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E3 2015 – Predicting Project Morpheus’ Would-Be Path to Success

June 11, 2015 Written by Michael Briers

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After weighing up Sony’s competition, recounting the indie games we daren’t take our eyes off, and attempting to rein in The Last Guardian once and for all, PlayStation LifeStyle’s Road to E3 has brought us to within touching distance of the main event itself.

Next week, every square inch of the Los Angeles Convention Center will be teeming with extravagant booths trumpeting the latest and greatest software the industry has to offer. Peel back the feverish marketing campaigns and hyperbole, though, and you’ll soon discover the excitement swirling around the burgeoning market of virtual reality.

Welcome to the Real World

It’s no secret that the immersive multimedia platform has teetered on the edge of cultural acceptance for decades. Remember Nintendo’s Virtual Boy? SEGA’s 3-D Glasses? Or the Cybermaxx? Devices once hailed as revolutionary, burning bright for a brief amount of time before fading into relative obscurity due to lack of support.

Virtual reality, it seems, has a history of underwhelming its audience; but almost half a century since VR’s crude beginnings, there is reason to be hopeful. Not only are high-profile companies like Facebook investing wads of cash, high-street retailers such as GameStop have declared that E3 2015 will act as the year of VR. And we have every reason to believe them.

From Oculus Rift to Microsoft’s augmented HoloLens, Vive to Sony’s Project Morpheus, numerous companies will fly in the face of convention and attempt to demonstrate the boundless potential of this rejuvenated market on stage. For Sony, that crucial window of time will open at 6 p.m. PT on Monday, June 15.

Project Morpheus

How exactly the platform holder plans to showcase a piece of tech that is definitively inclusive in front of a live audience is still up for question, but whatever happens during that fatal hour, the die will be cast. For better or worse, the early consensus on Sony’s foray into virtual reality will begin take shape; and you know what they say about first impressions.

With that in mind, let’s study the creative avenues and potential pitfalls along Morpheus’ would-be path to success.

Existing as an extension for the PlayStation 4, Sony’s head-mounted tech arguably has a leg up on the competition in that it will utilize Sony’s console as a power source, negating the need for a beefy gaming PC with eye-watering specs and an equally eye-watering price tag to match. For PS4, developers already have the technical benchmark mapped out. Couple this with the system’s trailblazing install base — simmering north of 23 million at the time of writing — and you have a market that is simply vying to be tapped into.

High Risks, High Rewards

Launching a new piece of hardware in an industry rife with alternative options has and always will be a difficult feat to achieve, but the company’s ace card could lie in Morpheus’ innate ability to bridge the hardcore with the casual. Even now, with virtual reality on the brink of a renaissance, a time when a VR-ready device is in every home is a ways away; that said, for PS4 owners, Morpheus currently presents the lowest barrier to entry all things considered.

Price will, of course, be a defining announcement, and one can’t help but feel that the device’s initial reception will largely hinge on this make-or-break tenet. Early reports have stipulated that Sony is likely to settle within the $300-$400 ballpark. An expensive peripheral, no doubt, but until the Japanese giant has established an ecosystem around the device with its own install base to boot, Morpheus will remain a niche product.

As we alluded to earlier, next week’s event in LA is a defining mile-marker in the hardware’s early history. A solid VR presentation on Monday evening — however long it may be — isn’t likely to cement Morpheus’ status as a bona fide success, but it could dispel some early aspersions looming over its debut. Perhaps the most vocal of the bunch has been leveled at the potential support beyond its release in 2016.

Theater of the Mind

Early adopters of PlayStation’s more eccentric peripherals — EyeToy and PlayStation Move, for instance — will know all too well that Sony’s backing for its once-exciting accessories has a habit of petering out post-launch, but the company itself has allayed any fears that Morpheus will fall foul to the same pitfalls. One of the ways in which the platform holder could steer the VR hopeful away from these possible mis-steps and truly inspire confidence is via software.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End may have left the most prominent void in Sony’s holiday line-up, but a vast number of the publisher’s first-party studios have been curiously quiet. Is it possible that Project Morpheus has factored into this muted hold-up?

From Gran Turismo 7 and Media Molecule’s new IP to third-party offerings such as Hello Games’ ambitious No Man’s Sky, there’s no question that much of the software incubating deep within Sony’s vaults fits this new-fangled platform down to a T, and the fact that this peculiar radio silence aligns with the build-up to Morpheus’ E3 debut is certainly no coincidence.

No mans Sky

Take Media Molecule’s project as an example. Not seen since PlayStation 4’s reveal two years ago, it’s possible that Sony is massaging the studio’s in-development IP into a potential system seller, perhaps by way of a hardware bundle to be available on day-one. We’ve seen the unbridled, at times flabbergasting creativity that emanates from the first-party dev through LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway, and the fact that MM’s core team has been all but dormant since 2011 leads us to believe that its new IP will feature Morpheus in a big way, possibly complimenting the Move controllers in the vein of early tech demos such as The Reef.

Whether that means the as-yet-unknown title will be exclusive to Sony’s VR platform remains to be seen, but surely it would cripple Media Molecule’s potential sale figures if the developer was limited only to Morpheus’ embryonic install base.

That’s a predicament that will linger over the PlayStation-centric presser right up until the moment the lights begin to dim. How will Sony handle the ecosystem around Morpheus once it’s out of the gates? Imagine purchasing a game for PS4 a year from now, when the virtual reality device will presumably be on the market, will we see vast swathes of software built from the ground up with Morpheus in mind? Or simply software that supports the VR device as an add-on?

Surely a healthy balance between each camp is the best possible outcome for everyone involved, from the bigwigs all the way down to the wide-eyed consumer. Heck, we’ve witnessed Sony’s commitment to the job at hand in recent months, with the likes of North West Studios and the embryonic Secret Sorcery — a creative pool formed of former DriveClub and WipEout developers — planting their roots in this most fertile field.

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Couple this with the dormant Sony London, a development house that lives on the bleeding-edge of tech what with the EyeToy and SingStar, and you have a string of exciting companies waiting in the wings. E3 2015 could very well act as their platform to shine. 

With any new medium comes creative experiment. Developers and indeed artists will want to test how high the proverbial ceiling really goes, and Project Morpheus represents an entirely new canvas upon which to do so. According to Sony’s fiscal report, the VR rig will be in the market space before June 2016, giving the Japanese giant a year at most to fine-tune and tailor the device’s marketing campaign.

PlayStation Vision

In 2015, virtual reality technology is finally on par with the vision. Gone are the days when Mort Heilig’s Sensorama was considered cutting-edge; now, visionaries have all but negated motion sickness and overcome technical limitations to step foot on an all-new frontier. The future is (almost) here. 

Sony’s presser is slated to kick off at 6 p.m. PDT/9 p.m. EDT on Monday, June 15; only then will we have a clearer picture of the company’s masterplan for Project Morpheus.

Essential Reading:

Top 5 Worst E3 Moments

10 PS4 Features We Want Announced at E3 2015

Looking Back at the PlayStation E3 2014 Press Conference

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