Everyone in the VR industry can envision a world in the next 10 years that’s radically changed by virtual reality. From healthcare, education, social, training, cinema, gaming, and more, VR has a lot of Killer Use-cases. But it seems most of the industry is in agreement that the Killer App—a single, platform-defining piece of software that compels buyers—has not yet arrived. Sony’s Richard Marks weighs in on how we might come to find it.

Every day this week leading up to the 2017 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, we’re featuring insights on the hunt for the killer app from virtual reality’s leading companies. Today we hear from Richard Marks, Senior Research Engineer on R&D at Sony Interactive Entertainment.

Dr. Richard Marks

sony-richard-marksMarks heads the PlayStation Magic Lab within Sony Interactive Entertainment’s Research & Development group. Magic Lab was founded by Marks to push the boundaries of play by exploring how technology can be used to create new entertainment experiences. Marks joined PlayStation in 1999 to investigate the use of live video input for gaming and to develop new interactive user experiences. He helped create the EyeToy and PlayStation Eye cameras, as well as the PlayStation Move controller. Most recently, Marks and his team have been involved with PlayStation VR, experiments with eye tracking technology, and other innovations. He received a Bachelor of Science in avionics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate in the field of underwater robotics from Stanford University.

Road to VR:
What traits do you think VR’s Killer App needs to have?

I don’t believe there will be a single ‘Killer App’ for VR. It is too broad a medium to have just a single app that defines it. If you enjoy sci-fi, you’ll most likely enjoy sci-fi in VR. If you enjoy history, you’ll most likely enjoy history in VR. Virtual reality truly is a new medium, and the idea that there could be a single Killer App discounts it huge potential scope.

But I do believe there will be a collection of ‘Hero Apps’ that help drive adoption and interest, much like we’ve seen in the past with other mediums. These Hero Apps will successfully leverage the capabilities that are unique to VR, in a content area that has broad appeal. The two most important capabilities of VR are presence (being in a different place) and co-presence (sharing a different place with others).

There are multiple technologies that can be used to achieve these capabilities, and a big challenge for mass adoption of VR is the significant hardware required—so accessible (e.g., low cost, low encumbrance) approaches that retain high quality will have the greatest success at reaching a wide audience. Of course, we believe accessibility is one of the biggest advantages of PlayStation VR; it “just works” with over 53 million PS4 consoles in consumers’ homes, making it easier for someone to jump into VR.

Road to VR:
If you had to make a bet, which sector of VR would you predict as the place where the first Killer App emerges?

Marks at PlayStation's Magic Lab
Marks at PlayStation’s Magic Lab

The entertainment sector, including gaming, is likely to have the earliest success because VR is being added to expand the offerings. Also, game developers are already practiced at creating interesting virtual worlds; I’ve heard many game designers say that VR is the medium that lets them finally realize the visions they’ve been trying to create.

We are already starting to see the emergence of several Hero Apps. Horror is a genre that leverages VR presence, and many people recently have been enjoying the visceral experience of Resident Evil 7 (2017) in VR. And I’ve heard many people say that the Star Wars Battlefront Rouge One VR Mission (2016), while not a full game, is their favorite VR experience so far.

I also believe in the near term, social gaming will be the most successful implementation of social VR because it provides an interesting focus, a “raison d’être” for social interaction in VR, rather than something open-ended such as [a VR chat room].

Latest Figures Suggest 'Resident Evil 7' Has Exceeded 1.25 Million PSVR Players

Road to VR:
Do you think VR’s Killer App will launch in 2017?

I strongly believe 2017 will introduce a Hero App (game) that leverages VR co-presence for a new level of interaction beyond any we’ve ever seen in games before, and that is what I’m looking forward to this year.

More from the ‘On the Hunt for VR’s Killer App’ Series:

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • user

    people like resident evil but who bought the hardware in order to play it?
    i think education is the killer app. its the reason parents decide that its worth it to invest in a highend vr system. for their kids and then also for themselves. vr makes education more accessible.

