Speaking at the Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival yesterday, Simon Benson, director at the immersive technology group within Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios, said that Sony would play to its strengths by “putting games first”.
However, he also demonstrated a number of non-gaming applications for the new PlayStation 4-compatible virtual reality headset, including a demo of a 3D concert recital that puts users at the centre of the performance, and a forthcoming PlayStation title called VR Worlds that includes one experience that does not have any traditional “game mechanics”.
“You’ve not got an objective, you’re not trying to score anything or achieve anything – you’re just experiencing it,” said Benson,describing Ocean Descent, an underwater diving cage in shark-infested waters. This experience is part of VR Worlds – a title that will allow users to try out five virtual reality experiences.
Benson described this type of ‘virtual tourism’ as “a really interesting area” that has the potential to reach a wide audience and bridge the gap between what does and doesn’t count as a “gaming experience”.
He also said that games developers were starting to explore ‘tourist modes’ within games – to allow players to pause from the action and take in impressive virtual vistas.
Turning to the immersive music recital demo, Benson said that this kind of application has the potential to take non-gaming a step further and is “a new technology we’ve been investigating and sharing” – one that has the potential to do “all sorts of other amazing things”.
Asked to elaborate on these plans, Benson said that, due to the complexity of virtual reality, PlayStation’s priority is with games. Though he added that “we have an eye on that space, like we always have at PlayStation” – a console that supports many different non-gaming applications like watching movies and catch-up TV services.
A ‘cinematic mode’ in PlayStation VR will also let users play any game or movie on a large virtual cinema screen inside the headset – meaning the device is compatible at launch with non-VR specific titles.
Describing the various features and benefits of PlayStation VR, Benson stressed that the virtual reality system has been designed for a “really broad audience” and that for £349 in the UK and US$399 in the US, it has a “very low pricepoint when you compare it to any other option in the high-end virtual reality systems.”
He also demonstrated PlayStation VR’s ‘mirroring mode’ that will map what a PlayStation VR gamer sees inside their headset onto the main TV screen, allowing other people in the room to share in the action.
“We don’t want to make our VR an isolating experience. We want it to really sit with the whole ethos of PlayStation as having this social aspect,” said Benson.
PlayStation VR is designed for users to plug-in-and-play with PlayStation 4 consoles and is due to be released on October 13.