ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, is laying the foundation for a future in VR.
According to a report from Protocol, ByteDance is hiring a lot of talent in the area. More specifically, they have posted over 40 openings for Pico, a VR headset-maker ByteDance acquired in 2021. The openings range from game production to software engineers, which indicates they have ongoing projects and plans to enhance the technology further.
It’s notable that despite Pico being a Chinese company, these openings are for the company’s branches in the US situated in California and Washington. It seems like ByteDance and Pico are looking to establish a presence in the US and perhaps become a major player in the VR market.
Even though the technology has developed significantly in the span of a few years, the VR market is still in its infancy. VR headsets have made some waves in the gaming market, but thus far, more of a novelty than a long-lasting addition to keeping players invested.
Until recently, VR headsets were expensive, clunky, and didn’t offer many uses outside of the occasional ‘novelty.’ However, these headsets have since become lighter, wireless, and more accessible.
Meta, the owner of Facebook, acquired Oculus years ago to secure their own VR headset – and we can assume by Mark Zuckerberg’s “metaverse” concept that VR will play a major role in this idea, though the extent of such a role is still unclear.
And while Microsoft’s investment in VR seems limited at the moment, Sony already has its own headset to pair with the Playstation console. The “PSVR” for the PS4 was a success because of a much cheaper price tag when compared to the competition at the time. The headset itself is one of the weakest in terms of hardware and performance, but it was enough to introduce many to the possibilities of VR.
Sony has since announced that a “PSVR2” is coming for the PS5, which is much lighter, with new controllers, and improved performance and quality across the board.
While Microsoft has a few investments in the VR market, none of these are linked to their gaming console, the Xbox. Phil Spencer, CEO of Microsoft Gaming, said that despite Sony’s success with VR, Xbox isn’t interested in VR at the moment.
So where does ByteDance get a piece of this pie?
The report seems to indicate that Pico will be using their VR headset for gaming, which is no surprise given how ByteDance’s recent push into mobile gaming has been highly lucrative.
But it’s fairly obvious that ByteDance has more plans beyond the gaming market. Zuckerberg’s concept of a metaverse is still too ambiguous to be taken seriously, but seeing as TikTok is setting itself as Facebook’s main competitor, they’re likely preparing for their own version of the idea – whether they want to be an alternative or to jump ahead remains to be seen.
And this is far from just speculation: ByteDance has already released their first metaverse social app called Party Island. At the time of writing the app is only available in China and requires invitations to be accessed.
The idea is that the app creates a parallel universe, for the lack of a better term, where you can meet your friends in real-time through their in-app avatars. It’s not hard to imagine how VR would fit into this concept neatly, though for now, VR is not a part of this app. Party Island is in a testing phase which could determine if ByteDance will continue along this metaverse path.
If they do, they now should have VR technology to inject into their business, which would allow them to rival Meta’s similar investment – or perhaps even jump ahead of them.