Ready to Play

The fortunes of the PlayStation format are these days always under some scrutiny. Has that impacted much of your product strategy this year?
Our strategy is very clear. We have big franchises we want to expand and need new IPs. We still have three active platforms that we are supporting.

PlayStation 2 is worldwide at over 130m units, and that format will get new games – MotorStorm and WipEout Pulse. There are 16 SKUs coming for it, including another Buzz game. On PSP we just announced new games from large franchises, with new games on the way too.

Big titles for PS3 made in Europe include EyePet, Heavy Rain, plus more Buzz and SingStar productions. And then there are also huge titles like Uncharted 2 and God of War 3. So the line-up from us will be bigger and more original than ever. Our plan is to give further reasons for people to buy into PlayStation.

Your division published Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet. Do you have any specific mandate to find ‘the next LBP’?
Deals like the one with Media Molecule are the lifeblood of the industry: a bunch of talented guys come to the industry with a big idea and a lot of passion, and getting funding to take it to the next level and it exploding into a huge success. New teams and new IPs – that’s what we want to see keep coming into the industry and have always taken that view.

Of course as a publisher we like to arrange an amount of portfolio planning – but within Sony what we want to do is allow for disruptive products, differentiators, and something that’s innovative. And you ask if we’re looking for the next one – well, that’s difficult to prescribe for, that’s down to talented teams and their visions. It’s our being able to help them deliver on the big idea – they need someone like Sony to fund and guide a project.

And we pride ourselves on offering different routes to market for publishers and developers. PSN has been great for the independent community – it allows developers to be as creative as they like.

But iPhone and Facebook have become popular amongst independent developers as well. Hasn’t that stolen a march on SCE’s activity?
Not at all, I think it’s a great thing and it encourages that same attitude – it’s allowing for more entry points for the creative talent that wants to be successful in games. Of course Sony does have its own view on casual games through areas like PSN. I think anything that encourages starting points for new business is only good for the industry.

Ray Maguire recently told MCV about a new strategy for ‘snacking games’ on PlayStation Portable this year. Can you elaborate on that?
In terms of our PSP strategy, clearly we are looking for new and innovative titles all the time.

We already have downloadable content on the platform and are encouraging more of that as well. It’s the same as we have done on PS3.

Other things we want to encourage on PSP is interoperability with PlayStation 3, and two major franchises – Motorstorm and LittleBigPlanet – are on the way to the format too.

We do have new, big IPs to announce for PSP this year – but in terms of the essence of games for PSP we want them to be designed specifically for the PlayStation Portable. So sometimes those shorter, more snack-sized gaming experiences fit well with the handheld device. But we don’t want to be too prescriptive on new IPs. We want people to be able to bring their own new ideas and concepts to the platform that they think suit it.

Last year SCE WWS president Shuhei Yoshida said there was a new approach at Sony to smaller scale new IPs. How is that strategy developing?
We don’t have hard and fast rules on what budgets are available for what genres, it’s always about new IP and strength of the concept.

At the moment we have six internal teams in Europe and what is right and proper is that when we establish franchises like SingStar, with over 20m unit sales and 400m download tracks, we have to extend them into the network arena. Same with Buzz, which now has over 10m unit sales and is growing quickly.

In terms of new IPs look at a game like Heavy Rain – in relative terms that is a big budget new IP and something we are excited about. It really can reinvent the adventure genre.

The developers of that game, Quantic Dream, have a great reputation. They are a very talented bunch of guys with a clear vision on what they want to make. In terms of innovation and relevance it’s something that can deliver everything – it really pushes the PlayStation 3 format. There will be new playable version of the game shown at E3. It’s a new genre.

Will it help further define the scope of PS3? Because so far the key games for it have been great racing titles and action games like Killzone 2…

PlayStation 3 is a broad platform, and we have games with different appeal, from LittleBigPlanet to SingStar. Heavy Rain is a game that can appeal to different audiences – I can’t wait until the industry gets a chance to see more of it and consumers get to play it. It’s a title that is played in your head; it’s not about skill, twitch gaming or controlling the pad, it’s about decision-making, and the right choices. It’s designed to draw players in.

Has the recession had an impact on the games Sony is signing up?
It’s interesting; if you look at the history of economic downturns some of the most innovative and creative ideas are born in these times. So in times like this we are still keen to talk to new studios and help carry those ideas forward.

The PS3 installed base is still behind other formats. Do developers ask what you’re going to do to increase it?
I’d say to them that as a first party publisher, publishing on our systems allows for a certain amount of focus. Just look at LittleBigPlanet, a new game in a new genre, you can sell over two million units within six months of that IP launching – and it won a number of awards because it had that focus.

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