    • benz145

      Part of the point of this article (and the forthcoming series) is that “education” is not a killer app, it’s a compelling *use-case*, but getting from compelling use-cases to an actual app which adds measurable value to people’s lives (enough that they are willing to go buy hardware) is a major challenge facing VR right now.

      • It certainly is and that’s rapidly becoming the dominant news.
        A common mistake in technology it to find a more expensive and awkward way of doing what’s already possible. In this case 3D games.
        VR is about adding physicality. The more you move your body the more immersed you become. Teleporting destroys the very immersion VR is supposed to add and devs spend most of their time on kludges to try to reduce sim sickness.
        I realise that VR treadmills add even more expense but I think its a case of ‘do it right or don’t do it at all’. In the early days tech does tend to be quite expensive and that must be a particular challenge for Richard’s team, given their consumer focus. However, we should be confident that they will get there and probably quicker than we think.
        I’m looking forward to the rest of this series of articles.

        • Multiplataformgamerz

          well it’s not like half of the games use teleporting anyway, but the problem there is people getting their VR legs

      • Brandon Smith

        I kind of disagree that education isn’t a killer app. I mean, broadly it is not a killer app, of course. But who can forget how many parents were swindled into buying CD Roms for their kids because of Encarta?

      • user

        that might be true but im still more precise than the guy that you interviewed here.
        killer app isnt always used as narrow as you say. people talk about porn as a killer app. ofc porn isnt one app. or social networking as the killer app for ar.
        i think a key is customization. an education app needs to offer answers to the questions that the user has. you need to build simulations and combine them with the option to summon a paid teacher inside the simulation. and it needs to happen seemlessly. the teacher takes over one of the npcs.


          I think education is going to be a killer app, but not the first. That’s more advanced. I’m thinking like, NASA pilots practicing in VR, or kids practicing driving. I don’t see the accessories getting developed for it and really taking off (considering the added price for a full on car set up with wheel, pedals, optional stick, and all the controls in a car. Thinks like practicing hands on activities are also pretty useless right now since current handheld peripherals aren’t accurate enough. I think we will need a couple killer apps to get VR enough attention to get it some momentum, and then it can start getting to hands on educational. Afterall if it’s not hands on, there is no point bothering to do it in VR. We got Youtube.

          • user

            what i was thinking of is much more casual. not training. what i mean is: if youre interested in a music genre or in a historic event or society or in future space travel… then you would load simulations and experience them and talk to professionals who are in the simulation.
            for instance there’s a bronx hiphop history bus tour thats organized by old school artists. but the experience is super limited: you have to go to nyc; use the limited time there for this experience; you waste time by driving through the city; you listen to stories without visualisation etc; you only see what the places look like today; you cant experience a block party.
            you can build a better experience in vr AND charge the customer less than in reality. and you can make much more money than with a standard computer game.
            and you give people something to talk about. people usually dont talk about the games that they played last night when they talk to others during lunch break. because gaming is still not that common and it doesnt happen at the same time. tv used to be different, nowadays its increasingly problematic because of the streaming. but if youve learned something in a simulation… that could be of interest to others.

          • KLEEBAN KLIBAN

            Yea, that’s very true about being places that are a pain to get to. I’ve been saying they need to sell VR seats at sporting events, and later any event really. If the quality is realistic enough, getting relatively cheap Super Bowl VR seats would be awesome. They could sell the same seat to as many people as will buy, like Pay Per View but a fair amount more expensive. Incredibly profitable and an awesome experience for people who can’t afford an actual seat, or just don’t want to go. You could even have VR seats in several locations around the event, and you press a button to change to a different seat for better views depending on where players are. Would be cool for WWE or MMA/Boxing too.

    • Brandon Smith

      Well Resident Evil is just a bad example.

      Plenty of people bought hardware just to play Golden Eye, Halo, Myst, Super Mario Bros., Rock Band, Wii Sports, etc.

      There really is no DNA for what makes the hot killer app. But there are unquestionably killer apps.

  • Hacker4748

    Huh? Killer App? What is the Killer App for PC? What is the Killer App for smartphones? Both are platforms and none of them has one specific killer app for which you buy a PC or phone.

