Can this Sony exec bring virtual reality to the masses?

Happy birthday PlayStation!
Happy birthday PlayStation!

He is the smiling corporate face of PlayStation.

Shuhei Yoshida's official title is President of Worldwide Studios for Sony Computer Entertainment. That means he's in charge of the games Sony itself makes for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. But to gamers, he's a lot more than that.

A quick scroll through Yoshida's Twitter feed shows him answering tech support questions, reaching out to developers, and reacting to fan portraits.

Yoshida's latest task is to help Sony sell Project Morpheus, the virtual reality (VR) headset for PlayStation 4. Virtual reality is enjoying a renaissance in gaming, with everyone from Facebook (FB) to HTC getting involved with headsets that range from high-tech units to cardboard casings that you can slot a smartphone into.

The abundance of headsets hasn't convinced mainstream consumers that VR headsets, once derided as a faded vision of the future from the 1990s, are cool again. Sony's solution? Get them on the heads of gamers at events like Ani-Com, a comics, games and toy show in Hong Kong.

"It's very very important for people to try this, to understand what great experiences you can have," said Yoshida of Project Morpheus. "We'll work to bring this to as many consumer touch points as possible."

Yoshida thinks VR will have an extra attraction for gamers in Asia, where anime and comic books are extremely popular.

"Virtual reality allows people to be with game characters and virtual idols," he said. "Those virtual characters live inside a world that you can only experience with Project Morpheus."

sony yoshida
Shuhei Yoshida at a gaming conference.

Project Morpheus isn't the first inventive add-on Sony's (SNEJF) cooked up. The original PlayStation had the Tamagotchi-like PocketStation. The PS2 had the EyeToy camera. And the PS3 had the Move motion controllers.

The reason you may not remember them is that they were poorly supported, and faded away.

So what makes Project Morpheus different? Yoshida said they see it as an important part of the PS4 experience. "We're positioning it not as a peripheral, but as a new system that makes use of the PS4." He added, "PS4 and Project Morpheus were developed at the same time, they work really closely together."

Sony has also come under fire for producing relatively few homegrown titles for PS4 in 2015. It's a charge that lies directly at Yoshida's feet as head of Sony's own studios. The release date for Uncharted 4, once seen as the PS4's big holiday title for this year, has slipped to 2016. But Yoshida said people are only looking at the big names -- and ignoring the rest of Sony's output.

"What people don't pay attention to is that we're planning to release 10 PS4 games from now until the end of the year, including very creative smaller games like Everybody's Gone to the Rapture or The Tomorrow Children. Each one is a very unique and creative game."

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Yoshida added that Sony's strategy is to use these smaller titles to augment big games from major publishers like Activision's Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare or EA's Star Wars: Battlefront. "I believe the games we release this year are a very good complementary line-up."

The veteran Yoshida has seen it all, having started at the company before the original PlayStation was launched.

"When I joined Sony Computer Entertainment in 1993, my first job was to try to convince Sony to invest in PlayStation," recalled Yoshida. "Many Sony executives at that time were against going into the video game business. Many of them considered video games a toy and they thought the Sony brand shouldn't be associated with the toy business."

History has shown that Sony made the right move. But Sony in 2015 is a very different company to what it was in 1993. The once-dominant Japanese giant is struggling on almost every front in consumer electronics, and CEO Kazuo Hirai recently unveiled a plan to focus on a few key growth drivers at the expense of other loss-making businesses. One of those growth drivers? PlayStation.

Yoshida doesn't feel the pressure. "We're very happy to see Sony has high hopes for what we're doing," he said.

Part of that may have to do with the identity of Sony's CEO: Hirai made his name as the head of PlayStation. And after a rough ride with the PS3, the PS4 has Sony on top of the gaming world again.

What's next for Yoishida? His Twitter prowess has been immortalized in a game: He'll appear as a character in Super Time Force Ultra. His weapon is a smartphone that fires tweets.

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