You kept returning to the word ‘presence’ during the Project Morpheus reveal event – why are you selling that term so hard?
Even when you show [Morpheus] to developers, they ask, “OK, what’s the killer app?” And it’s a very difficult question, kind of like asking “What’s the killer app for TV?” or “What’s the killer app for consoles?” I think the reason we focus on presence is that it’s a running theme throughout the demos and the content [that] we believe is going to be very good in VR. What the killer app is going to be is transporting you to another environment. And that environment might be passive, it might be like a Zen garden where you just sit and meditate, or it might be barrel rolling a spaceship, which would be super-intense and a completely different experience. But in each case, it’s important that you feel like you’re actually in that environment. That’s the difference between VR and games – what is it that’s going to make people put on a VR headset and get the hardware? It’s going to be presence, because that’s unique to VR. You can get an immersive experience from games, movies and books, but you can’t get presence from those media and it’s only really possible from VR.
Is there a danger of the effects of wearing the headset being too intense? What can you do about that?
It’s difficult to say, because most people are new to it. It’s like if you take someone who’s never played videogames and put them in front of Skyrim, then how long do you think they’ll last? It takes a long time and a kind of gaming acclimatisation – in the same way we’re looking at VR and saying, “Phew, that was really intense.” But who knows? Five years down the line, people might be just used to it – you wake up and you’re into VR and go to work. I’m not a futurologist. I don’t like to sow those kind of predictions, but I do know that humans have a funny way of acclimatising to technology. So that makes it very hard to predict what’s going to stick and what’s not. I think it’s too early to tell.
What kind of a response have you had from other developers so far?
All the third-parties we’ve demoed to have been really excited, and it’s something that, when you talk to engineers, it’s all they want to do. When business people get involved, it’s a question of what’s the return, installed base, so on and so forth.
Yes, while there is some risk in developing for new technology, there’s also a huge opportunity, because like Michael Abrash has said in his Valve talks, whoever makes the first huge app for VR is going to hit it really big. I think the excitement of being the pioneer in the field is going to draw a lot of people in. Maybe [fewer] of the bigger publishers, at least at first, but I think the indies will be excited. And we’ve been very indie-friendly at PlayStation lately. It’s not by accident. There are many different ways to approach this, so of course there’s the firstparty studios – you’ve seen the content from London Studio, and all of the firstparty studios have dev kits. There are definitely internal developments going on.
What conversations have you had with Oculus and Valve?
We think that they’re all doing fantastic work and we’re all in this space to basically bring VR to reality – we’ve been promised VR for so long that it’s kind of overdue. I think we’re all on the same page and working towards the same goal. I don’t have any partnerships to announce at this time, [but] we’re all on very friendly terms.
You’ve suggested that Move was designed as a VR controller from the beginning – what’s the story there?
Effectively Move is a VR wand in disguise as a motion controller. So we specced it and built it to be a VR controller, even though VR wasn’t a commodity. As engineers, we just said it was the right thing to do. If you look online, a lot of universities use it as a VR device using move.me for PS3 – an application for scientists who use the Move tracking hardware. At the time, we didn’t have a consumer-grade project that we could work on, but it was definitely designed with that vision in mind.
What can you tell us about Morpheus’s eventual price and release date?
We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t know that we could make this for an affordable price. Obviously, there’s a wide range of what people consider affordable, but this is going to be a consumer-grade device. The reason we’re announcing this now is because before we couldn’t see a path to product and now we can see some way to accomplish a product that’s valuable for the console market.
How does the Morpheus tech compare to the HMZ headsets Sony produces today?
The difference between this and the HMZ line is that our focus has always been on gaming. So our display design is different from the personal viewer display the HMZ has. Their goal is to simulate a theatre experience in your living room – to make a large screen or large TV experience that might not fit in your apartment. Their focus is less immersive and more replicating that theatre experience. VR for games has a different purpose compared to VR for TV and movies, so they’re different product lines, although they both sit on your head and have displays in them.