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VR vs. Project Morpheus in 2014

When 2014 started out it was set to be an exciting year for the virtual reality (VR) industry. Fans were hoping that Oculus VR would soon be revealing its next iteration of the Oculus Rift head-mounted display, with some even hoping for a consumer release around this time. But the year also held one of the biggest surprises so far for this young industry. Just months after the launch of its PlayStation 4 in 2013, Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) revealed that it was developing its own HMD in Project Morpheus.

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The announcement was made during the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in March 2014, although rumours had practically confirmed its existence a week or so before the reveal. This would become a watershed moment for the technology’s revival, which so far had been almost exclusively led by Oculus VR and the Oculus Rift. Until now, VR was a concept that had captured a small but dedicated enthusiast following, with other videogame developers and fans looking on from a distance in hopes that Oculus VR would deliver a compelling product somewhere down the line.

SCE’s reveal forced many to rethink their stance on VR. This was no longer something that might hopefully take off on PC but something that could grow into an entire industry. There was little doubt that Oculus VR would remain the definitive VR company but Project Morpheus opened the doors to an even wider potential audience, one that has only grown throughout the year thanks to the immense success of the PlayStation 4 itself. With over 10 million consoles sold since August 2014, there are a lot of consumers out there that already have a VR-ready system in their houses.

The reveal was a huge success, then. And combined with the reveal of the Oculus Rift’s second development kit (DK2) the day after, GDC 2014 proved to be perhaps the biggest week in VR history thus far. It helped that Project Morpheus was reassuringly close to DK2 with its positional tracking and 1080p display, albeit an LCD one as opposed to Oculus VR’s low-latency OLED panel. SCE also hit many of the essential beats that Oculus VR had been saying, emphasising how important it was to get both technology and hardware right before launch. It’s a shame then, that Project Morpheus has somewhat stumbled for the rest of 2014.

It was clear from the reveal that Project Morpheus was still very much in the prototype stages and that a 2014 launch was not on the table. That wasn’t much of an issue to anyone so long as SCE continued to keep showing its commitment to the device at industry events similar to how Oculus VR had been. And to some extent the company did; Project Morpheus has been on display at almost every major industry event throughout 2014 and even been shown off to the public on a few occasions, including last weekend’s PlayStation Experience. A handful of new titles have been announced and certain members of SCE such as Shuhei Yoshida continue to speak enthusiastically about the project.

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But while creators continue to show anticipation for the device, the business end of SCE hasn’t been quite so encouraging. During Gamescom 2014 SCE Europe CEO Jim Ryan explicitly outlined that Project Morpheus was a ‘technology exercise’ and not confirmed for a consume release. Similar statements have been made from a handful of other executives as the year’s gone on. This has prompted concerns from Oculus VR and fans, sending out a confusing message given that several high-profile titles have been confirmed for Project Morpheus such as EVE: Valkyrie and, most recently, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

It’s the existence of these titles that suggests that, whatever executives say, Project Morpheus will see a consumer release in some form. But VR as a consumer technology is still in its infancy. It requires dedication, investment and commitment from its creators. We’ve seen that in spades from Oculus VR but SCE’s to-and-fro on the kit’s release is the last thing that consumers need.

These issues can easily be rectified in 2015. SCE simply needs to demonstrate commitment to Project Morpheus from all angles of its operation. It needs to start talking about Project Morpheus as a consumer device and confidently reveal full videogames for the technology rather than the low-key, on-the-side announcements at press conferences. There’s no doubt that the company can make amends for its stumbles in 2014, let’s just hope its starts doing so sooner rather than later.