    • Brandon Smith

      I kind of disagree. What is the killer app for PC? I think that’s a broad question. It has been different things at different times. For example, what was the killer app for CD-Roms? Myst. What was the killer app for Steam? Half Life 2. Most eras of PC gaming from DOS to the networking era had their killer app that got people into the concept.

      What was the killer app of smartphones? Angry Birds, of course.

      • Hacker4748

        I am not sure if you’re being serious. Are you suggesting without Myst CD-ROMs would not have taken off, without Half-Life 2 there would be no Steam and without Angry Birds there would be no smartphones?

        EDIT: I can agree that once you had a smartphone you would probably try out Angry Birds but I disagree that Angry Birds was the reason for smartphone adoption in general. Applies to your other examples as well.

        • Brandon Smith

          Well firstly, your tone is a little obnoxious seeing as how this isn’t ME making this up. This is industry history.

          “Upon release, Myst was a surprise hit, with critics lauding the ability of the game to immerse players in the fictional world. The game was the best-selling PC game until The Sims exceeded its sales in 2002. Myst helped drive adoption of the then-nascent CD-ROM format. Myst’s success spawned four direct video game sequels as well as several spin-off games and novels.”


          And, yes, without Half Life 2 there would be no Steam. Quite literally. Steam was a mandatory install in order to PLAY Half-Life 2. Thusly everyone who bought Half Life 2, the most anticipated game of the era, also had to install Steam. It’s what kickstarted the adoption of Steam and part of why it’s so ubiquitous now. It’s also how Valve got all the money they got to become the empire they are today. You see Half Life was initially published by Sierra. Sierra (vivendi universal) was under the impression that they also were going to publish Half Life 2. Valve, however, in the most underhanded move the industry has ever seen, was secretly developing their own online store that they were going to use to publish HL2 digitally. When it came time to publish HL2, Valve started telling everyone that in order to play HL2, you had to have a new things they invented called “Steam”. You could also just install Steam and buy HL digitally right from the app. Vivendi was furious and demanded proceeds from all games sold on Steam. Valve told them, later in court, that they had only agreed to work with Vivendi on retail version of the game and not digital sales which, at that point, wasn’t even a concept Vivendi would have known to ask about.


          And clearly I’m not saying there would be no smartphones without Angry Birds. Please do not insinuate that I’m stupid. But Angry Birds WAS the first app many people downloaded and was the game that drove many people to first interface wit the app store. It’s also an app that drove a lot of people to iPads.


          • Hacker4748

            It seems for some reason you are taking this personally? No offence meant, so let’s not accuse each other of an obnoxious tone, shall we?

            It seems we might use a different definition of killer app then. A killer app as I understand it is such an attractive / great / awesome app that a critical mass of people is willing to buy the underlying technology necessary for the app and it becomes universally adopted.

            As for Myst, perhaps, for some players, granted. I wouldn’t call it a killer app, though, since I doubt Myst was the main reason everyone started buying CD-ROM drives. Instead the programs got bigger and bigger and CD-ROM was the logical choice to publish them on. You might say “games” or “Office” or “Windows” but that’s not one killer app then.

            As for HL2, granted, but in this case that was forced adoption and would be similar to selling a game now, bundling a VR headset along with it and then saying it is the killer app driving adoption.

            And as for Angry Birds, again, that’s using some other definition of killer app than outlined above. Even the article you quoted says, “Spreadsheets and word processors persuaded people to buy early PCs. Messaging and mobile browsers did the same thing for smartphones.” which is something I can get behind. It’s not one specific killer app but a new way of using something familiar that is more convenient / practical / cheap / efficient than the previous way.

          • Brandon Smith

            Fair enough. I apologize for saying you were being obnoxious. I was reading it a certain way and you probably didn’t intend for it to be taken that way.

            But I think we are talking about the same thing when we use the term killer app. A killer app is, as you said, a product that is so great that it drives people to buy the underlaying technology.

