Yoshida - The Q&A

Yoshida - The Q&A

By Rob Crossley

January 1st 2010 at 12:00AM

It’s well documented that Sony’s own studios and developers contributed to the design of Move. Does that represent a wider change in philosophy at Sony?
Absolutely. That’s down to the change of management that occurred three years ago, when Ken Kutaragi moved on and Kaz Harai became the president of SCE.

The first thing Kaz said was, “get World Wide Studios in on hardware development”. So he wanted developers in meetings at the very beginning of concepting new hardware, and he demanded SCE people talk to us [developers].

That was the biggest reason why I moved from the US to Japan after I succeeded Phil Harrison as head of World Wide Studios.

We actually have our largest studio investment in US and Europe, so, actually staying in the US was a more logical choice for running the studios. But I came from the SCE Japan side, so I know a lot of people working on hardware.

The move meant I can connect many different teams to appropriate hardware people to help both sides solve their issues.

So in Japan I’m spending more time on the hardware platform- connecting hardware guys to developers. That’s my major role now, and Move is one of those new ways of developing platforms.

From what you say, the move seems to represent a long-term change of strategy. Should we expect developers to be involved in the design of future PlayStation hardware?
Yes, we are undergoing many activities that we haven’t yet been talking about in public. Some future platform related activities.

But there are other examples of this strategy. In Japan we now have this peripheral called
Torne. It’s like play-TV. It’s a TV tuner with recording capabilities that we added to PS3. That was another joint-effort between studio and manufacturer. SCE Japan was participating in the project, so they created the overall design of how the system works.

I get the impression this collaborative process wasn’t in place when you were designing the PS3 the first time round.
No, it was not.

Is there a sense of regret in regards to that?
Yeah. Because we [developers] were one of these people that had to go work on PS3 hardware - that was very challenging.

It was incredibly powerful, but when we learned about the specifications when the hardware was almost done, we found it was so difficult to program on. So we immediately focused our efforts to create the low-level libraries and engines for all our first-party teams to use.

Before the PS3 days, each studio had its own game engines and its own low-level graphics libraries.

But in anticipation for very challenging work for PS3 developers, we gathered the most talented engineers from both the US and Europe – so people from Naughty Dog and UK studios – to focus on creating one single engine.

There are brilliant engineers everywhere, but each studio doesn’t have dozens on hand all the time! So we decided to pool all those people together and make a really robust engine that all the teams can use. That’s how we changed our approach to making games.

So we then realised, during the year of the PS3 launch, that third-parties were having difficulties making games on PS3. So we thought that, ‘okay, we have these engines that we are using, and these engines are built for many different designers to use, so why not give these engines out’.

PS3 developers can now make a traditional blu-ray game for the platform, or a game that supports Move, or a game that supports 3D, or a game that supports 3D and Move. Is the strategy here to offer developers as many options as possible so they can find it easier to create unique selling points?
Absolutely! You articulated that very well. Because PS3 is powerful, you can do so much to improve graphical fidelity, and to improve AI, and to improve physics. It all takes a lot of effort, and because so many games are good now, many teams are very comfortably using PS3s, it means that pushing further requires a lot of effort.

But because Move is a completely new interface, that no one has experienced yet, it’s a great opportunity for developers to take advantage of this new capability.

Games these days take a lot of resources. Games like Killzone, or Uncharted, or God of War – we have large teams who have made games for a long time. But the industry shouldn’t be just that.

The industry shouldn’t be just about big games and big jobs. There has to be lots of new entrants to the industry that might sound risky, but these things should be tried for the better of the future of the industry.

I’m a big fan of downloadable games, because that allows small teams to create small content and sell it for a lower price.

And Move is another avenue. You don’t have to create a long adventure to make use of that new interface.

Is there a concern, on the other side of that coin, that you could be fragmenting your audience? Maybe publishers look at those technologies and think, “there’s thirty million PS3 users and there’s five million that use 3D, so I’m just going to widen my audience as much as possible and stick with the PS3”.
Some people will like to make conventional games for the largest user base, as you’re saying.

Every year the connectivity to PS3 is increasing, and we are very excited about that. But despite 60 or 70 per cent of people are connecting to the PSN, that means there’s thirty or forty per cent who are not.

So there is that question. Do you want to invest in network features that only cater to the sixty per cent, or do you stick to the whole one hundred per cent.

Move is the same thing. It is a peripheral that people have to purchase – do you want to bet your game on this part of the PS3 install base? These are very intimate questions.

