venues 2.0 now but, basically we weren’t ready.”

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As Carmack alluded too, Facebook’s previous social VR efforts like Oculus Rooms, which let users meet up to watch TV and play board games or Spaces, an app that saw Facebook friends meet up to hang out, have now gone away. Facebook Horizon was revealed at last year’s Oculus Connect with a promise of a spring 2020 beta, but is only now just rolling out to a limited number of users.

“We had all this effort going into it,” Carmack continued, “we had let the previous products more or less rot or go away, and I made a pitch that, “Well, can’t we just resurrect Rooms for this time?” Rooms for the pandemic, here.”

But, according to Carmack, Facebook wasn’t interested in the idea while it was working on new social VR offerings.

“We could have run it but nobody wanted to basically stop the scheduled things and everything that was already planned for this time to go work on something like that so frankly I’m kind of embarrassed about our social story here,” he said (really). “But thankfully the slack’s been picked up by a lot of third parties and I frankly envy the learnings that they’re getting out of all this where we see the numbers and we see lots of time spent in these.”

He concluded, adding that he expects Facebook to start making those learnings on its own now that people were coming into Horizons. All-in-all it’s a typically frank comment from the former full-time Oculus CTO, who last year went part-time to work on AI too.

With today’s announcement of the Oculus Quest 2, we’ll no doubt see Facebook pushing its social VR apps like Horizon and the rebooted Venues much more heavily.

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