Researching Oculus Rift with Kids: What they Really Think of Virtual Reality

Peter Robinson

Whenever we have guests in the studio they have to play with our Oculus Rift headset. While it’s fun to see grown-ups go a bit silly what we really want to know is what kids think of virtual reality. So along with our friends at KZero we conducted six research groups with 12 children aged between seven and 12 years-of-age. We gave them the opportunity to play with the headset, which was a first for all of them, and then we found out what they thought about. We got insight into it’s usability, where kids could see it being used and even how much they thought it would cost!

The good news is that kids loved it! They loved it so much they think it would be great in schools and expected it to cost more than £400.

A hit with Kids
The overarching message from our sessions is that children love using Oculus Rift and felt immersed in the games in ways they’ve never felt before! Comments along the lines of it being the best way to play games were common. Oculus VR may not see children as their core market but there’s no doubting the device’s potential popularity with kids. We were glad to see that none of the children in our groups felt dizzy or ill after using the headset; the only usability issues occurred when the children had to move their heads to look down and found the headset heavy. A couple of the younger children also reported fitting issues with the head-straps. With lighter headsets on the way (we used the first development kit version) we don’t see Oculus Rift causing many usability issues for young wearers.

Get to School

Since Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR there has been much discussion around the technology’s application outside of gaming. This was also echoed by the children who said they thought virtual reality would be great in their schools. They thought it would make lessons more interesting and allow them to take ‘virtual field tips’. But they wanted to do more than just visit new places; they wanted to go back in time and interact with people, like the Captain of the Titanic or people living in Tudor England and get their views on history. They were more interested about exploring history than changing it through gaming. We also found that children placed great emphasis on exploration – a trait they wanted to see in all games, not just educational experiences.

Bearing in mind the age of the children we didn’t find it surprising to hear them suggest that Minecraft would be great on Oculus Rift: ”It’s striking how much of an impact Minecraft has had on children’s gaming expectations. While most of the children wanted to see Oculus Rift used in first-person-shooter games like Call of Duty – yes, even the young ones – it was games that allowed them to explore, like Skyrim, or create their own content, Minecraft, that came up time and time again as being great fits for virtual reality. We didn’t have the heart to tell them that Notch had refused to bring his game to the system due to the Facebook acquisition – maybe now he’ll reconsider.

In Control
During our tests the children controlled the games using either head movements, an Xbox control pad or keyboard and mouse. Xbox pads were the most familiar to the children and the preferred control method, unless the games were meant to be passive, like the rollercoaster simulator, in these cases they were happy to have no control. In most cases the children wanted even greater immersion and suggested peripherals such as steering wheels and swords would make the experience feel even more realistic. Kinect was suggested so the game could track the player’s movements. The consensus was that an innovative device like the Oculus Rift needed an innovative method of control.

Deep Pockets

While we understand that it won’t be children buying this technology with their pocket money it’s still interesting to see how much they think it will cost. It can also help us understand whether they see it as better or worse than current technology. While there was quite a swing between estimates the average price suggested by the children was £430, quite a lot higher than we expected. To gauge their ability to estimate such costs we asked them to guess the price of existing technology like games consoles, mobile devices and TVs. In all cases, except for the TV, their average estimates were within £50 of the correct price, showing they have a good idea of tech costs.

These focus groups are the first in a number of internal research projects being carried on virtual reality out by our team and we’ve already built our first virtual world for Oculus Rift, Fairy Forest. Over the next six months we will publish further work, this time with the University of Sheffield, that looks to provide understanding of how children engage with entertainment across devices and platforms.

We’re also going to hold a Google Hangout to discuss the findings. To sign-up or to receive a copy of the presentation applicants please fill in this form

In the meantime, here is our report on the groups.

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