The one market Sony is thriving in is gaming – its PlayStation 4, released in December, has sold 5.3 million units so far. But the company might lose a slice of that market, too. Today, Facebook announced its intent to buy Oculus, the maker of the virtual reality headset (VR) Oculus Rift, which has been wowing gaming geeks for a while. (Mark Zuckerberg said it’s shipped 60,000 units.) Sony is trying to compete with its own Project Morpheus. Analysts like Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities are skeptical: “I don’t think it’s gonna be a big market. If there’s no content you’re not gonna buy a virtual reality headset, and if you don’t buy a virtual reality headset, there won’t be any content, because no one will make a dedicated game for a very small audience.”
While Sony’s Morpheus is being designed specifically for the PS4, everyone knows Microsoft is working on a VR headset too, for its Xbox. That means gamers will have to buy a different headset depending on which platform they use. Everyone wants to own the “ecosystem”, the way Apple did with music. Trying to corner the Virtual Reality market is nothing new, of course: Jaron Lanier’s company VPL Research, which created the first commercial VR equipment and its first application, looked poised to do it when Zuckerberg was in kindergarten. VPL sold 1.3 million data gloves to Mattel and some high-end gloves to NASA and IBM. But the firm filed for bankruptcy in 1990. Sun Microsystems bought all VPL patents, but then was acquired by Oracle in 2010. Oracle quickly ceased funding of Sun’s VR project, then called Open Wonderland. These days the idea is that when you create an amazing Virtual Reality wonderland, you keep the system closed.