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Reaction: Price Is the Reality That Threatens to Pull Project Morpheus Out of the Matrix

Posted by Sammy Barker

Red pill, blue pill

Sony was in a jubilant mood at the Game Developers Conference once again last night. The platform holder is starting to really enjoy the industry focused convention, having spent the previous show flaunting its newfound indie focus. This year’s event was always going to be all about virtual reality, though, and Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida couldn’t resist cracking a joke about the trail of leaks that led to last night’s Project Morpheus unveiling. “Thank you for coming to this cryptic Sony presentation,” he jokingly prefaced the presentation. “You have no idea what we’re going to talk about.”

In truth, the PlayStation 4 powered virtual reality headset turned out to be exactly what we were expecting. As the rumours had suggested, it shares the same technology as the PlayStation Move – a combination of illuminated surfaces and various internal accelerometers – in order to provide sub-millimetre motion tracking when used in conjunction with the PlayStation Camera. It’s a difficult technology to communicate with text, but just like the Oculus Rift, the pledge is to provide “presence” within digital worlds. Indeed, by adapting the display tethered to your face as you physically crane your neck, developers will be able to simulate the sense of being somewhere else.

This is not an easy thing to pull off, and that’s part of the reason that it opted to announce the device in front of a crowd of developers; despite being in production for over three years, the platform holder still hasn’t found solutions to all of the problems that it faces. “There are a lot of challenges that we really don’t have the answers to,” software engineer Anton Mikhailov told the packed out crowd. “We have some ideas, but it’d be really great to talk to you guys about the answers.” This sentiment was mirrored by EyeToy creator Dr. Richard Marks. “We need the development community [behind us] if we’re going to achieve what we think is possible,” he said.

However, for all of the beaming and bluster that was part of the panel, the overlooked elephant in the sweaty seminar hall centred on price. With the peripheral itself still in a prototype phase, it’s understandable that the company didn’t touch on cost during its core presentation, but the concluding question and answer session did bring up one tidbit on the kind of financial investment that will be required to adopt the new format. “One of the great things about being [in] consumer electronics is that it’s affordable,” assured a defiant Shuhei Yoshida. Looking at the sheer number of components involved, though, we’re not sure how it possibly can be.

Much like the PlayStation Move before it, there are a lot of parts that make up the Japanese giant’s vision. In addition to a PlayStation 4 console and PlayStation Camera – not an insignificant purchase on their own – you’ll also need one of the head-mounted displays and at least one illuminated wand to get the full experience. It’s the kind of clunky assembly that will see “helpful” infographics added to game boxes, with tick charts demonstrating which bits of gear you’ll need to get started. The firm cited ease-of-use as one of the key attributes needed to make virtual reality mainstream, and while we’ve no doubt that it’ll deliver on the plug-and-play part, we worry about all of the different bits.

More on Project Morpheus

Still, in all likelihood, by the time that this becomes a commercial product, the company will have concocted some kind of Starter Kit to get people going. Much like its motion controller, we imagine that you’ll be able to pick up all of the parts in one big box. Alas, considering all of the technology crammed into this, we can’t see it selling for less than $199.99. After all, the PlayStation Camera alone currently retails for $59.99 – throw in a controller and a chunky piece of machinery with a 1080p display, and that cost is certain to rise. The manufacturer may have been eager to distance itself from the word ‘accessory’, but that’s essentially what this is.

And the last generation taught us that it can be hard to justify add-ons in the market place. Sony sold over 15 million PlayStation Move controllers, but you could count the number of dedicated titles on one hand. There was a period where the peripheral had some success as an added extra, but it’s going to be harder for developers to toss in virtual reality support – that’s something that needs to be built from the ground up. Even the more successful Kinect struggled to accrue software on the Xbox 360, prompting Microsoft to bundle the optical extra alongside the Xbox One to ensure that developers have an entire install base to target.

There are pure practical problems, too. One of the title’s being demoed on the device is named Castle, and sounds like a re-working of Zindagi Games’ sword fighting minigame from Sports Champions. Pairing the headset with two PlayStation Move controllers, the technology taster will see you competing with a sword and shield inside a medieval Mont Saint-Michel. It sounds exciting, but given all of the moving parts, how will developers be able to rely on users owning a headset, camera, and multiple motion wands? The concept sounds brilliant, but it doesn’t appear to be feasible.

As a result, the manufacturer has just as many commercial hurdles to hop over as it does technological ones. It would argue that last night’s demonstration was all about the vision, and it would be accurate – but it’s difficult to get overly excited at the prospect of a product that sounds like such a difficult sell. Perhaps the peripheral will launch alongside enough truly breathtaking software to justify its cost – we’re told that CCP Games’ space sim EVE: Valkyrie is extraordinary – and thus our concerns will be rendered moot. The platform holder will need to use all of its charm to get major publishers to jump on board, though.

