In this exclusive interview we present the first Q&A with Shuhei Yoshida, Sony's new president of its Worldwide Studios organisation. Replacing Phil Harrison, Yoshida has spent his entire career at Sony. We speak with him about his strategy for PSP and PS3, and plans to expand the market furtherâ?¦Shuhei Yoshida was promoted to president of SCE's vast global studio operation earlier this year after Phil Harrison left the firm to become president at Infogrames.
He joined Sony Computer Entertainment Interational in 1993, and was one of the initial members in establishing the PlayStation business. Later, He was appointed producer of the Product Development Department in April 1996, and joined Sony Computer Entertainment America as VP of Product Development in April 2000. Since then he held various positions in product development, producing many of the SCEA-made franchises.
In February 2007, Yoshida was promoted to Senior Vice President, US Studios, SCE Worldwide Studios.
When your appointment was announced as head of WWS, one of the things mentioned by Kaz Hirai was that you would be expanding the market. How will you do that?
This is something I think we have been saying, and what Phil was pushing – his studios worked on EyeToy, SingStar, Buzz and social gaming – and now it’s a big hit with Guitar Hero, Rock Band and the Nintendo Wii. Because we want every household to have video games, we are really only half way there from our future ambition – so that was the push that PlayStation group had. And it is achievable in the future.
Do you feel obligated to do what Phil Harrison did, and find the next EyeToy or SingStar, so Sony is still delivering new products to widen the market?
In terms of tactically –absolutely, yes. We have always been a fan of adding new interfaces to the core platform to create some unique experiences, so we will definitely continue do that. But there are also new users coming into the space – many of them choose Nintendo Wii for the first platform as it is easy and fun, but when they have fun, some of them will think ‘Perhaps there is something more out there I can play’.
So you can position PlayStation as the platform that brings those new consumers closer towards bigger or deeper experiences?
Yes, in my mind Nintendo and Sony and Microsoft are conspiring to really expand the market together. It didn’t work that way in the prior generation because all three companies tried to get the same market. Nintendo made a very good choice for all of us to go for a completely different direction and bring new users into the industry.
You were talking about finding new things tactically; will they be internally made, do you think, or through external studios?
It doesn’t really matter – we are always searching for new ideas from new ideas from our internal or external developers. LittleBigPlanet is a great example of an external, highly creative team bringing in new ideas.
The WWS operation is quite large – do you plan to grow it further via expansion or acquisition?
I think that we have more projects that we want to do than we do have resources. So, the cancellation of Eight Days was not necessarily because that project was failing, but because we looked at how it fit in the portfolio and where it fit as a production. We have been constantly been investing, and every year we are spending more money on more people. And that will continue.
Ubisoft has tapped into a lot of emergent markets in its expansion – is that something Sony could do?
Yes, I have been watching them closely and I always have been amazed at how well they do. Many years ago we visited Ubisoft Shanghai, in 2002 or 2003. Back then they were just doing porting work, but now that team is developing original title. That’s a very special thing. And now Ubisoft has a studio in Morocco as well – they are clearly the innovators in terms of cultivating talent in new places. And many of us will follow them.
Is there an overall strategy for the PS3 games that WWS will make going forward when it comes to setting the agenda for the platform?
There are many areas but one focus that has been and will be key is how we use the online technology and PlaySation Network to involve more consumers in participating. LittleBigPlanet is a major, major step forward in that this year. Prior to that we released SingStar, and I’ve been checking out people’s videos – it’s been very interesting to see that people enjoy publishing their performances. And the Buzz channel – I can’t wait to see the strange questions people come up with for that! So that’s the major common theme that we are trying to enforce with all our projects.
You mentioned the cancellation of Eight Days and The Getaway – were those two things related? The two games seemed to be big, typical single-player games – not online experiences…
If I am truly honest that was part of the consideration. As I say, there are many projects we want to do and we look at many different angles for them, such as profitability, how long it may take, and where it fits in the portfolio – along with other strategic aspects that we are trying to delivery for the platform. So it was just one of the issues.
Would you say that there’s a move away from those big budget games towards the SingStar-like experiences which can self-sustain itself via the sale of content online after release?
We do both types of game and spend a lot on making various kinds of games. Really, it’s just a balance between them.
And what about the PSP – what’s your strategy for that?
The PSP hardware sales are doing well – it’s actually doing better than we planned for, there is in fact a big of a shortage on the hardware. But because we are first party we have been focusing on releasing titles developed just for PSP. Many of them do very well from a business standpoint and also get critical acclaim. It’s a key lesson – you cannot develop a game for one platform and try to retrofit it for others. It doesn’t work. You might sell certain numbers, and that may be a good business, but it’s not as good a business if the game is developed for the PSP. And because of all this growth in the industry and new opportunity the first parties have to make the big decisions on resources.
So as a company we have to continue to show what PSP can do and how unique the experiences are on the platform when you develop a game exclusively for that platform. Because there is no direct competitor to the machine, it’s an opportunity. That might be a bit of an issue from a business standpoint, because if there are similar platforms you can plan for multiple SKUs, but Wii, DS and PSP – each is unique so its games need to be focused more.
I hope more and more third-party publishers see the PSP as an attractive opportunity.
In part two of the interview, we discuss Yoshida's career at PlayStation and his wider strategy for the global Sony studio operation. Check back on June 17th for the second half.