Since the Kickstarter campaign in September 2012, the Oculus Rift has taken the gaming world by storm, even if very few have had the opportunity to use the device. With the promise of bringing players into a fully immersive, three-dimensional world with full-motion head tracking for near one to one translation into the game space, Oculus’ debut product has garnered plenty of attention both from gamers and developers. Now, a year and a half later, there is still no word on a release date, giving competitors the perfect opportunity to capitalize on Oculus’ attention.
Sony saw this opportunity and led the charge as the first major competitor to the Rift at their event at the 2014 Game Developer’s Conference. Project Morpheus, which is designed to work in tandem with the Playstation 4, presents itself as a sleek, modern piece of technology backed by a company who has considerable clout within the gaming community. The visor boasts two 1080p displays, fast refresh rates, a 90 degree viewing angle, and full 360 degree motion tracking. While those who’ve tried the new product say that there are noticeable shortcomings when compared with the Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus (like the Rift) is still a prototype released only to developers.
So what does this mean for Oculus, a company who was all but unknown before their revolutionary approach to virtual reality? It would seem that with an unproven track record, putting a fight up against the gaming behemoth, Sony, would be akin to the battle of Helm’s Deep. The Sony orcs may advance, but Oculus’ established fort might still hold strong. Oculus has plenty of mind share surrounding the world of VR headsets, but Sony has recently bolstered their presence in the gaming world by having the most successful console launch in history.
Comparisons of the two products at GDC this week have put Oculus ahead of its chief competitor in many respects. Testers have said that the displays in the Rift are considerably better, showing less ghosting from quick movement, and the field of view is rated at a slightly better 100 degrees compared to Sony’s 90. The larger field of view contributes to the user feeling more immersed in their virtual environment with little to distract them outside of their display. Project Morpheus, however, has been said to feel more comfortable for the user. Both support full 360 degree head tracking in a 3D environment using similar technology to achieve this end. While both have been in development for a considerable amount of time, they still remain prototypes and development kits and are not necessarily representative of the final product.
Because of the striking similarity between the two products, the main component that sets the two apart is the software support. During Sony’s event at GDC, strong emphasis was placed on the company’s history in game development and its relationships with other seasoned third-party developers. Of the six tenants of effective virtual reality outlined by Sony, the final, and arguably most important, is content. Gaming and technology have historically been defined by the content provided. Nintendo won over gaming crowds because of their software lineup as far back as the 1980s, as did Sony in the early days of the Playstation 2. Microsoft became a behemoth in the tech world because of their support for third-party applications on Windows. With huge names behind Project Morpheus like Sony London, Havok, Crytek, Id, and Unity, developers of all scales and skill levels can get involved with Sony’s new product.
That being said, the Rift also has plenty of cachet behind it for a small startup company. John Carmack, considered by many to be the most influential and revolutionary programmer in the games industry, has publicly stated his support for Oculus. In fact, his passion for this new development in gaming hardware has reached such heights that he resigned from Id Software, a company that he co-founded, to become the Chief Technical Officer at Oculus. Doom 3: BFG Edition has been ported to work with the Rift as well as third-party support from Valve to integrate their games like Half Life 2 with the VR headset. Other games like EVE: Valkyrie have also been confirmed for the platform, but the majority of other supported games at this time are relatively unknown. There is no doubt that Oculus has brought together a great team of developers for their product, but against a powerhouse like Sony, it might not be enough.
So what does Oculus have to say about the matter? In an interview with IGN prior to Sony’s event at GDC, Nate Mitchell, the VP of Product at Oculus, said regarding the rumored Sony device: “…I think absolutely, though, the two can coexist… The people who would get involved with something like the Playstation VR experience, if it was there, may be even different than the people who would get involved in a PC experience. So, in that sense, we see it as potentially bringing more people into the VR ecosystem…”
This is a healthy approach to the competition. It is important to note that Sony’s hardware is proprietary for the Playstation 4 at this time, while the Rift is slated for release with PC. They are not direct competitors in that sense, as they are targeting different sectors of the market, but they will still likely draw comparisons to one another. There are plenty of unanswered questions regarding both products such as pricing, release timeframes, latency issues, compatibility, and other developments in the future like the addition of wireless communication with their platform. With these major bullet points still up in the air, both companies have ample time to vie over the public before release.
At the onset, nothing is certain in the world of VR. As with all new technology, the road ahead is tumultuous and uncertain. Where Apple paved the way for personal computers, Microsoft prevailed. When Betamax was clearly the better media format, VHS became the norm. In a console war between two extremely powerful systems (Xbox 360 and Playstation 3), the Nintendo Wii took the greatest sales numbers. Oculus has been in the limelight of virtual reality systems for years, and many gamers freely associate VR with the Rift. It remains to be seen whether this will be enough to overtake the long line of developers at Sony’s beck and call.