Master Mind

Master Mind

By Develop

June 28th 2007 at 5:16PM

Whatâ??s the one question youâ??d ask Phil Harrison, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios? Here, he answers questions posed by Develop readersâ?¦

Given that Sony were keen to point out the virtues of the PS2 and that it is still ‘mid-cycle’ are you alarmed at the speed at which publishers seemingly looked to drop the current gen (PS2) and the fact that many don’t seem to have acknowledged the mistakes during the last transition (from PSone to PS2)?
Martyn Brown, Team 17

I’m not seeing that as much as you suggest, but clearly some publishers have refocused their efforts to PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3. The reality is that the biggest (and smartest) publishers are supporting PS2 with new IP as well as continuing investment in their existing IP. SCE is the same and we will have PS2 titles in development for years to come.

With the costs of development rising, what role do you see the small independent developer playing in the future?
Julian Rex, Climax Action Studio

The emergence of the network as a viable commercial platform for delivery of content (not just games) into people’s homes is going to provide developers of all sizes with great opportunities.
PS3 and PSP are both built around the premise of a writeable format combined with standard networking features, linked to a commercial, global network that connects content providers with users. I accept that not all developers will want to take on the risk profile of writing a AAA blockbuster on PS3 that will ship on a 25GB Blu-ray Disc – especially if they are a smaller team. But that is not a disadvantage. The network will provide that opportunity and we will help developers exploit that. Start by contacting www.playstation.com/beyond and we will get in touch through the appropriate local production team.

In your position as Sony Worldwide Studios president you now have a worldwide purview of Sony’s development space – do you see any great differences between development methods across the territories?
Owain Bennallack, Develop

There are obviously some cultural differences between studios across five countries in three continents, but many similarities exist. SCE grew its development resource through creative innovation, rather than some spreadsheet-driven catalogue planning tool and so our studios have innovation and invention as core values. The creation of SCE Worldwide Studios clearly gives teams more structured opportunity to share, to learn and exchange ideas, tools and know-how with each other and we’re starting to see the benefits of that already.

The Cell architecture represents a radical departure from conventional computing architectures. What opportunities do you see this creating in the middleware and tools sectors?
Chris Doran, Geomerics

Plenty and bountiful! The Cell architecture lends itself ideally to multiple threads and tasks being distributed across one or many SPEs. This allows tremendous floating point performance to be achieved using relatively high-level programming techniques. This is one of the key differentiators from the VU processors on PS2, which required fairly specialist, low-level engineering skill to maximise their performance.

Middleware and tool providers can tap into that performance advantage offered by Cell to produce and market high-level solutions to complex problems. This could be in many areas of technology: from physics and dynamics to procedural generation of content, behaviours and simulation.
More importantly, the industry requires these solutions to be high quality. The commercial realities of game development today are such that it’s unlikely that game teams will vertically integrate every solution to every development challenge internally. This provides a huge commercial opportunity to tools and middleware providers. Right now the business is focused around delivering ‘big solutions to big problems’ with a price to match, but I hope this will be joined by more specialised solutions to more targeted challenges in the development pipeline or even on the artistic expressions side.

The high-risk of development has meant that there is less scope for independent developers to retain IP rights over games they have created.
Do you think this situation will change at all during the generation we are heading into?
John Schorah, Weightmans

As I’ve said before, the network will provide opportunities to connect games more directly to developers. The source of funding, regardless of whether it’s a publisher, bank or VC will always want to retain control to protect their investment – in the same way that the bank retain a lien over your house when you arrange a mortgage to buy it.

What’s most important is for developers to work with partners who can most effectively promote, exploit and expand the market. In the same way that the role of a music label is changing from being a vinyl factory and distributor of LPs to A&R hothouse with added-value marketing skills, I think the game publisher will morph over time, too.

One of your passions is for games to move towards episodic gameplay. It is something that many developers believe in, but has Sony convinced the publishers that there is a good financial model that makes this practical?
Michael French, Develop

I wouldn’t say ‘convinced’, but it’s more about proving it. I remember in 1994, the early days of PSone, many people were sceptical of our ability to succeed in the face of Sega and Nintendo’s duopoly control of the video game market. Well, 200 and something million machines and billions of units of software later I think we’ve proved ourselves.

When we come to write the history books on PS3, I hope we’ll see that this generation genuinely changed the way gamers play and pay for entertainment. Ten years ago would you have predicted that Apple would have delivered well over a billion songs direct to consumers from something called iTunes to something called iPod?