            When CD Roms originally came out, they were peripherals that you had to buy separately and install into your computer yourself. It as a long time before CDs started becoming standard in PCs that you would buy off of the shelf. And, for the most part, nobody had any need for one. CDs were, at the time, vacuous. The feeling was that nobody would ever use that much space. And there was no upper limit to the storage capacity of discs because you could simply put another few discs in the package and nobody really cared. You handled them during the installation procedure and then never again. (I recall Star Trek Judgement Rights having 11 discs, for example.)

            So it took a very special game to make people feel a need or want for a CD. Much like VR now, many people simply didn’t see a point and were incredibly resistant to the idea of it. And similar to VR, it had a hard time conveying through traditional media what was so great about it. A screen shot of an FMV scene in The 7th Guest looked just like a screen shot in a disc-based game. And no media existed other than magazines to convey what a game was doing. There was no widely used internet and there were no gameplay videos. Because of the large number of rendered stills that composed Myst, and the FMV, Myst was one of the first games that not only made use of CD, but was ONLY released on CD. And, yes, when people saw it… it made them run out and buy CD Roms. Myst was a huge cultural touchstone in the mid 90s. The Simpsons spoofed it. You could find Myst merchandise in bookstores. There were talks about making a Myst television show. Etc. It was the biggest selling game of all time until The Sims.

            Would CD Rom technology have existed without Myst? Sure. But that’s not the definition of a killer app. A Killer App isn’t saying that, if you removed its existence, the media would also not exist. A killer app is the app that promoted the technology to wide adoption. If it wasn’t Myst, it might have been another thing. But it wasn’t another thing, it was Myst.

          • Hacker4748

            This could also depend on geography. I personally don’t know anyone who has played Myst. I guess it was not that popular around here and thus was not a driving factor here. OTOH I will not argue that the future of the CD-ROM format and its adoption was decided around here, either.

          • Brandon Smith

            One of the funny things about gaming, and one of the reasons I HATE when people say that videogames “evolve” is because there are so many games in the past that were MASSIVE hits that nobody really even talks about any more. As you say, there are a lot of people who have never played Myst and if you were to ask a random millennial if Myst was an important game, they would probably say no. And they would be right, in a certain respect. It’s NOT an important game to what is considered the industry today. But there were times when, say, every single game on the PC best-seller list was a Sierra point-and-click adventure game. Each one making millions of dollars. Or when Peter Molyxneux’s Magic Carpet was on the cover of every PC Gaming magazine and given away with every new video card because it was such a massive success.

            Things change and the old ways are forgotten. Such is the nature of getting older, I guess. But there will be a day when nobody remember what “Call Of Duty” or “Assassin’s Creed” are.

          • KLEEBAN KLIBAN

            I’m not sure of the history, but whatever the original Microsoft Office type apps were must have been the first killer apps for PC. Like the PlayStation guy said, people are too different and there is too much potential for tech for there to be ONE app that makes a device a success.. any device needs several killer apps and that’s what he means by Hero Apps.. but that’s just playing with words and he is really just calling killer apps hero apps haha.. it’s the same thing and he is picking at nothing but I get that he is trying give a more realistic understanding of the power of a single app. Microsoft Office, AOL chat was big, social networks. gaming, and then within gaming there were so many killer apps.. couldn’t name them all but the ones relevant to me off the top of my head Pong, Tetris, PacMan, Mortal Kombat, Mega Man, Mario Bros, Mario Kart, Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Pokemon red/blue versions, Doom, Resident Evil 1, 2 and 4, Halo, Smash Bros, Uncharted (for cinematic), Clash of Clans, Call of Duty… so many games that evolved their genres.. like you said so many games were hits and are irrelevant to some but all of them were Hero Apps that propelled platforms in their time.

          • Multiplataformgamerz

            Taking an example for the other way around, skype was a massively used app (and still is, at some degree, but way less than before) and it was almost mandatory, it didn’t stop people from buying android instead, it didn’t stop people from buying a ps4 instead of a XBO, and it took away users from it in the end, a single software will be hardly the reason for masses to buy or adopt hardware, hardware sales are always defined by potential and usability, and of course good marketing.
            Microsoft started this thing about “killer apps” but they took it wrong, and that’s the reason they failed on the phone market, they believed in the concept and were confident about it, well, it wasn’t like that, there are no killer apps, not in the concept of a system seller at least.