And yet, for all of the potential setbacks, Sony deserves credit for once again taking the industry by the scruff of its neck. Oculus Rift may have spearheaded the push into a different dimension, but the Japanese giant has the brand awareness and marketing clout to make it a real mainstream reality. Moreover, it appears to be strides ahead of its competitors in the console space yet again; while Shuhei Yoshida was teasing the future in one corner of San Francisco’s monstrous Moscone Centre, its closest competitor Microsoft was showing the fruits of its long overdue ID@Xbox indie initiative. Call it coincidental scheduling if you will, but the gap is certainly growing between the two.


Do you agree that price could be the biggest barrier to Project Morpheus’ success? Are you excited by the potential of virtual reality, or are you tired of gaming gimmicks? Enter our world in the comments section below.

How much would you pay to play games with Project Morpheus? (76 votes)

Less than $99.99

14%

Between $100.00 and $149.99

30%

Between $150.00 and $199.99

33%

More than $200.00

22%

Please login to vote in this poll.

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User Comments (31)

BornOfEvil

#2

BornOfEvil said:

Like I did with the PS4, I'm going to trust Sony to get the price right on the Morpheus.

As for software, its rumored that Santa Monica, Media Molecule and a handful of Sony's other studios are working on games with VR support - not to mention Evolution.

BrettHrin

#3

BrettHrin said:

If it can deliver on its promises and I can try it before I buy it then I'd go up to 200

BigDaddyT0101

#4

BigDaddyT0101 said:

While 200 would be outstanding, i see the full bundle being 299$, with morpheus itself being 249$. Seeing as the tech is not cheap, the r&d took 5years and counting, 299$ just seems right, and unfortunately if thats the rate the install base will be small. I believe oculous is shooting for 300$ as well.

OliverCrossland

#5

OliverCrossland said:

If it impresses me, developers are behind it and is truly the next future of gaming, I would pay over £200!

get2sammybAdmin

#6

get2sammyb said:

I'd probably pay up to $199.99. The thing is, I'm not an average consumer - I can't see many paying that much.

Bad-MuthaAdebisi

#7

Bad-MuthaAdebisi said:

I'd go to 300 quid or 400 dollars depending on the quality of the product, if it feels cheap then I'll wait for cheaper. I just bought a new camera and pre owned PS move set for all under 60 quid so it doesn't cost a fortune to kit out if you bother to shop a little. Also I think everyone needs to take into consideration the fact that this is possibly a system seller if it turns out to be a fantastic product, that means Sony can afford to lower the price a little.

irken004

#8

irken004 said:

Once people start experiencing what something like this can do, they'll flock to it if it's not priced too high. I hope somewhere around $200 or less being the sweet spot. Perhaps a camera bundle?

Jaz007

#9

Jaz007 said:

I can't see paying more than $100 for this personally. But I agree with the article, I don't know how this will work of some games need Move, the Camera, and the virtual reality headset. It would be hard to sell that bundle above $200. I don't how this will not be extremely niche. This will be an intresting game Sony will play here. (No pun intended)

Squiggle55

#11

Squiggle55 said:

It's funny it seems like everyone's prices are going down now. before we were talking about 400 or maybe 300. if it's 200 I'll be blown away.

Paranoimia

#12

Paranoimia said:

I doubt very much that I'd bother with it at all. It's not about the cost, but the practicality of it. I've used VR before, and for me, the weight of the headset does more to break the sense of immersion than it does to increase it. This will clearly be lighter, but it's still going to have considerable weight to it.

Still, at least it looks way better than Oculus.

rjejr

#15

rjejr said:

If this thing is as good as it's promise - which I personally highly doubt - then they'll actually be marketing this and selling the PS4 as the accessory.

"“One of the great things about being [in] consumer electronics is that it’s affordable,”"

One the best selling consumer electronics is the $499 iPad. Samsung also has a $500 tablet. Big screen tvs will set you back $300, $400, $500 or more. Sony doesn't use the word "accessory" b/c I don't think they are going to market it as such. I think they'll go for the "Experience" of it all. To me this isn't a video game accessory, it's a VR experience. Its a simulator, it's not for game playing. Visit Rome or Europe, or Europa or Titan, or a topless bar or topless beach. It's not for playing, it's for living. Skydive, ski, bungie into a volcano. We've all seen Avatar.

Couple of basic questions that would affect price:

Wired or wireless? - yes I can see the wire but that could be for power, sound or picture. I'm guessing it needs an HDMI wire for the picture and sound if it has it, but HDMI isn't very good at supplying power.
sound included? - I don't see any headphones, but I also haven't seen any photos or video of anybody wearing this

The screen itself should be VERY cheap - it's not even touchscreen or OLED, just LCD - and all the processing is in the PS4, and the motion tracking is partly done by the PS4 camera. So yes this has a lot of tech in it, but it is mostly relying on the PS4 SOFTWARE to do everything. The design probably cost more than the parts.

