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Sony plans to court indies with its Project Morpheus VR headset

Sony is more interested in courting indies than mainstream game developers for its virtual reality headset Project Morpheus, said Shuhei Yoshida, head of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios.

"Actually I am very excited to work with indie developers because we've been communicating with third party publishers, and the typical conversations go, you know the developers in the third party publishers, they are really excited, but they say, ‘Oh well, I have to get approval from the business side.' And it's very hard for big companies to approve something that no one knows if there's a market for it," Yoshida told Polygon last week. "But the indie guys are like, ‘I like it, I'll do it.' And there are many indie games being created in the marketplace because of that.

"The indie teams typically want to create something not directly competitive with big companies because they know they don't have the resource to do it, so they try to come up with a new angle or approach, a new experience so that their game can stand out. And that approach is perfect for making VR, because that's what we need. We don't want people to think, ‘How can I port this game to VR?' We want people to think, ‘What unique thing can we do with this tech?' So I'm very, very excited to give lots of units to indie PS4 developers."

Prior to the unveiling last week of Project Morpheus, Sony hadn't quite finalized the look of the dev kit, Yoshida said. But now that they have, they can start mass producing them, though a consumer product still isn't ready.

"So, the reason we announced at this time is we have dev kit that we can produce in volume and distribute to developers so that they can start serious game development," he said. "And what we don't know is, we have a list of things we want to improve in terms of tech, and we don't know when we can achieve, because we want to make sure that when we have the consumer product, we want to make it very, very easy to use, like plug and play almost. We want, because the VR experience can be pretty intense, we want to make the tech good enough so that most of the people have a really good experience. So we don't know when we can reach that point."

Yoshida said they company hasn't yet decided how they will send out the dev kits to developers. For instance, over the years Sony has both sold and given away for free console dev kits. Yoshida declined to say which approach they will use. He did say that anyone who wants to develop for Project Morpheus would have to be a PlayStation 4 developer.

He said they will likely post the details on the official PlayStation development website and that he hopes to start off by getting the dev kits into the hands of "hundreds" of developers, "depending on the interest."

While there are some internal studios with development kits at Sony, there aren't very many. A few studios have one unit, Yoshida said, and the company will be getting more for internal use.

"I'm encouraging more studios to try something," he said. "It doesn't have to be the game that they are making, or the IP, it can be anything. If it's convenient for you to take assets that you are making, like a driving game or shooter or whatever, go for it, but you can not really make your game adapt to Project Morpheus. You have to design from the ground up in terms of gameplay experience. And if you want to make something totally different, that's fine. That's great. So that's what I've been telling the community."

There is, it seems, at least one internal game in development for Project Morpheus.

Among the demos shown during last week's Game Developers Conference was The Deep, created by SCE London Studio. The demo was surprisingly polished, including not only a variety of endings, but voice acting and a touch of story.

When I asked Yoshida how complete it was, he said, he could see The Deep becoming part of a bigger game.

"London Studio has been working on augmented reality and 3D input for many years, so they are experts and they are very passionate about it, so we chose them to get to work with hardware groups," he said. "Because the number of kits has been very, very limited, we've had to choose very small number of developers to work with the hardware guys to give their example and feedback to improve the tech."

Sony research and design engineer Richard Marks was quick to chime in that what I played wasn't a full game.

"The team that made The Deep specifically asked me to say it's a portion of, it's an experience," he said. "They wouldn't want the name of the game to be considered The Deep right now. It's an experience, part of what they created and they're sharing that as part of the Morpheus announcement, but we shouldn't say, the game coming out by London Studio is The Deep."

Yoshida added that what the studio is working on with The Deep is the "closest to making a game. London Studio has actual resources to produce that."

While gaming certainly sounds like the focus for Project Morpheus, the company is also hoping that non-gaming applications will come to their device as well, experiences that could be attractive to the young and old alike. With that in mind, Yoshida said, they've been working with medical experts to see what sort of impact using Project Morpheus would have on children with the hopes the PS4 peripheral could be used by a broader audience.

"You know, one application that I would really like to get my children to be able to experience is something like visiting the museum or feeding dinosaurs," Yoshida said. "Some things like that would be very expensive to try, but it would be easy with Morpheus. But we have to know what the impact, or the lower age that we can safely say that you can try this, or you can try this but not longer than an hour or so. But in terms of the older age, we are a big fan of the YouTube video of a 90-year-old lady trying the Oculus. I can totally see when I become older, I don't want to make a trip to other parts of the world, but I would really love to visit the places where I had all these great memories.

"So it's going to be even greater for older people, the giving the ability to go above, beyond their physical limits to get to somewhere else."