Project Morpheus: How Does Sony Plan to Succeed?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Over the past couple years, Oculus Rift was the name people brought up in conversations about virtual reality. While many virtual devices had existed in the past, they stayed on the fringe. The Oculus Rift appeared as though it might be making an attempt to bring the platform to the mainstream. When Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) purchased the start-up, it upset many who had funded its campaign, but it did present some hope that the system could reach greater prominence with that backing of a company as big as Facebook. However, when Sony (NYSE:SNE) announced Project Morpheus soon after, prospects looked even better for gamers looking forward to a future of VR.

While Oculus Rift was being developed independently and targeted at PC gaming, Project Morpheus was being developed by one of the biggest names in video game hardware. If that alone weren’t enough, the VR device would have the benefit of being on a non-fragmented platform — as Shu Yoshida, Sony Entertainment’s President of Worldwide Studios, told VentureBeat in an exclusive interview, “Every single consumer has the exact same hardware. Millions of people are buying PS4s. We can introduce this to PS4 users as a very consumer friendly proposition.”

In contrast, the Oculus Rift would be a bit tricky for users to set up on their computers, as each would have different specs, components, and quirks getting things to run as intended. The Oculus Rift does at least appear to be ahead of the game in terms of release plans, as a developer kit is expected out in July and consumers models coming early next year. But even if Project Morpheus has a better shot at making VR a mainstream platform, it might not amount to much if it doesn’t have what consumers want — and that may be the very danger it faces.

Sony is focused on making a great VR platform that is easy use. Dr. Richard Marks of Sony’s Research and Development for Project Morpheus said in a presentation at the Game Developers Conference this year that, “You’re gonna have ot be able to drive to the store, buy one of these, come home, plug it in, turn it on, and it just works. That’s how you get mass adoption.” The aim clearly is for the mass market, and not a small selection of the gaming audience. However, Sony doesn’t sound like its focusing on content in the same way consoles typically have focused on content.

In his interview with VentureBeat, Yoshida noted that Project Morpheus was aiming more at indie developers than at the big, triple-A game developers like Ubisoft (UBSFY.PK) or Activision (NASDAQ:ATVI). Yoshida said, “I don’t think the big brands and successful games transfer well to VR, unless you really spend time working on creating the VR experience,” adding that “to create a great VR experience, it’s the same whether you start with a big brand or not … I am really worried about whether we’re going to get great experiences, wherever they can come from.” This suggests that Sony will be going after mostly indie developers, which could alienate some mainstream gamers.

However, Anton Mikhailov, also of the Research and Development department, said that at the GDC that “presence is going to be the killer app.” Rather than focusing on big title games to win over customers, the VR itself could do the job. And it may just be easier to get a lot of indie developers on board than getting the big studios to invest large sums into games that might not succeed because of the new platform. So, Project Morpheus may just succeed on the merits of VR alone, not by having the most desired titles.

Fortunately for Sony, the presence of Oculus Rift may actually benefit Project Morpheus more than it damages it through competition. Facebook’s Oculus Rift will only serve to bring more attention the VR platform, while the availability of multiple platforms will make lighten the risks for game developers, thus encouraging them and serving both Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus, as Yoshida put it in his interview with VentureBeat.

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