The Sony Worldwide Studios president discusses its PS3, mobile and Vita plans
How important is it for Sony to push unproven concepts? Is it something done to demonstrate what the console is capable of achieving?
From my perspective, it’s the other way around. From the day we started working on Playstation 1, we had a culture of trying new things and really supporting people who have good, big ideas whether or not they have been proven.
This is because, when we announced the PlayStation, we were a newcomer to the gaming industry. There were other big companies like Nintendo and Sega who'd been making games for a long time, but because we were new, these types of big ideas being supported meant that many more creative people could participate in making entertainment with us.
That’s why we called our company Sony Computer Entertainment, not Sony Games. We’ve always continued with that culture, and when we meet people like David Cage or the team at Media Molecule who have a very good (if unconventional) idea, and when we believe in their vision, it’s just natural for us to support it.
I think that in turn creates what PlayStation is today. So that’s how we operate.
So you’d say the likes of PixelJunk, That Game Company and Unfinished Swan are the end result of your culture, not the other way around?
How does the cross-pollination of PlayStation 3, Vita and mobile fit into Sony’s larger vision? Is it a part of a push to get a larger base of developers on Sony platforms generally?
The answer in simple terms is yes.
Bearing in mind it’s been only four months since we launched PS Vita, I’m very happy with how the Vita has come out.
We've worked really closely with the hardware group over the last few years to discuss what devices and capabilities would make sense.
We wanted to create the idea of a portable gaming system with our hardware group that we also wanted as a game development group. Four months later, we're still working hard to realise the potential and vision that our hardware team has created with PS Vita.
One example is that we’re able to announce PS1 classics support with the next firmware update. Other examples are how we use PS3 and PS Vita together.
We’re working on new titles like SoundShapes (where you can create your own songs) that is also an action platformer. You can share your creations in that game with other people who are playing games on PS Vita or PS3.
We’re trying to show both consumers, industry and development teams what it is that they can do using PS Vita as a platform in conjunction with PS3.
In my mind, we are still at the starting phase of realising and showing the potential of PS Vita. PS Mobile is a larger initiative that also includes Vita.
Our group in Tokyo created a PS Mobile SDK that small independent developers can download to their PC and develop games that work on PS certified Android devices as well as on PS Vita.
I’m hearing lots of small independent developers say they're interested in using PS Mobile to create small games to release on PS Vita.
In the past, becoming a certified, licensed developer for the Playstation platform was not an easy thing to do. The development kit was somewhat expensive.
With PS Mobile, people can just download the SDK from our web site and when they decide to publish their game, they can pay us just $99 per year to become the publisher of their content, so that includes PS Vita.
It all comes from our understanding and appreciation of the widening availability of gaming opportunities for consumers across different devices. We’d like to reach out to these new people who have discovered gaming for the first time on their smartphones and tablets.
So innovations such as the dual touchscreens will only really have their potential realised by a massive group of developers outside Sony’s control. Is this part of your strategy for demonstrating the Vita’s potential?
That’s really interesting way to look at things, and I agree that we professionals believe we know everything, but of course we don’t. When we have tens of thousands of people looking at things and trying things independently, then the great ideas will come.
I can’t wait to see what kind of games and content will come out via PS Mobile because there are many more people on the system, as you say.
Are you looking to try and capture a lot of those mobile produced games as PlayStation exclusives? Is that a prerequisite for budding developers?
No, it’s not like that. We as a studio make games only for PlayStation platforms and provide content which is only available on PlayStation, but nowadays, big games require a huge investment.
When you’re making games on Blu Ray disc for PS3, you have to pay $30-$40 million to make one game, and it just economically doesn’t make sense to create the game on only one platform if you’re an independent publisher.
So, we totally understand the need for publishers to diversify, but because we have platforms that have unique features, we talk to publishers when they’re working on their IP to help them figure out what unique features on our platforms it makes sense to take advantage of.
When it comes to PS Vita, to us, it’s nothing like any other system, so anything that comes to PS Vita to me is an exclusive.
So that’s a good thing, and I think people find that even an experience which was originally made for PS3 tanslates well (for example Rayman Origins plays and looks beautiful on PS Vita), even without changing the game (although they did add touch control, which was great). In fact that experience will be unique, even if the content is the same.
Are you happy with the Vita’s first showing at E3?
Well, actually, I got lots of tweets to my account complaining that there weren’t many PS Vita games being talked about. In retrospect, we should’ve spent more time showing and talking about our PS Vita titles.
We have 25 PS Vita games playable on the show floor, some of which are really great titles I’m very excited about. We could have spent more time talking about those, but we had a very clear intention this year to make the total press conference shorter, because we’re notorious for holding lengthy ones.
I hope we accomplished that with this year’s conference (which I think lasted about 80 minutes), but from the perspective of people who are waiting for more information on Vita titles, we weren’t able to provide that.
I’m hoping that journalists are looking at the games on the show floor and getting the word out that way.
Will the future of Playstation look harder at add-on services, further motion sensing, augmented reality or cloud gaming?
I think those avenues are valid and it’s definitely a good idea to make use of cloud gaming technologies. We’ve been looking at the variety of technologies we could include in the Playstation ecosystem.
We looked at different motion sensing tech and our vision analysis technologies to create PS Move for example
We’ve been looking at streaming tech as well, and one of the examples we had was what we call remote play. Remote Play was where you connect your PSP through the internet to your PS3. It is like a cloud gaming service at a fundamental level in terms of how the mechanic itself works.
Cloud gaming services allow us to stream games via a server to different devices, but in order for it to become practical, the internet has to be very robust in terms of bandwidth and latency.
As with all things infrastructure, it takes time for it to become widely available. Some consumers in the US and some parts of Europe have very robust and fast net speeds, so cloud gaming would be practical in those markets, but not when you look at the wider, broader global market.
Cloud gaming, because it’s so easy for consumers and is so convenient (ie you don’t have to do any big downloads, installation or setup). When there are faster internet connections, gaming in the cloud as a subscription service could become a reality.
We’re looking at what OnLive is doing, and the tech around that, and considering how this can be a part of Playstation.
And how would a move like that, if it were to happen, impact the rollout of new Playstation hardware?
I think when it becomes a reality, what it'd do is allow us to reach a broader audience on devices Playstation platforms, reaching broader audiences than we currently can.
Considering that this console generation has lasted longer than any before it, would you say this is a trend which might increase further for the next generation? Are hardware updates becoming less important?
Well, we’re not talking about any next gen Playstation hardware ideas as yet, but because we're updating the firmware and adding new services and devices (like PS Move and PS Vita) which work alongside PS3, people (and developers) are finding new ways to create new experiences for the current console.
Also, the PS3 is an incredibly advanced piece of hardware in terms of the CPU, and it’s taken developers a long time to really maximise the use of the tech. So when you look at new games like The Last of Us or Beyond, they’re much improved from earlier PS3 titles.
I think all of that will continue to contribute to the longer life cycle of the PS3 over previous generations.
Are you interested in prolonging this period of developers being in their prime?
From a consumer standpoint, I’ve gone from the NES to SNES to Playstation, PS2 and PS3, and I totally agree that when the platform matures, the very best games come out. I also agree that on PS3, games are really reaching their peak in terms of depth, graphical fidelity, playability and network features.
I think this is the result of many years of hard work by the development community, and they’ll continue to take advantage of what they’ve been able to accomplish on PS3.
Thank you for your time.
This interview was originally published on MCV Pacific.