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Immersion President Calls Out Sony

For years now, Sony has been embroiled in a legal debate with Immersion Corporation, a technology firm which claims that Sony and Microsoft infringed upon Immersion's haptics technology with the force feedback features in PlayStation and Xbox consoles. Microsoft agreed on a settlement with Immersion, and went so far as to purchase a 10% stake in the company. Sony did not agree to a settlement, and last year was ordered by a federal judge to pay Immersion $91M in back royalties and penalties, which Immersion claims still comes out to a lower sum than Sony would have paid had it licensed the technology. Sony launched an appealed to ruling, though Immersion's lawyers have stated that they do not anticipate any problems given the court rulings so far.

At E3 last week, Sony made two surprising announcements about its upcoming PlayStation 3 controller: it will include motion sensing technology, and it will forego the rumble feature present in PS2's current DualShock 2 controller, which is visually almost identical to the new PS3 model. When questioned as to the reasoning for the removal of the feature, Sony's official line was that the rumble technology interfered with the motion sensored. Sony's Phil Harrison also stated that "rumble was last generation, movement is this generation." The explanations given were met with a fair bit of skepticism from the gaming public and press, as the company's unwillingness to show its redesigned controller in recent months was frequently alleged to be connected to the company's bout with Immersion. Furthermore, Nintendo's Wii controller, which includes both motion sensors and a pointer function, does not appear to be adversely affected by its rumble functionality; however, in what may be a related issue, Immersion has never singled out Nintendo for infringing upon its rumble implementations.

In a Gamasutra interview published today, Immersion president Victor Viegas disputes Sony's claims. In regards to the lawsuit, he remains confident, saying "We've already won. In September the jury was unanimous in its defense of our actions." He goes farther, however, claiming that Immersion has in fact offered solutions to Sony for the hardware conflicts they describe, though to take advantage of such solutions would obviously require Sony to drop its current appeal against the latest ruling. Viegas also takes issue with Sony's description of rumble as "last generation" technology.

"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."

"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."

"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."

Viegas even states he has spoken with numerous developers who were unaware of the removal of rumble, as they had been working with development kits making use of the tech. This claim parallels reports from multiple news outlets (including this one) that most PS3 developers also learned about the system's motion-sensing controller when it was announced to the public at Sony's press conference last week. Only one game at the expo, Incognito's Warhawk, had the feature implemented.