By delivering a commerce engine as a core part of our network strategy we will make it very easy for developers and publishers to deliver episodic contents over the network to augment retail discs, or as wholly network-based experiences. But you don’t have to wait for the network to see this happening already – to a great extent, SingStar is an episodic product.

We’ve delivered over 20 international variants – that’s over 350 songs across the five main releases in two years. What this proved to us internally is the need to create robust development procedures that allow systematic delivery of builds through to QA and production. The more data-driven the process became, the more predictable it became. We now have a massive throughput of content from a very small team.

How do you see the business model evolving to cater for episodic content? (For instance: voice over artists and composers, especially those with a background in TV and film, will expect to receive on-going revenue if the content is to be distributed in a similar fashion, something the games industry has thus far been reluctant to follow.)
Andy Emery, Side UK

Hard to generalise, but of course legal agreements will be in place to ensure that rights holders are appropriately compensated for their work and intellectual property or performance. Just because the delivery system is advancing doesn’t mean we forget everything we’ve learned over the past 20 years in this business.

How will you make the PlayStation 3 network experience accessible and appropriate for children?
Jonathan Smith, TT Games/Giant

By ensuring that we adopt the widely accepted ratings and standards from around the world. If you look at the parental lock system built into PSP, you can see that it effectively deals with multiple ratings systems in different countries and the slight variations from region to region. With a network platform you have even greater ability to conditionally permit access to appropriate content based on user registration. To borrow a quote, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, and we must all take this seriously if we are to grow our industry free from inappropriate external regulatory influence.

Sony is clearly keen for developers to find ways to design their PlayStation 3 games to use the PSP – but how do you see the gameplay experience enhanced? And do you see it driving people to buy both, or looking for games with this feature in order to exploit the fact they own both?
Andrew Oliver, Blitz

Both systems have been designed with each other in mind – at a system level, an OS level and an interface level.

By expanding the game experience across PS3 and PSP you extend the opportunity to play away from the TV, around the home and outside of the home – and that has to be a good thing. Exactly how that is manifest depends on the developer, but with PSP our fastest selling format ever, I hope there will be plenty of opportunity for that cross-platform experience to happen.

How do you see advertising in games changing the way consumers view the games market? Ultimately, is it a good thing that development may be funded by advertisers, leaving players to sit through branded content?
Philip Oliver, Blitz

Well, it’s the accepted norm in TV, radio, print and Internet content distribution, so why not adopt it in some way for games? Even though I pay for my Sky subscription, I still see ads in the middle of The Simpsons. On a macro economic basis, we must see this as an opportunity rather than a threat.
Now, having said that, we must be sensitive to the user experience and the way we integrate ads into games has yet to be defined as a universal ‘language’ as it has in TV.

If you look at the history of TV, there were plenty of examples of advertising that was intrusive, inappropriate or degraded the consumer experience before both programme maker, network and advertiser got it right. The early soap operas were so-called because they were sponsored by soap companies and targeted to housewives – and there was often an intrusive infomercial at the front end that showed how Sunlight soap washed whiter, or whatever. It was also true that in the 1950s the biggest rated shows had incredible reach. The most popular episode of I Love Lucy in the US had a 70 per cent audience share compared to a ten or 12 per cent share for a massive network show like Lost.

Is it right to say that Sony’s recently adding teams such as Guerrilla and Zipper to its ranks proves that the way to really succeed on PlayStation 3 is via a big investment in staff and resources? And on a related note: How many people are working on Killzone 2 compared to the original?
Jon Jordan, Develop

Yes and no. You’ve chosen as examples two big teams working on big franchises so yes, they have a large resource. But we’re also seeing smaller teams achieve astonishing results on PS3, so bulk is not a pre-requisite for success.

Guerrilla is growing, but they’re also working on multiple SKUs so it’s hard to compare like with like.

Games like SingStar and Buzz! have got people who don’t see themselves as games players playing PlayStation. But we still see that the over 40s generally are completely distant from console games – but they are very active on the Internet despite being perceived as computer-phobic. Have you got thoughts, or even plans, on how this market can be convinced to buy PlayStation?
Andrew Oliver, Blitz

The examples you give are certainly generating sales to non-gamers of all ages and sexes. SingStar and Buzz! have been very influential in expanding the definition of gaming to include people outside the traditional demographics. This is something we’re very proud of, but we’re also aware we’ve a long way to go if we’re to make games a truly universal entertainment medium.

Is there anything that Xbox does better than PlayStation?
David Amor, Relentless

Some things, yes.