Project Morpheus, Sony's ambitious move to try and bring virtual reality gaming to the mainstream on the PlayStation 4 and computer, needs to overcome just two obstacles to become a real retail product, PlayStation head of worldwide studios Shuhei Yoshida told Polygon.
"It's very simple from my standpoint," he said. "Two things have to happen."
The device needs innovative, amazing content, and a lot of it, and it needs to be great. Right now, Yoshida said, it's simply a "good system."
"We have a good system," he said. "People enjoy the Morpheus demo, but it's not enough. It's coming close, but there isn't enough in terms of creating real experiences with a sense of presence.
"You really need to be able to feel that you are standing on the edge of a cliff. Tech-wise, there are a few things we want to include to really nail it from a hardware and system software standpoint."
And while quite a few people are starting development for the system, the system will need the sorts of things that would inspire a person to go out and buy it if it goes up for sale.
"There are various developers creating VR content," he said. "They have been making lots of different types of experiences in VR. And some work really well, others are more difficult. So that learning has to be shared with all the developers in terms of guidelines."
Things like minimum framerate requirements and other technical specifications could be shared with developers, he said.
"In terms of game design you experience today (on Project Morpheus), it's more like designing location-based entertainment than games, like a theme park. So, it requires lots of new ways of thinking from both tech and design standpoint. So, until this happens, until we have enough developers very comfortable producing great experiences, we shouldn't bring this to the market."
The Tonight Show
Despite not having a release date, despite not even having that promise of ever being sold to customers, Project Morpheus still manages to get a lot of attention.
There were several games at E3 earlier this month being shown on the device, both by Sony and by third-party developers. In the packed space of a show designed to highlight games and products to retailers and consumers, Project Morpheus still had its own, sizable exhibition space in the PlayStation booth.
And in the week leading up to E3 it got a prime spotlight on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
So why all of the attention if Sony still hasn't made up its mind if its going to release it?
"Because we need people to know that for the first time VR is possible at a consumer level," he said. "And it's so amazing that we know about it, we're so excited, but you really have to experience it to believe it. So we have to take every opportunity to propagate it and let people notice."
Yoshida said he doesn't really even care who is spreading the message about virtual reality gaming coming to the mainstream, even if it's Facebook's Oculus Rift, as long as the message gets out there.
"We are basically offering similar experiences and we have the same interest to get people excited and to believe in VR," he said. "So that's really important for us."
And, on top of that, Sony needs developers to start playing with their tech, he added.
Yoshida declined to say how many of the development kits they've sent out to teams, but said they are releasing them in "bunches."
"We have a long list of waiting developers," he said.
Why would a developer want to spend the time creating a game for something that may never come out?
Adam Boyes, vice president of publisher and developer relations at PlayStation, said the company is careful not to build up expectations for the device to developers.
"What we say to them is, ‘We're going on a journey, there's no release date,'" he said. "So the caveat's around. We don't know what the price point is going to be. We don't know if we're going to bundle any content with it. We know none of that. So we're going on a journey and you're free to go on that journey with that information. And because many have been doing parallel VR work they say, ‘Hey, I want to try that. I want to see how that works.' "
When and if Sony starts to finalize their plans for a release, Boyes said, they'll start discussing those details with developers.
"But we're definitely rolling out the dev kits and people have been trying some cool stuff out," he said.
And, at least so far, the process has been building up a sort of buzz among developers. The more they show it to people, Boyes said, the more people want to make things for it.
"So as we demo it to more and more publishers and developers, they get interested and so do the studio heads when they start playing around with it," he said. "I was literally at an event and I was chatting with some of the senior staff and they were asking ‘What could we do with this?' I was like, ‘Let's get together and do a brainstorming session.' Because you have to think about how do you build something from the ground up for it."
From Oculus to Morpheus
It helps that bringing a game to Morpheus is "very easy," Yoshida said.
"It's not much more work then goes into making a game 3D stereoscopic," he said. "The idea is very similar: you create two images to fall on each eye, so it's pretty straightforward. Maybe a couple weeks to get it running and viewing in the Morpheus, however, you immediately realize the game design for console, or TV doesn't work. It just breaks, it's not a great experience."
So much of the effort has to go into the design, rather than the implementation he said.
"You have to spend lots of time thinking and redesigning your game, or, better yet, start from scratch on VR," he said.
And bringing a game from Oculus Rift to Morpheus is also pretty simple, said Boyes.
"It's basically the same as porting from PC to PS4," he said.
People who have been trying it have reported back that it takes from a day to four weeks.
"Once it's on PS4 and they already have stereoscopic stuff that they've dealt with Oculus, it's easy as porting to the platform," he said. "But Oculus also works on PC, so you can have a PC dev environment and Morpheus, so you can technically just redeploy that."
That said, there are some unique things that can be added to Morpheus games, like use of the PlayStation Move or 3D audio.
"Those things, the developer has to understand and work with," Yoshida said. "There might be some things the Oculus guys add to their experience that we may not have that I'm not aware of."
The indie VR scene
Yoshida says he sees development for virtual reality following the same process and having the same spirit as independent game development.
"I just love in general the whole spirit of treating it like independent game development," he said. "We have this piece of hardware that is not fully done or named and we don't have a release date, but we're trying it out, getting people's feedback on it."
Boyes said the same indie spirit holds true for the plaform holders, not just the game makers.
"I've been inspired because most times you see all these companies competing around technology and being super proprietary, but the conversations we've been having with Valve and Oculus around all the VR stuff, it just feels like a bunch of indie devs getting together and jamming on stuff," he said. "So it's been neat to see that collaboration. There isn't all these walls of, ‘You can't talk to them.' It's all about how do we solve these problems together because we think the vision is there's going to be an industry here. So all of us are working together to find great content."