In September of 2004, Immersion Corporation was awarded damages of approximately 90 million dollars in a lawsuit against Sony, who Immersion said made illegal use of its technologies. Immersion, which manufactures force-feedback and so-called “haptic” (engaging the user via the sense of touch) devices for a wide range of applications, is headed by Victor Viegas, who took some time to speak with Gamasutra about the lawsuit, and about Sony’s announcement that the PS3 would not contain rumble technology.
As far as the ongoing litigation is concerned, Viegas is confident that the end result will be in his company’s favor.
“We’ve already won,” he said. “In September the jury was unanimous in its defense of our actions.”
In addition to the monetary damages awarded, Viegas said the other outcome of the 2004 verdict was an injunction that, if applied, would prohibit Sony from any production, manufacture, or sale of the related technologies in the United States. It is this injunction that Sony is currently attempting to appeal.
“They’ve taken aggressive positions with the use of patents to try to invalidate our claims, and have argued that Immersion committed fraud,” Viegas said. “There’s been quite a lot of legal activity and a lot of unnecessary energy expended over this.”
|Immersion President Victor Viegas|
Previous lawsuits in which immersion has played a part include a settlement with Microsoft (who was originally named as a defendant in the same suit Sony is currently fighting) and Electrosource, the company which produces the Pelican brand of third-party controllers. Both of these companies have settled with Immersion, but Viegas says he sees no current indicators that Sony will follow suit.
In addition to Immersion’s case against Sony itself, he says they have also filed a lawsuit against a Sony witness, who Viegas says appears to have been paid for testimony. As for Sony’s decision to not include haptic technology in their next-generation controllers, Viegas says he is skeptical of their proposed reasoning.
The company announced in a press release that the PS3 controller would lack vibration due to the possibility of it interfering with the controller’s new tilt sensors, which Viegas feels is unlikely.
“If what they’re saying is in fact the reason why [the controller will not have vibration], I’ve offered them numerous solutions to the problem,” Viegas said in an interview Tuesday. “I don’t believe it’s a very difficult problem to solve, and Immersion has experts that would be happy to solve that problem for them.”
The solutions offered by Immersion, however, would hinge upon Sony’s acceptance of the current litigation, and no word has been given as to Sony’s plans on the matter. Viegas says that Immersion “would have no qualms helping Sony with their problem, if indeed it is a problem,” but the company would have to cease its appeal against the current injunction.
Viegas is confident, however, that his company’s technology will be at home on video game systems in the future.
“We feel haptic or vibration technology is quite possible in a next gen system,” he said. “It can provide greater fidelity, better effects, and a more complete sense of immersion, using a wired or wireless controller.”
As far as Sony’s choice to remove vibration from their new console, he feels it goes against the ideas of improvement that are espoused by those entering the next-gen market.
“When you think about the investments they’re making in improving graphics and sound, these are all meant to try to immerse you or put you in the middle of gameplay,” Viegas said. “So to take vibration out of a driving game or a first person shooting game, I can’t imagine how people will be able to view that as an advancement in gaming.”
|PlayStation 3: A "Step Backward?"|
Viegas also said that the responses he’s found on websites and in blogs seem to imply that gamers agree Sony has taken “a step backward” in its development of gaming by its removal of vibration technology.
“From what I’ve read, people are not happy,” he said.
Within his own company it seems, people are not happy with Sony’s decision either.
“We had a lot of employees on the floor at E3, and many of them got to get their hands on the [Playstation 3] controller,” Viegas said. “They say it felt light, that it felt cheap and flimsy, and that it lacked weight or substance. Overall, they were disappointed.”
Apparently, Immersion employees were not the only ones upset at the lack of haptic response in Sony’s new console.
“I’ve spoken with a lot of developers, and apparently out of the early kits they were given to work with, at least a few of them contained vibration technology,” Viegas said. “When the announcement was made that the final product wouldn’t contain that technology, they were as shocked as everyone else.”
Holding over 600 patents, Immersion is certainly not going to go out of business due to the fracas over the Sony suit, but Viegas said he’s hopeful it can be resolved in a fashion that allows players to experience the depth of immersion haptic technology can offer to a next-gen system.
As for the rest of the next-gen consoles, Viegas said they have demonstrated their technology to Microsoft, and have no current plans to interact with Nintendo on its upcoming Wii console, nor do they have any plans to file future injunctions against Nintendo or any other company, yet.
“We have officially stated we have not performed full analysis on Nintendo’s product so are not in a position to comment on the technology they are using,” Viegas said, adding “we’ll take a look at those.”
In the meantime, Viegas said Immersion is hard at work on other haptic technologies that will be applied in a wide range of fields, from creating virtual environments for doctors and nurses to feedback units for automobiles and flat touchscreens. For Sony, however, the ball is in their court.
“We have solutions we have perfected and demonstrated to Sony, contingent on their acceptance of our terms,” Viegas said. “All we can do now is wait and see.”