Sony’s PlayStation VR has a number of advantages over its virtual reality competitors, such as lower price, ease-of-use, and brand recognition. But it also has a key weakness that could hurt it and the rest of the VR market.
The PlayStation Move controllers are creating several problems that have me worried about PlayStation VR. They are uncomfortable and unreliable, and that makes them the weakest aspect of Sony’s push into virtual reality. The Move devices, which are a pair of TV remote-like wands with light-up bulbs on the end, get the job done in a lot of circumstances, but they show their origin as a 2010 answer to the Wii Remote motion controller whenever you try to go from broad gestures to precision articulation.
The HTC Vive controllers and Oculus Touch also make the PS VR solution feel sluggish. Sony even acknowledges that Move is not ideal for every virtual reality experience. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) trade show in Los Angeles last week, it announced the Aim rifle-style controller for 1-to-1 controls in PSVR shooter Farpoint.
After going hands on with the Move-plus-PSVR combination multiple times at E3, I can’t stop thinking about how lackluster Sony’s motion controllers feel compared to what HTC and Oculus are bringing by comparison. Let me share my concerns with you.
PlayStation Move Loses Tracking and Calibration
I’ve had the HTC Vive in my house for several months now, and I’ve started to realize that the wand controllers that come with the device set this VR system apart. They calibrate once during a setup process, and they never need calibration again unless you move one of the two tracking stations or change around your room. Vive’s controllers do freak out at times, but it’s rare. I only get that because I have my Xbox One’s Kinect on or a security camera with an infrared light blasting into the room. Otherwise, the Vive’s controllers are the strongest tools that game developers use to keep me tethered to their virtual worlds.
I cannot say the same for PlayStation Move.
Sony released Move in 2010 for the PlayStation 3 in an effort to battle Nintendo’s Wii and its trendy motion controls. It uses a camera to track the position of a colorful bulb on the end of the Move sticks in 3D space. That same technology is what powers Move for PS VR (it also enables the PS4 to track the light on a DualShock 4 and even the position of VR headset itself). Sony has updated this with a new camera specifically for PS4, but the underlying technology — at least when it comes to Move — is old.
Batman: Arkham VR required me to calibrate my weapons. In one challenge, I threw my batarangs at a target, and it didn’t matter how I threw them — they always went straight to the target. It came across like developer Rocksteady wanted to understand my “batarang throwing movements” for future reference, but it also didn’t trust the Move enough to give me 1-to-1 control in combat.
Final Fantasy XV VR, which I played right after Batman, emphasized why a developer like Rocksteady might not trust Move. In this Square Enix experience, which is nothing more than a shooting gallery, the real-world Move and my in-game gun never synced up. I would point directly at my target, a Behemoth (one of the classic monsters from the series), and my gun would fire up and to the right.
All of this is in contrast to the VR FunHouse game I played with the Vive at Nvidia’s E3 booth. That let me juggle objects and shoot my weapons with really satisfying one-to-one physics.
This inaccuracy is worrisome.
I’ve already written about my issues with Sony trying to sell PSVR on the strength of names like Batman, Star Wars, and Final Fantasy because they half-baked games that do not come across as full products. But even beyond their form, the actual gameplay may remind people why motion-controlled gaming came and went after the Wii.
The Move is more like waggle. If you were gaming during the days of the Wii, you probably know that “waggle” was a pejorative term that indicated motion controls on Nintendo’s system weren’t 1-to-1. The Move was always better than the first generation of the Wii, but when it comes to accurately translating my motion into in-game action, it disappoints compared to Vive or the Oculus Touch.
Move is the Least Comfortable VR Controller
The ergonomics of the Move also concerns me. It’s a round cylinder, and you can usually find a sweet spot when you first go to grip it. But the Move can cause muscle strain in your hand if you go from holding it one way to another. In VR, shifting your grip is common.
Going back to Batman, one of the demos had me donning the Dark Knight’s armor. In one moment, I was putting on his gauntlets. That required me to make a fist around the Move. In the next section, I was testing the grappling hook.
