Sony execs were reluctant to greenlight first PlayStation, says Yoshida

Sony execs were reluctant to greenlight first PlayStation, says Yoshida
Michael French

By Michael French

June 17th 2008 at 8:09AM

New SCE WWS boss also discusses the SCEA/SCEE rivalry and Sony's new collaborative approach

There's no denying that Sony, as one of the biggest electronics companies in the world, represents not just a big force in gaming but a big force in consumer spending full stop - so it might surprise you that Sony was originally reluctant to enter the games business, according to new SCE Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida.

His comments come in the second part of our in-depth Q&A with the man who recently stepped up to replace former SCE WWS president Phil Harrison.

Yoshida has been with Sony for 22 years, joining the firm in 1986, and eventually became part of the core team which founded the PlayStation business. But laying the foundation for Sony's games success wasn't plain sailing.

He said: "My first role there was to present the case at Sony as to why they should invest in games at this time – many people in the Sony management considered games like the toy industry and they thought that we shouldn’t get into this ‘kiddie’ thing that would have a Sony brand on it.

"And also the rest of the video game industry didn’t take us too seriously – other electronics companies had tried to get into games, and all of them failed."

But it was Yoshida and his colleagues, who all worked under 'Father of PlayStation' Ken Kutaragi, that convinced management otherwise. He said: "At the time I remember we were saying that every household has a TV, and a VCR – but only 40 per cent had a games machine. That was wrong – and we wanted to change it. Back then we had a huge vision, but didn’t yet know how to do the business."

Of course, the rest is history - but as the Sony games business grew globally, its offices around the world multiplied, and as time went on many in the industry suspected that there was some rivalry between American and European divisions SCEA and SCEE, especially during the PS2's heyday. Yoshida himself moved over to become head of product development in the US at that time.

When asked about the competing regional divisions he said: "Well, I think healthy competition is really good because we want people, each team, to know that their game will be a big hit around the world. So we want teams to have high aspirations – that kind of competition is really good. But because development is now such a big effort unless we collaborate and share we cannot compete in terms of larger things or we will be very inefficient when we make games. There is a realisation in this generation that we as an industry cannot do what we were doing before – which was make things in more isolated, smaller teams. Phil and I worked hard on getting that major culture shift within the Worldwide Studios."

Now, he said, new PlayStation boss Kaz Hirai - who stepped up to replace Ken Kutaragi last year - has a new business plan in place to encourage more cross-company collaboration.

Said Yoshida: "The new strategy Kaz has been implementing internally is a total departure from what it was under Ken Kutaragi, who himself was a visionary and a technologist.

"What Kaz is changing means that all the parts of SCE group, including the Worldwide Studios and the International Headquarters, participate and collaborate in forming the future strategy of the PlayStation. That means future strategy for the company as well. That’s the major massive change to how we work internally."

For more, read the rest of the interview.