But the effort and resources that are required for development on Move can be much lower than making blu-ray games on the conventional controller. Move takes a small fraction of hardware resources – that was a big milestone for us.

When our software library team was working on Move, they talked to our World Wide Studios developers and asked about how much CPU time and how much memory they hoped would be used. The developers’ answer was zero CPU and zero memory! [laughs]

[Laughs]
Of course it’s impossible. So that pushed them to make it really, really, really compact so many different types of games can adapt it.

I think Move support to many PS3 games, including Killzone and SOCOM, is not difficult. Because of the very small footprint.

Sony has a history of supporting the wider casual market. But from what I saw at the Sony press conference, the firm is keeping to its strategy to appeal to the core market – at least for now. Even with Move as well, there seems to be a strategy to appeal to the core before anything else, and that’s a distinction between itself and Kinect. Is that a fair assessment?
Yes, absolutely. Because on PS2 and PS1 we were providing a variety of content and we are especially successful in Europe to provide social games and causal games.

We are of course continuing these franchises on PS3, while adding community support. But because the PS3 needed so much investment from consumers initially, we had to start with this very core audience, and we haven’t seen the same level of adaptation of casual games.

So we are looking at how our audience and install base grows, and thanks to the introduction of the PS3’s new design and new price point, we are  beginning to widen the audience.

So we are making a balance of how much we bet on expanding the market. But this is with the need to cater to the existing audience, because that’s where we have to view the install base of Move.

Also, helping support the core market was one of our targets when developing Move. We made it so that the controller is precise and very responsive, with out taking much resources.

That may make us look like we are focusing on core only, but we are not. We have games like EyePet and SingStar for the wider market.

For all the people who say that motion control cannot allure that core market – and there is a lot of them – what would you say?
We’ve been waiting for people to try Move. We’ve always wanted to say to people “you’ll see”, but we are a bit more humble [laughs].

We have been really pleased to see some of the articles come out on websites such as IGN. Yesterday two editors tried Move and their captions read: “we are finally excited about motion control!”

I think what’s telling is that Microsoft has not yet offered a price-point for Kinect. There appears to be an internal struggle within the company, from what I’ve heard. Firstly, I wanted to know, are you selling Move controllers at a loss?
No! [laughs]

We are pricing Move as if we are launching a new platform. So because the install base of Move will help third party studios create games for it, we benefit by helping those third-parties. But we are not losing money with each one we sell.

The technology we chose was the PlayStation Eye, and the technology sensors in Move – that’s not just hardware, that’s the software as well. The system uses a fraction of an SPU, and that really is the key.

So we are able to use sophisticated technology on the cameras and the sensors, but that with the combination of the computing power of the PS3, we can make the system really, really accurate and precise.

How delighted were you to see Gabe Newell, at the Sony E3 press conference. He works for an extraordinarily talented studio – yet one that has been fairly outspoken regarding the PS3.
It was great to hear him talk like that, and I was surprise to see how large the reaction from the audience was. Maybe SCEA knew how important it was for him to say some nice things [laughs] … some nice things about PS3. I hope he meant it! [laughs].

Insomniac was always looking like they would one day be part of Sony World Wide Studios. Now that they’ve signed a deal with EA, how disappointing is it that your relationship won’t be the same?
We grew up together. Their first tile was on our first platform. We had a long lasting partnership with Insomniac’s management team – I personally was the producer in Japan for Spyro the Dragon and Rachet & Clank.

So we had many years of working with them, and they are very open about their need to grow and their intention – they want to add more teams and work on multiple platforms. They want to reach the people they haven’t been able to.

So it was sad to hear a couple of years ago what their intent was, but as we are growing, Insomniac is growing too. And the studio has its own ambition, so I totally understand, and I am very happy how they approached the announcement. They made sure that people know they are still working with us.

When you think about it, they are making multiplatform games. So PS3 owners should be happy because they are getting more Insomniac games as the studio hires more staff to develop more games.

No one is talking about the next generation of consoles. Why?
So, looking from the outside, it was Microsoft that released the first of this generation of consoles. Naturally, in my opinion, Microsoft will make the first move. Or, because Nintendo’s approach was not to upgrade much on its basic hardware – Wii doesn’t even support HD resolution – so they might be the first to move.

Probably the watch should be on these companies, in my opinion. Because PS3 was later than Xbox, and is more powerful, so it has a longer lifespan.