I found that when I tried to shift my grip from making a fist to holding a gun, the controller was unnatural and flimsy. Because the wand lacks ridges and doesn’t fan out in a cone shape — the way the human hand does when it’s holding something — you have to contort your grip to keep a steady hold on the Move.
For me, this caused some actual pain, and I felt like the controller was going to slip from my grasp.
I’ve had no such trouble playing Vive games for hours.
I fear that PS VR won’t work for hours at a time specifically because of the Move.
Sony is Already Complicating the Messaging
When I talk to people about the potential for PlayStation VR, I often cite its lower cost, the huge customer base of 43 million PS4s sold, and Sony’s huge team of first-party developers. But in the past, I’ve also pointed out that Sony should have the easiest time bringing the message of VR to consumers.
But it looks like Sony is already starting to muddle that conversation with confusion.
In all of its marketing materials, Sony claims that the PlayStation 4 costs $400. But that’s just for the headset — this assumes you already have the controllers and the required camera. It’s $500 for the headset, 2 Move controllers, and the camera. Let’s also hope that your PS3-era Move controller batteries are still working nearly a half-decade later.
But the confusion goes beyond price. At E3, Sony revealed the Aim, which is its new motion gun-style controller that works with the Farpoint shooter for PSVR. At this point, Sony isn’t saying whether this device will work on other games or how much it costs. But it’s clear that Aim is something new that it built specifically to work with Farpoint.
So investing in the Aim isn’t guaranteed to pay off with compatibility in future games. It is only a guarantee that Sony is dropping full support for some of your older Move-related peripherals.
If you’re looking at the Aim and thinking that you won’t need it because you already own the PS Move Sharp Shooter peripheral, well, guess what: It won’t work.
@Tomero92 Unfortunately, no. The PSVR Aim controller is a completely new controller and we developed the game for the PSVR Aim and DS4.
— Impulse Gear (@ImpulseGear) June 15, 2016
You can keep using the Move you already own with PSVR, but Sony is replacing other peripherals for it that you think would work. And the publisher isn’t saying this in the blog post announcing the Aim.
Sony’s approach to messaging PSVR is beginning to come across as deceptive. It is obscuring the real price. It isn’t upfront about which peripherals will work and which you’ll have to replace. And it all centers around the Move. The company likely has a ton of those wands sitting in a warehouse, and the PSVR seems like the opportunity to get rid of them.
The DualShock 4 Provides a Much Better Experience
Finally, the Move is disappointing because Sony clearly could make something better if it had tried. The DualShock 4 gamepad that comes with the PS4 is evidence of that.
One of the coolest PSVR games I saw at E3 was Statik. It uses the DualShock 4 to track the location of both your hands in 3D space. Inside of the simulation, it wraps a strange mechanical device around your digital hands. This creates an intense sensation of presence because it brings your hands into the world with you in a way that your brain understands.
I’ve played other PSVR games with the DS4, and — unlike Move — I never had to battle with the tracking or make due with inaccurate waggle controls. Sony clearly made improvements to its position-tracking technology when it made the leap from PS3-era Move to the PS4. So far, those leaps have not found their way into Move.
PS VR is going to introduce a lot of people to VR, and that is potentially a problem. The Move isn’t terrible, but it is unreliable enough of the time that it could spoil the entire virtual reality experience. If I can’t trust my hands to do exactly what I want, I’m going to get frustrated and give up.
For me, that means going back to Vive or giving Oculus Touch a try. I have that option because I write about VR for a living. But the average consumer is not going to deal with their frustrations with VR and the Move by spending more money on VR. They’re going to assume Vive and Oculus Touch are roughly the same thing, and then they’ll go back to playing games on their televisions.
That’s a worst-case scenario, but it’s one that I think is a distinct possibility due to the Move. It’s up to Sony to ensure that doesn’t happen.
This post originally appeared on VentureBeat by Jeff Grubb. Jeff is a reporter for GamesBeat. He has not written any fantasy novels. You’re thinking of Jeff Grubb. Instead, Jeffrey Grubb spends his time investigating the big stories in gaming, crying over Detroit sports, and exploring his latest hometown of Denver, CO. Fun facts: He was born and grew up in Michigan. He moved to Ohio. And he does not enjoy writing about himself. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffGrubb.