Friday, 24 July 2015
IS MORPHEUS BEING IGNORED?
These are notes for a video so please do not take them as being a fully written piece. They are thoughts.
As the development costs of Virtual Reality, in public terms Morpheus and Oculus, are being met by gaming professionals, most professionals talking in detail about the technology are gamer based. This leads to some important areas being brought up in detail while other areas are downplayed as it’s not of interest to the reporters, due to the gamer focus.
Subjects brought up a lot are technical specs and how the technology will play for games, basically the nuts and bolts of how it works for games. In the area of power, Oculus indisputably has an advantage. Computers can be upgraded to a technical level in graphics that far exceeds gaming consoles. Essentially consoles such as PS4 and Xbox One and getting to 60 FPS while consoles are focused upon 2K resolution. That means a great deal in terms in how the systems will play, in smoothness, in how much memory the system can have, how it can expand what can be done within games. This PC technical superiority means Oculus always has an advantage, unless Sony jump to the next console generation quicker than expected. Even then, PC with its ability to swap in new parts, always has a natural advantage. Oculus should always be looking better than Morpheus
That would make you assume that Morpheus is doomed. I don’t think it is.
Brand awareness and technical interest of the masses is something that is being glossed over. This is due to excitement about the technology, as well as due to the fact that it’s still early in VR development. What we have here is the worst it’s ever going to be.
Brand awareness is where Sony has a great advantage. It sells in many technological areas, develops its knowledge with new technology, always remains in front in this area, invests in product such as films and making games. Oculus seems to have recognised that by pairing with Microsoft recently but even with this partnership, there is a limitation in reach for the masses. Microsoft as a brand isnt known to the masses beyond PC software. Its game production are cult-level at best in the mainstream. Facebook’s involvement is that of a company expanding what it can do. It’s not a guarantee nor has a base in this area with the public. Sony has. If you are going to try a new, expensive product, you are likely going to go with a producer with a track record and experience with developing new products to market-place, with a history of customer support in the area.
In technical interest Sony also has the advantage. Both systems are said to be excellent. While Oculus has PC advantage in specs, to the average person it means spending a lot of money on a computer, which is likely confusing, potentially stressful, reading lots of information on what specs will allow you to do what. Sony links Morpheus to the PS4. That helps the system, is a simple plug-in, is something the average consumer may feel more comfortable with. PC might be viewed as cooler and more cutting edge but for mass sales Morpheus may have the advantage.
Where the product goes might be interesting. While its gamer developed, gaming technology might still be limited to do anything too complicated in the early stages. KindaFunny have discussed experiencing Morpheus and have suggested that it feels more like a video experience, and that so much of how it will be used hasn’t yet been worked out, and will only be solved by player feedback after launch. Putting the level of detail into a long-term satisfying game might take years to figure out, with the advanced memory and programming needed, especially if people want realism. Games today still mainly have an uncanny valley problem on TV’s. Studying this limited type of programming on VR may be alienating until more work is done on stabilising it. (Keep it dark in tones probably will help.) Less realistic first person shooters, space games, are more likely the best first move, to keep money coming in while graphical development is worked on.
In the short-term, gaming might not be where VR sells most, which is where I think Sony has an advantage. Funhaus recently discussed the subject and suggested that sports and concerts might be a good way to pay for VR, so as to allow paying customers to see sports events and concerts that they were unable to attend, using VR to give an experience that people would pay for. While it would take time to sort the details, a Morpheus hooked up to a PS4 is a simple way to sell this service, if there is public interest. There would be simple set-up, a simple payment method, and a consumer could easily experience it.
I would go further and suggest narrative filming would be young audience members might have interest in. If the technology exists, the blockbuster movie could morph from theatres to VR, following from the logical expansion of KindaFunny experiences. A franchise like Star Wars, Avengers or Transformers could be expanded into VR, with players being in their action sequences, and other narrative moments played out with viewer as an observer near the action. Taking dramatic lessons learned over centuries from theatre presentation, lighting, long-form story and pacing, this would not throw people off and would be a good way to develop narrative into the future.
Such development would also help pay for the technological development and help with slowly developing a new visual language that could help develop VR gameplay development, as the technology and memory capacity is improved, and interesting game scenarios are developed in to the new form abilities and limitations, perhaps merging with some narrative forms, in how a purely first-person situation would develop in a game. Such development to the public would likely work better in Sony’s Morpheus system as it exists now, with its knowledge of the entertainment market, and public trust in its ability to develop, to move with the market, and its ease in linking into a PS4. The market, if it develops, might be drastically different in 5 years, as the market follows what is seen as the best delivery service. I would say Sony has the best ability at the moment to develop with the market, and however this develops, while Oculus seems exclusively focused on one market, which are games. That may not be for best long-term.
While Sony does have mobility advantage, it being stuck with PS4 as its technology is something that will be a problem, as we cannot see how the development of the technology and demands of VR as it ramps up. It will affect how PS4 would function, as the system could easily be left behind. This product limitation will give Oculus time to adjust to market developments. PS5, if VR succeeds, is likely to arrive fairly quickly if day to day usage specs for a competitive market are established.
So to conclude, both systems have strengths and weaknesses. Any development needs talented people working on the technology. Dull product in VR in any area of development would kill enthusiasm for VR. I would assume both will make large adjustments in the next few years as the products are launched and they get practical experience in a new market.