From the archive: PlayStation’s VR gamble

Christopher Dring asks PlayStation Europe boss Jim Ryan about the plans for PlayStation VR following the hardware’s brief appearance during Paris Games Week in October.

IHS says you’ll sell 1.6m VR headsets and generate $500m by the end of 2016. Is that what you expect?

No idea. Sorry, that’s not… it’s really a very different undertaking for us, this. There are many, many things that we have to do that we have never had to confront before with PlayStation VR. Trying to assess the size of the market in the early days is not at all trivial. It’s a sort of nebulous statement, but we take huge comfort from the fact that every time you see someone try this thing, every time they take their headset off they say: ‘Wow, that was great.’ We are hugely encouraged by that. But are we at the stage of putting numbers on it and quoting them publically? No.

You tried to get across PlayStation VR on stage at your Paris Games Week conference, but it’s a hard thing to get across without actually playing it.

In an ideal world, you would give everyone in the audience a VR headset so you can demo the games correctly. It is hard to get it across on a stage like that. But what we wanted to do was to demonstrate developer engagement – some really good progress has been made with some of these games. To be able to make the announcement about Crytek coming on-board and be able to announce Tekken 7 – which with VR is a very intriguing progress.

What’s your current view on the headache issues, the (relatively) high price, the fact people might feel ridiculous wearing one of these helmets. And all these barriers to entry that are often cited with VR?

All of these things are things we are obviously looking at very, very carefully before we launch. But you can do all the research in the world, but until it’s actually out there, there are many things that just can’t be fully evaluated.

For VR to succeed, we need the big hardware makers to really push. But with no certainty around its performance, you’ll also feel compelled to be cautious. What can we expect from Sony?

The fact that it got so much time on the stage was an indication of our confidence. We now have a pretty considerable track record of launching new hardware products and this won’t suffer from lack of attention, I can say that.

How will your launch investment compare to, say, a console launch? Or is this more akin to PlayStation Move and launches like that?

Because it is so different and unique, I am really hesitant of drawing any parallels with anything that has gone in the past. Because of the nature of the entertainment experience, the way you take something like this to market is going to be quite different. And I think the experiential aspect of marketing it will be much more pronounced than anything we have ever done before. If you go back to the comment I made about when people take the headset off… I don’t think I’ve seen a single person that hasn’t gone: ‘Wow’ – the more people you get doing that and telling their friends about it and getting their friends to buy it. You can then get yourself into a virtuous circle of a nice snowball effect. That could be quite powerful.

You showed The Walk demo on stage (a VR interactive piece of marketing for the recent high-wire movie). How important will non-games be in driving VR amongst the masses?

First of all, This is a space where the classical distinction between ‘game’ and ‘non-game’ is probably likely to become somewhat irrelevant. You could argue that that ‘The Walk’ thing is an interactive experience… so does that make it a game? You don’t use a DualShock controller, but it is an interactive experience. I think this distinction that we’ve had in the past, with VR it’s going to become blurred picture. To the extent that VR moves out of the core gaming space and into a broader audience, that sort of experience has to be absolutely key.

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