Longaway

#16

Longaway said:

I really can't see this going for more than $150. To be blunt, it's not much more than a couple of Move controllers and a decent streaming display on a pair of headphones. Should have a small, low res, outward facing camera, too, but that's a minimal cost.

The PS4 Eye is doing the majority of the work. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Yeah, if you tack on the price of the camera and a couple of Move controllers, it's going to increase the price, but for the headset alone, $150 or less.

My main interest in it isn't even for gaming. If I can use it as a personal huge screen 3D video system, I'm in.

kensredemption

#17

kensredemption said:

Oh boy...if they don't play this right, Sony might end up getting just as much flak as Nintendo did with the Wii U gamepad. Some people are content with the tried and true gamepad setup that's been in place for years, but some of us want to try something new. Luckily for both Nintendo and Sony, I'm a progressive thinker and welcome both innovations to the industry so long as they're extensively and creatively implemented. That's all it takes to really make the new technology worthwhile.

eaglebob345

#18

eaglebob345 said:

@kensredemption Difference is that the gamepad is a part of the Wii U, not an accessory. If Sony bundled it in, then it would be up there with the gamepad and Kinect 2.0, but it's not. I highly doubt that it will be affordable either, especially if Sony learned their lesson off of the heavy losses they took off of the PS3.

hydeks

#20

hydeks said:

I'ld skip the first generation of virtual reality and wait till it got cheaper :-P I expect it will cost probably $200 or even more for something like that, why I'm saying that. Don't get me wrong, I love innovation in video gaming, but I've spent lots of money on "gimmicks" that have let me down.

Fenriswolf-

#21

Fenriswolf- said:

@rjejr Well said! And that is the truth of VR, it's not really well suited to gaming as it exists today, an I think the expectation that this will enhance people's favorite games or game types will be an issue for many. That being said, there are certain games that will work well, such as driving and flight sim games. Having lived through the original VR craze back in the '90's, I remember how exciting it all was, but once 3D gaming came along the whole idea pretty quickly lost its luster due to it's limitations. I even had some books and shareware demos for PC. I remember going to a local arcade here in Tampa FL that had one of the VR stations that you had to stand in and wear the headset and although it was a cool experience, it didnt take long to see it's limitations! Not to mention the vertigo and eye strain that occurred..and I'm not one that's prone to that kind of thing! But I would love to see this work and am excited to see what happens with it all!

AeroZeppelin
iSolipsistJudas

#25

iSolipsistJudas said:

I'm expecting it to be between $150 & $250. The Oculus Rift dev kit is $300 so consumer price has to be below the dev kit price.
But honestly I do not want virtual reality right now. It seems like it's being shoved down my throat just like 4K tv's are. Just let me enjoy my PS4 without constantly adding "accessories" to it. The PS Camera is a just fine addition.

Squiggle55

#26

Squiggle55 said:

@Longaway "My main interest in it isn't even for gaming. If I can use it as a personal huge screen 3D video system, I'm in."

Exactly. I would love to play around with the VR in games that support it. But I would honestly easily pay $400 for what you said alone. And I would play games using my dualshock with no motion tracking activated.

JaxonH

#28

JaxonH said:

Really? Less than 1/4 of members here would pay more than $200 for this? People, this is not cheap technology, and it's an experience that's been dreamed of for decades. I'd pay up to $400 for the headset, provided it functioned as advertised and lived up to expectations. You figure if you tacked on the camera for $60 and 2 motion wands for $20/ea (surely Sony can manage that by now), that's only an extra hundred bucks for the whole shibang. In fact, just include the camera + 2 wands and add $100 to the pricetag. If that's what gamers need to get the full experience, then that's what gamers need. So include it and reflect the price accordingly.

$500 for the headset, camera, 2 motion wands and a dream come true? Ya, I'd drop that in a heartbeat. Bring it.

EDIT: Though I do realize the headset is not doing any of the processing, so the PS4 would also be required for the full experience. I understand that's quite the price tag, but by the time this releases many will already own the PS4, like I do. So it's not like dropping $600-900 all at once. It'd just be one more $300-500 purchase. Basically the same amount you pay for the PS4, you can pay again and turn it into a VR station. And let's say price on PS4 drops to $300 by then, and let's say these goggles really ARE only $200 + $100 for the camera/wands, well that's only $600 for the entire package. NOT BAD people. Not bad at all... The question is, how much support will it get, and how good will that support be?

benrawr

#29

benrawr said:

With around 25% of just us willing to pay over $200 I don't see Sony having a hard time getting traction with this. I honestly have to change my undies when I see things like this!

Dordrid

#30

Dordrid said:

Sony have been known to under price their hardware for new tech. This probably won't be any different as it will make back the loss when it becomes more popular in the future and the cost of making it drops.

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