Sony Q&A: Going beyond digital

Sony Q&A: Going beyond digital

By Rob Crossley

September 11th 2009 at 1:00AM

Sony Europe's Zeno Colaco explains the firm's cross-media strategies


“One thing I think we’ve got to address is that Minis is not just a PSPgo space,” says Zeno Colaco, Sony Europe’s head of developer relations.

“We need more people to be aware that those games will be available for all PSP models,” he says.

“The PSP already has a very big install base, and I think we’ve got to reignite the activities of that.”

Therein lies the major tension at the heart of Sony’s handheld division.

With Sony set to release a completely new approach to its handheld offering, the company simultaneously wants consumers, publishers and developers to remain faithful to its handheld of the past.

PSPgo is, in many ways, an entirely new console for Sony; aimed at a new audience and built in a new image. Sony’s decision to scrap UMD storage for the device was, for many, reason to believe that the older PSP system has entered the sunset of its lifespan.

Colaco completely disagrees. He reminds us that the PSP now has a worldwide install base of 55 million, that downloadable games and indeed Minis will be available on all PSPs, and, throughout our interview, why there’s still opportunities to be found in UMD.

Tell us more about the origins of the PSPgo; how it was conceived.
In the early days of PSP I recall having a conversation with you guys at the Develop Conference, about three years back.

I remember I said back then that we envisaged a wider experience for the PSP format. I was telling you guys about the PSP’s memory stick and that we were interested in digital distribution.

And at the time, I recall, we were telling you that we wanted to give PSP users different experiences than what you’d expect on a 1.8GB UMD disc.

Long before the iPhone, long before mobile digital distribution took off, we made our statement on that.

Probably about a year ago, we started to form the principals of targeting the PSPgo launch, and we saw the launch of the console as something that allowed us to give the whole program a real kick-start.

So, at the start of this year, we made a shortlist of developers that we wanted to talk to about the new PSP, and they gave us a lot of feedback and a lot of guidance, a lot of dos and don’ts.

The biggest three issues they raised I think we’ve acknowledged. They mentioned the kit pricing and we obviously reacted to that. They spoke about how they wanted a lighter submissions and QA process, and how they wanted Sony to put a lot of effort into publicising their games on the store.

So, over the last eight months we’ve been working on the hardware and bringing together all those requests from developers.

Sony has made a rapid push down the digital distribution route. With that in mind, what incentives do developers still have when developing games for UMD?
The experiences will remain different. PSP Minis have a 100MB limit, and they won’t necessarily look like a million-dollar-budget PSP game developed for UMD.

I think that many Minis titles wouldn’t necessarily hold up well at retail, which is a completely different environment.

However, the most successful Minis titles will probably transition onto UMD. I think that a package of multiple Minis games on a single UMD is a real possibility at a later stage, where even a studio or publisher will put a collection of their own games on a single disc. We’d be open to that.

I think the key thing is that we’re not moving away from UMD just because we’re making strides in digital distribution.

From the beginning we’ve said we’re sticking to a two-SKU program that will sustain PSP and PSPgo. Most of our projected sales for this year are via UMD.

If PSP Minis proves to be successful, is there a chance that Minis developers could see their games being published for the PS3 and other future Sony platforms?
Well I’d like to think so. Right now we do have games that deliver experiences suitable for both PSP and PS3. The first thing that springs to mind is Super Stardust HD, which started life on the PS3 and was ported to the PSP.

I do think that one thing that’s key on this particular initiative is that PSP Minis will be snack-sized experiences, and we’re looking at when PSP players are looking for that instant ten-minute game – such as when they’re commuting.

These games wont need to necessarily be built for the home console, and I think these games will find their true life and identity in those micro-bursts of play.

But I do think there’s a possibility that Minis could find themselves on other consoles down the line.

There’s an inherent conflict between the suggested price range of PSP Minis and the PSPgo console itself. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?
How much do people pay for their mobile phones? [Laughs]

So I’d say no, I don’t see the direct correlation in that. People will buy content in the way they see fit for themselves.

I have things on my mobile phone that cost me 99p, and I wouldn’t ever dream of relating that to the fact that if I didn’t have a mobile phone contract the whole device would cost me £300.

Our costs aren’t hidden through monthly bills to the network companies.

Doesn’t that suggest that the system works, because people don’t have to immediately pay £300 for their phone?
Yes that model works, but when it comes to gameplay, ultimately the experience is quite limited.

If we look at the size of the screens on mobile phones and then look at the PSP; I think that’s part of the key thing for us – it’s a gaming device.

You talk about value; I think some of the first Minis applications have received a very positive reaction in how the experience is more PSP than it is anything else.

Of course the production values of PSP Minis are not comparable to the high-end PSP games. They’re not supposed to be, these are different games entirely. 

The key thing for us is that people can start downloading games onto their PSP and see them as real value for money.

Are Sony’s internal studios going to be working on PSP Minis?
They are, absolutely. But we really wanted to bring new blood into this space.

We of course are glad to see the likes of EA working on Minis, but we’re especially interested in working with the smaller studios that we haven’t partnered with before.

I think we’re pushing the Minis program by saying ‘let it be new’, rather than let it be focused on our current market.

We’ve already got strong support on the UMD-side, so it’s time we expanded further.

We’ve got probably the best UMD line-up we’ve ever had on PSP this year. It’s an exciting time.

If PSP Minis proves to be successful, is there a chance that Minis developers could see their games being published for the PS3 and other future Sony platforms?
Well I’d like to think so. Right now we do have games that deliver experiences suitable for both PSP and PS3. The first thing that springs to mind is Super Stardust HD, which started life on the PS3 and was ported to the PSP.

I do think that one think that’s key on this particular initiative is that PSP Minis will be snack-sized experiences, and we’re looking at when PSP players are looking for that instant ten-minute game – such as when they’re commuting.

These games wont need to necessarily be built for the home console, and I think these games will find their true life and identity in those micro-bursts of play.

But I do think there’s a possibility that Minis could find themselves on other consoles down the line.