Insight: Shuhei Yoshida
With Facebook’s purchase of Oculus thrusting virtual reality into the spotlight, the Sony Studios chief sees the future through a VR headset
Virtual reality is no longer a sci-fi dream. It’s something that our children, parents and even grandparents can embrace, as it removes our physical limitations and allows us to go anywhere, any when. It’s exciting, visceral and goes far above and beyond the gaming population.
I’ve always liked travelling and have great memories from all over the world, from going up the Swiss mountains by train to the California Adventure ride in LA. I often wish I could relive these experiences every day.
Similarly, my home town is six hours away from where I now live in Japan. I often wish I could visit the place, and the people there, without having to leave my living room. This is where Project Morpheus comes in.
My company’s step into virtual reality has been a passion-led, grass-roots project that’s been going on for the past four years. There was no Sony showroom, no prescribed direction – in fact, the prototypes were put together by engineers at nights and weekends while programming a God of War game.
Yet we don’t believe that VR is ready for consumers this year. Everything you learn making game worlds you have to re-learn for VR, and developers need to spend time
making this new medium truly great. We had many difficulties working with 3D and it was disappointing to see some TV sets preventing people’s experiences being as good as they could be. Sure, watching Avatar was fantastic, but other films were not so good. We don’t want to see that again.
VR also needs to become more socially acceptable, too, which means working on the platform’s failures. People can get sick when in virtual reality, after all, and making it comfortable is actually very tough. Tech enthusiasts like us can look past it, as we’re just excited about the experiences on offer, but when you talk about a wider market, the design has to take good care of people.
To increase inclusivity further, we’ve introduced the Social Screen, which is the headset’s output displayed, undistorted, in real time on a TV. This could allow other players to use a controller or even their tablet to interact in what Nintendo calls “asymmetric gameplay”. This way the whole family can play together.
If I was Oculus, I would be happy to see Sony coming into the VR space. The PS4 is like a PC in terms of architecture – it can take just weeks to port a game over – and the mathematics with VR should be the same. So if you’re a developer, thinking about where to spend your money, you know now that this is a much safer area in which to invest.
As ever, I’m also really excited about what the indie community will come up with using this new tech. You need a 200-person team to compete sometimes in game development, but in such a fledgling sector, three people could make something world-changing.
Of course, we have to focus on today’s business, making games and earning money with our current hardware in the here and now. But the great thing is that their success allows us to devote some of the resource to passionate people wanting to try new things.
In the near future, what started as something small, an exchange of ideas and technology, could fulfil a personal wish, and hopefully those of many others, too. Never mind visiting my home town; I’ve never been to Mars. What if I could go for a walk there, too? Well, we’re already working on that… Shuhei is President of Sony Worldwide Studios and on Twitter as @yosp