          • user

            the examples brandon gives make a lot of sense. while i never owned many games or software in general, ive had myst, half-life 2 and encarta.

          • Multiplataformgamerz

            you cited a part of an article on wikipedia, that’s okay, the problem is, it’s not backed up, it has no citation to any article, watch out when using wikipedia, it can be great, only if used wisely.

          • Brandon Smith

            I just posted a half dozen non-wikipedia links for you on another reply, and I could keep going forever. I included links from places such as ArsTechnica, Wired, and even The Guardian.

            Here’s a picture of the 1994 issue of Wired magazine that details the scenario in specifics if you care to go fishing for back issues. (I actually have this issue in a box somewhere at my Parents house.)


            Having to prove this, though, is like having to prove that water is wet. I lived through it. This isn’t a contestable thing.

          • Multiplataformgamerz

            seems like you are confusing Myst being a success and that it pushed CD-ROM sales, with it being the system seller. i’m not asking for sources talking about Myst success since that’s not being discused, but facts that back up the phrase “Myst drove CD-ROM adoption” in a year that the format was massively adopted already. Gamers and magazines in general tend to exagerate things without providing propper information.

      • NooYawker

        Porn drove everything, except Steam. I agree HL2 was a key part in the adoption of steam.

        • Brandon Smith

          I don’t recall CDs and the adoption of the PC CD Rom as being driven by porn.

        • Multiplataformgamerz

          We have to admit it, phone sales rely A LOT on porn, in part

      • Multiplataformgamerz

        i have yet to know someone who bought a CD reader just to play Myst, i have yet to meet someone who played Myst besides me anyway. And i strongly disagree, there were no killer apps, it was about software kits and average usability.

        • Brandon Smith

          I’m sorry to be blunt, but it really doesn’t matter if you don’t know someone who bought a CD Rom to play Myst or if you don’t know someone who has played Myst besides you. It’s simply FACT that Myst was the largest selling PC game of all time until The Sims debuted, and it’s a fact that Myst drove the adoption of CD Roms as a technology. It’s well documented in thousands of places.

          I don’t drink alcohol, but that doesn’t give me any grounds to say that it’s not important to the world.

          • Multiplataformgamerz

            i don’t want to be rude at all, but the adoption of CD roms had nothign to do with any kind of games, on an era where PCs where mostly used for office automation tasks, the biggest factor for the adoption of CD roms was about servers backups, OS backups, big files transporting and good realiability, along with the use of them as music discs. This was pushed by Sony and Phillips, which leaded to standars that Microsoft adopted near the 90’s , to be exact it started massive sales at 1989, where the tech started its massive adoption, with recording devices being introduced in 1990. Now as you can see, Myst was released in 1993, 6M copies (counted up to the year 2000) doesn’t match the more than 80M units of CD-ROM readers sold to the public (not counting servers and such, and this was counted up to 1997) in the same time frame, even taking smaller frametimes, like 1993-1994. The rest of the massive adoption was just because the tech got cheaper and more accesible, and CD-ROM RW devices gave it a second breath.
            You can see some of this info here http://lowendmac.com/2014/history-of-the-compact-disc/ and here http://www.philips.com/a-w/research/technologies/cd/introduction.html , if you want you can share a document to back up Myst as the system seller, that would be a good article to read.
            Only thing i found about what you said is on wiki:

            “Myst helped drive adoption of the then-nascent CD-ROM format[citation needed]” citation needed …

            Oh and please, when using an analogy, please make sure it follows the same logic, hope i don’t sound rude, check what we both said and think about it. “i have yet to meet someone who played Myst besides me anyway” – > “I don’t drink alcohol, but that doesn’t give me any grounds to say that it’s not important to the world.” you DO know or met or saw many people who drink then, even if it’s through news or whatever media you got to know about alcohol, i had to SEARCH on google to meet people that played the game, and i’m working on finding more things about Mysts besides a single article i found on reddit, which is based on wikipedia. THIS is the big difference.

