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Facebook may lure teen users back with virtual reality promise

Sharon Gaudin | March 27, 2014
With its acquisition of virtual reality gaming company Oculus VR , Facebook may have found a way to lure back younger users to the social network.

Losing younger users also is a problem for Facebook because once users starts with a social network, making connections with family, friends and colleagues, they tend to stick with it. If Facebook isn't pulling in teenagers, it's losing out on decades of what could be a solid user base.

So how do you get those teenagers to want to use a social network where they're going to get comments and golfing photos posted to their newsfeed from their parents and grandparents?

You have to give them something to counteract that loss of cool factor.

Virtual reality games may just be that cool.

That appears to be one factor that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's co-founder and CEO is pushing for.

"Mobile is the platform of today, and now we're also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow," said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's co-founder and CEO, during a Tuesday night conference call about the Oculus acquisition. "Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Reserch, said if virtual reality technology hits and grabs peoples' attention, Facebook may be ahead of the game.

"The whole point of virtual reality is total immersion," Gottheil said. "If you are involved with something that floods all your senses, you are more likely to keep coming back than if it's just a stream of text and pictures in one of many windows on your screen. I think the goal is to go beyond Farmville."

He added that even if only a minority of Facebook's users get hooked on virtual reality games, it could be a huge boost to a social network trying to keep more eyeballs on its site for more hours.

It will be a bigger win for Facebook if those new users are teenagers or 20-somethings.

"Oculus has been going after game developers, and we know that their target audience is the young male who plays hard-core games," said Brian Blau, an analyst with Gartner. "That demographic is actually in the 18- to 35-year-old range, but I would consider some teens in that category too.

Blau noted that Facebook executives must be looking way out into the future with this strategy since virtual reality has failed, so far, to catch on.

"Virtual reality has great promise, but building great immersive experiences is really difficult," he said. "People have been saying there's great possibilities for virtual reality for decades and yet we still don't have those products that translate that excitement into real products and technology."


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