Adario Strange_October 14, 2020, 5:39 PM ET
A few years ago, when Mark Zuckerberg claimed he wanted to put a billion people in VR, I remember some of the snickers from the tech media, mostly from those still uninitiated into the ranks of VR believers. Now, in 2020, in a new world in which becoming virtual has become a necessity rather than a hobby, it appears that Zuckerberg’s billion-person VR dream may be coming true. The latest evidence of this comes in Facebook’s Oculus approach to Japan for the Oculus Quest 2 launch.
I’ve lived and worked in Japan for many years, so I can tell you that, usually, the only time you really see an expensive, polished American commercial marketing a tech product, it’s probably something about the Apple iPhone. But this month, a new Oculus commercial has emerged that rivals many Hollywood movie trailers.
Featuring nearly all Japanese actors, the video opens on a Japanese grandmother in a boxing ring (a visual metaphor for using the Oculus Quest 2). Granny lifts a foreign boxer off his feet with one punch, and then we’re quickly transported to space, where a Quest user is spacewalking above the planet Earth.
Next, a user hikes up a mountain, after which we’re transitioned into a military firefight, then an ancient gladiator battle, and finally a Jurassic Park style scene where a Japanese woman is running for her life from a very well rendered Tyrannosaurus.
This isn’t a short spot showing a quick and cheap product shot as an afterthought for potential Japanese users. No, this commercial could easily be shown during the Super Bowl in the U.S. to tout the merits of the Quest. That means Facebook is ‘very’ serious about its billion-user ambitions, and a significant portion of that effort will be waged in Japan, where many of the biggest trends in Asia often emerge first.
This all might seem like an obvious move: Get Japan on board as part of your Asia strategy to inch toward that billion number. But in Facebook’s case, from my vantage point, Japan hasn’t been a priority for Oculus until now.
If you look at some of the top-tier partner launch titles for the (now unsupported) Oculus Rift, Facebook’s first foray into VR, I was often struck by the fact that language region support often omitted Japan. Similarly, whenever I’d visit Japanese VR cafes in Tokyo, I’d find HTC Vive’s and other devices in use, but Oculus devices were nowhere to be found.
Exactly a year ago this week, I decided to tackle a personally unresolved mystery about Japan and VR. Namely, in a country riddled with VR cafes and game centers that are often sold out of tickets, was the VR bug leading to actual individual sales of hardware. And did that hardware include the Oculus Rift?
Well, I wasn’t surprised to find that not only was the Oculus Rift not available in leading Japanese electronics retailers like Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera, but it also turned out that I couldn’t find any HTC Vive devices either, even though Vive’s headquarters are in nearby Taiwan. Predictably, the only fully immersive VR headset that I found was the Sony PSVR. The home team was winning again…for some reason.
I remember experiencing the same thing when, back in 2007, during the launch of the first iPhone, we had to wait about two years to get the iPhone (by then, the iPhone 3GS) in Japan in 2009 via Softbank (itself still an outlier mobile carrier for many Japanese users at the time).
This recent repeat of “the Japan delay” was particularly troubling with regard to VR because Japan has an incredibly enthusiastic VR user base that spans all age and gender demographics. Japan loves VR. But the biggest VR player on the planet was somehow missing in the country, leaving many serious VR fans to either settle for poor mobile smartphone-based experiences or dive into the PSVR, which still seems more like a toy to many hardcore VR users.
But that’s all over now. The Quest 2 has officially established a beachhead in Japan and, based on early chatter on Twitter, Japanese users are very happy.
I’ll be on the lookout to see if other countries get the Oculus Japan treatment. If that happens, it will be yet another signal of just how seriously Facebook is taking its transformation from a 2D social media company into an immersive proxy for the real world in VR and, soon, augmented reality.
Cover image via Oculus Japan/Youtube