Facebook recently announced that it’s testing ads within Oculus Quest apps, starting with the paid title Blaston from Resolution Games. Clearly, Blaston was a stupid place to start. A flood of negative reviews and social media backlash led Resolution Games to pull Blaston from the Oculus ads test, and the company is currently mulling over an alternative.
Introducing advertisements to a game that people have already paid for is wildly inappropriate. Not only does it go against common practices in the software industry, but it shows a disregard for customers who purchased the game when it was ad-free.
If a developer brought ads to their paid mobile or console game months after release, it would result in backlash. The fact that Facebook and Resolution Games thought that such a move would fly with a paid VR game is bizarre. After all, advertising is already a sore spot for Oculus Quest users who feel that the platform is becoming Facebook-ified.
So, what happens next? In a conversation with The Verge, Resolution Games CEO Tommy Palm noted that “some good points have been made, and we realize that Blaston isn’t the best fit for this type of advertising test.” As a result, the ads test may move to Resolution Games’ Bait!, a free title.
Testing ads in Bait! will likely lead to more backlash, as Oculus Quest users are still upset about the Blaston debacle (and VR ads in general). Still, Palm points out that ads in VR might be “inevitable,” as it was “on other platforms.”
It’s true; ads became a staple of the software industry long before the first Oculus headset hit the market. Advertising in Oculus Quest apps could make VR more accessible to young people who are accustomed to free mobile apps. It could also help developers generate revenue without charging users for their software.
But with Facebook at the helm, Oculus Quest users have a reason to be skeptical. Facebook promises that it won’t use the Quest to sell movement data, body weight, and other personal info to advertisers, but the company could change or ignore these policies at any time (Facebook secretly collected health data in 2019). And as companies like Google and Apple show a new interest in user privacy, Facebook is taking an aggressive stance against such developments, to the point that it may release a smart watch to circumvent new privacy tools on Android and iOS.
If ads in VR are inevitable, then it’s going to be a bumpy ride.