Oculus Quest gets another virtual hangout space in Alcove this week, this time with a decidedly more relaxed vibe.
Alcove gives users a virtual home with some light customization elements, a handful of activities and a calmer atmosphere. You can invite friends over, appearing as their as Oculus avatars to play checkers, go on virtual tours with 360-degree media, and upload their own images and videos to share on virtual screens and frames.
It’s all entirely pleasant and well-kept, and Alcove does have some interesting ideas. It aims for a different audience than the more tech-savvy VR user currently meeting up in VRChat. Its trailers and screenshots depict elderly people using the space alongside family members, and there’s the appreciated addition of hand-tracking support to avoid the clutter of controllers. In fact, with a follow/lead system, you can take other users on a tour without them having to even touch their controllers, eliminating those barriers further.
But few of its experiences are hugely compelling or polished, and I struggle to see families choosing this space to meet up in even during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, when other choices on Quest include engaging activities like playing table tennis or hanging out in user-made Rec Room environments.
The Health Room, for example, is supposed to offer a range of different activities for wellbeing. But most of them actually just summon a bunch of third-party meditation videos or, weirdly, workout videos that we wouldn’t recommend trying with a headset on. Imagine a family space that, instead of teleporting you into a 360 video to relax together, delivered a genuinely convincing VR environment to sit in and marvel at. That’s what’s missing here.
Maybe Alcove could have a healthy life once VR headsets are cheaper and more accessible, but right now this seems like too little, too early. I’d like to see Alcove double down on some of its better elements, like expanding the number of multiplayer games (there are only two that support more than one player right now), or delivering more unique content in VR itself rather than relying on outside sources never intended for the platform. Until then, I can’t really see many Quest owners in 2020 picking this social VR space over the likes of Rec Room.