September 27, 2019 By Edward Brown
Facebook is creating an immersive environment called Horizon to tempt people into spending more time in virtual reality.
The VR app will be a mix of social places where users can mingle and chat, and other areas where they can play games against each other.
People will inhabit and explore the virtual spaces via a cartoon avatar.
The app will be made available and tested in early 2020, by a small group of Facebook users.
Details about Horizon and early footage of the virtual space were shown off at Facebook’s Oculus Connect 6 developer conference this week.
Facebook said anyone using Horizon would be able to call on human “guides” to help them navigate and become more familiar with the virtual environment.
The guides will not be “moderators” who will police behaviour, said Facebook. It added that it would include tools that let people manage how they interact with other users.
It will also have options that let people shape and build their own part of the environment. They will also be able to design their own avatars.
The entire space has been given a cartoon-like feel as it is intended to be used on Facebook’s Oculus Quest headset, which does not have the high resolution graphics of PC-linked headsets.
Sam Machkovech, a reporter for Ars Technica, who has tried Horizon, said Facebook had put “a ton of work” into the version he saw, to make it as welcoming as possible.
But he noted that Horizon was “yet another” combination of apps, chat and avatars which Facebook had produced in just a few years. He suggested that it was still searching for a good combination that proved properly tempting to users.
“We’re still waiting for Facebook to inspire confidence that it will launch a social-VR app and stick with it for more than two years,” he wrote.
Anyone interested in joining Horizon can sign up to be an early tester.
The creation of Horizon means Facebook will shut down its current VR hang-outs – Facebook Spaces and Oculus Rooms. Both will close on 25 October.
Facebook’s expansion of VR comes as Samsung cuts some support for the tech.
Samsung said it was dropping support for its Gear VR technology in its Galaxy Note 10 smartphones. Neither the Note 10 nor the Note 10 Plus will be compatible with the Gear VR system.
Samsung’s phone-based VR uses a headset into which a smartphone slots, to produce the immersive experience. Industry experts suggest that interest in phone-based VR systems such as Gear VR will decline as standalone devices, like the Oculus Quest, become more widely available.
In a statement given to tech news site the Verge, Samsung said it was “committed to innovating” in both VR and augmented reality systems. It said it would continue to maintain the software for Gear VR.