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Sony's Project Morpheus: Virtual Insanity?


The video game industry needs more practical technology to grow.

Tuesday in San Francisco, Sony (NYSE:SNE) announced the development of Project Morpheus -- its new virtual reality headset system for the PlayStation 4 console.

When I look at video game hardware, I always try to answer this question: Will this expand the population of gamers?

Because that's the challenge for companies of this console generation. Last time out, the industry received a huge boost from the Nintendo (OTCMKTS:NTDOY) Wii console, as well as the music-game boom led by Activision's (NASDAQ:ATVI) Guitar Hero during the good-time era of 2006-2008.

Subsequently, Nintendo's Wii U, released in 2012, was a disappointment, while music games fell off the map. Additionally, the handheld market once dominated by Nintendo has been largely supplanted by smartphone games for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android devices.

But let's rephrase the above question: Will Sony sell more PlayStation 4s because of Morpheus?

I'm guessing no.

On the casual side, gamers have largely moved on from consoles. If they're still playing games at all, they're finding smartphone and tablet games to be good enough.

That crowd is mostly likely not willing to buy an expensive console and then drop even more money on an attachment.

Now, they were willing to do so for Guitar Hero and the Wii, but remember what defined those two phenomena:

1. They introduced new play interfaces that were very friendly to non-gamers.

2. The games themselves, Guitar Hero and Wii Sports, were again, very friendly to non-gamers.

We're still early on details, but the initial evidence on Morpheus shows that it seems designed to appeal to hard-core gamers, who haven't really gone anywhere.

On its US PlayStation blog, Sony said the following:

In addition to PlayStation Camera, Project Morpheus works with DUALSHOCK 4 Wireless Controller and PlayStation Move to deliver an easy-to-use, plug-and-play VR experience.

The mere mention of the DUALSHOCK controller should raise doubts because non-gamers hate the standard gaming controllers that work well for sports titles and first-person shooters.

And at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Sony will demo four games with Morpheus: a diving cage simulator, a flight simulator, a combat game, and a new version of action-adventure game Thief.

This doesn't sounds like the type of mass-market, crossover stuff that draws in Grandma and Grandpa.

Furthermore, word on the street is that Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is developing its own VR technology for Xbox One, which could negate any edge Sony gains from Morpheus.

But let's circle back to the macro issue -- the idea that the industry needs to create more gamers.

To that end, impressive technology doesn't hurt, but accessibility is what really matters.

Twitter: @MichaelComeau

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