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Shuhei Yoshida talks PlayStation VR

Limitations, marketing issues - and how it can afford that low price point.

This week, Sony finally revealed details of its upcoming PlayStation VR headset - which will launch in October with the eye-catching price of £349.

Not only will PS VR be the the most affordable virtual reality experience to launch this year, it will also have the might of Sony's PlayStation brand behind it.

But there are still plenty of unanswered questions surrounding PS VR's potential for success. It is a fixed platform, with hardware locked to the PS4's own - which will date quicker than ever more powerful PCs. It is also based around technology such as the PlayStation Camera - which carries its own set of limitations.

Eurogamer editor Oli Welsh sat down with Sony Worldwide Studios' Shuhei Yoshida at the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco to discuss Sony's VR plans - and explore its potential.

You can watch the full interview - including Yoshida's separate answer when we quizzed him on the possibility of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One players being able to play together. Alternatively, you can read his answers on VR via the transcript below.

Watch on YouTube

You announced the price yesterday and it's a lot cheaper than Oculus Rift. There's no camera or controller included but that still doesn't account for a $200 difference on price. How have you done that? Are you taking a loss on each unit?

Shuhei Yoshida: I'll answer the last question first - according to our hardware team we are not going to lose money selling PlayStation VR for the price we announced. That's great news because we can invest in promotion, doing trials, developer support without bleeding money by selling the PS VR hardware.

In terms of how we accomplished it - luckily our hardware teams have been making hardware for a long time. We've approached PS VR development how we approach PlayStation console development - we always aim high in the quality of the experience. Especially because virtual reality is so new, we wanted to do it right first time. We waited until we could use cutting edge tech like 120Hz OLED displays - that doesn't exist anywhere, we custom made it for PS VR.

We also wanted to provide a social experience, like adding functionality on the processing unit to render two different screens - for the TV and for PS VR. That cost us money as well. So we focused on delivering the high quality experience first, and only after that we focused on how low a price we could deliver.

Our target was [that it would sell for] almost the same price as the PS4, which was $399/€399. We are very happy we could hit that.

So it was Sony's experience which let you hit that price point?

Yoshida: And our engineering as well. I understand our hardware engineers can make something which costs a lot - or a lot less. Our team has a lot of experience in doing that.

You have a fixed platform on PS4 and that brings a lot of advantages, guaranteeing the experience will be similar to all players. But it has some disadvantages, too. Are you worried other VR tech will be able to develop faster and leave PS VR behind?

Yoshida: In terms of the highest graphical performers, it's a PC world. The AMDs and NVIDIAs of the world are always bringing out new, more powerful graphics cards for several hundred dollars and there a group of consumers willing to keep investing in that. So on that standpoint we are fixed platform, as you say. PS4 is PS4 for everyone who owns it. With PS VR, we can ensure developers can spend a lot of time tuning their games so they can ensure the experience is great for everyone trying it.

Also, consoles - including PS4 - we always allow the lowest [presumably he means "deepest"] level of access to the programmers so they can get the best out of the hardware. In the past, even on the same platform you saw that games kept looking better and better [over the life of the console]. The same will happen with PS4, too. Our system software guys will continue to work improving and tuning PS4 as well.

It's often said you need to try VR to really get it. How are you going to get around that when it comes to marketing PS VR?

Yoshida: It's going to take time and money and effort to do that - and we're willing to do that, bringing PS VR to as many consumers as possible at roadshows and such. I totally believe that Oculus, Vive, Valve, HTC and ourselves are helping each other bring high quality VR experiences to new consumers. Anything we do, or they do, is helping each other create more awareness of VR.

Your price point should help you create an install base pretty quickly, but the mass market appetite for VR is a complete unknown at the moment. Does that worry you at all?

No - we are super excited about the things happening around VR. Every week we see new games announced and people get excited to try new demos.

We are showing what we call our social VR demo - it's a tech demo which allows people to be in the same space and interact with VR. Developers will continue to come up with interesting reasons to try VR tech.

I've tried all the VR systems and I have to say the room-scale tech on Vive really wowed me. Is this something which could ever be built into PlayStation VR? I'm assuming you've tried it yourself.

Yoshida: When you design it well, it's great. It makes sense they came up with its chaperone system because they designed the room-scale system and encourage people to move around. They also came up with the safety net to alert people when they are stepping over the boundaries [of Vive's play space]. That's all great.

In terms of PS4, because the headset is tracked by the PlayStation Camera there's a limitation in terms of its field of view. So we defined the play area to be in front of the Camera. We have communicated that to developers, so they are required to create play experiences in the area in front of the Camera we have defined. We have added a system feature similar to the chaperone but simpler - if the system detects the headset is going outside of the play area then a system alert shows up to let you know you're going outside.

Developers are good at designing around the limitations of a particular platform. VR developers are smart people. Even though some developers may start working on HTC Vive first, because they want to provide their game available to as many consumers as possible, they tend to modularise their game to allow a room-scale experience to be rearranged to work in a standing or sitting area so they can move their game to various platforms. I understand even on the Vive platform, if people simply do not have much space they can reconfigure it into a smaller experience. I don't know if it is required, but it is encouraged that games will reform around space. So this will probably work well with PlayStation VR.