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

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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

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