            Well, to finish i would agree if you said “it pushed sales of CD roms and helped adoption” which is different to say that it DROVE adoption, when the standar was largely adopted already. This is the concept people confuse, when they think that a killer app is the reason of the success of a platform, no, never happened (maybe you could say that about warp OS and the office automation software it had, but doesn’t matter since it never had big sales and failed in the end), but what always happen is the software that pushes sales, Mario Bros., Wii Sports, Crash Bandicoot, Halo, MS Office, Myst, GTAV and such, that’s what i call a killer app, MS confused this concept on the phone market, and thanks to it, their phone market failed.

          • Brandon Smith
          • Multiplataformgamerz

            And please go on and on, none of the links add information at how it drove CD-ROM adoption, all of them repeats the same short phrase adding nothing else. Took the time to read them (and watch them), so please be considered and check if the links you provide actually add information, maybe from manufacturer sources and such.
            I do thank you tho, for your time discusing this, often people just bind to an opinion and insult you if you don’t agree. I don’t want to discus what you went through on those years, maybe you, your family and/or friends did buy a CD-ROm just to play the game, but tha would be as short-sighted (sorry if it sounds rude) as the developer that told me that Zelda was the switch killer app and everyone was about to buy it just for the game, just because his friends would do so (we are talking about people that are gamers & developers at the same time). Asking on switch’s subreddit was enough to show him that it wasn’t like that everywere, he was very polite tho.

            Oh and again, i’m not puttin Myst’s success on the question, maybe something that shows: “1993 was one of the peaks of CD-ROM sales, selling XXXX estimated units” etc etc, would be enough to back this up. So far the market share was very steady and rising linearly .

            Here you can see that


          • Brandon Smith

            Bullshit. At this point you’re just being contrary.

            “all of them repeats the same short phrase adding nothing else.”

            Right. Exactly. What else are you looking for? A certified government badge?

            You’re also going to find a thousand articles that say that Nintendo drove the rehabilitation of the games market after the games crash of the late 70s. No, you’re not going to find a government press release saying it’s the case. It simply IS.

            In 1993 there was an estimated 3 million CD Roms installed in people’s computers. By the end of 1994, Myst had sold over 3 million copies on CD Rom and was a cultural phenomenon. IT was, at that point, the biggest selling computer game of all time. I don’t know what else you want.

          • Multiplataformgamerz

            AH, i guess i rushed my opinion about you…
            Well now that you lost track of your points, it’s useless to continue, i put, BTW, a graphic based on an article, numbers, sales, data, on my post, hope that makes “sense” for you. With this said, and for my own mental sanity, i will just agree to disagree and stop this here before you start to insult my mother or any of those activities your kind of people use to do.
            Sad to see how almost all gamers are so bound to their likings and get mad when someone doesn’t think the same as them, pretty much represent nowaday’s gamer comunity, can’t blame them if the roots are as rotten as the tree.
            Have a nice day.

  • Brandon Smith

    While different people will have their different loves in VR, sure, I think that there is still room for the universal killer app, ala Myst. In fact, I think that over-reliance on genre is part of what’s hurting VR now. You are only going to draw in SO many people by putting them in a virtual haunted house.

    Like Wii Sports, sticking with simple, relatable ideas is best.

    I think the killer VR app is going to be something like Lost or Twin Peaks. Something that focuses on people and their relationships. Mystery. Things that everyone can understand and wants to engage with. I think it’s also going to focus on giving the PLAYER control and not trying so hard to cram a single, defined experience down the user’s throat.

  • NooYawker

    Alien Isolation was the game that pushed me to get VR, then I realized I can’t play it. But $3000 later I don’t regret the decision. But why they don’t work on a VR version is beyond me.

  • Simonsteamyhead

    For me the killer app would be great.To arrange a hit on my fat stinky neighbor with a few clicks on my smartphone is brilliant.Whens it out and how much does it cost ?

  • Ray Benitez

    Put a game like Steep in VR, and you may find that ‘Killer’ app.

  • David Fedirchuk

    Here’s a killer VR 4K streaming distribution app: lens-immersive.com