This past week I had the opportunity to spend time with not one, but six of the senior execs at Sony Computer Entertainment, from David Reeves through to members of the third-party relations team, R&D chiefs and Phil Harrison replacement Shuhei Yoshida.
Amongst them I could sense an upbeat mood – there’s definitely a newer optimism in the air of the company. With the likes of Kaz Hirai and Shuhei Yoshida leading global strategy from Japan, and people like David Reeves pushing the message out across the vast PAL territory, it also seems like these already-experienced execs are ready to have a hand in driving the industry further forward.
Much of their optimism came from impressive hardware sales and genuine excitement about online – and not just the fun of multiplayer and community, but how it provides what will probably become the way games are sold by the year 2020.
Of course, these things have all been talked up before – not least by the previous trio of Sony execs: Ken Kutaragi, Phil Harrison and Chris Deering, who set the agenda for PlayStation and steered it in Europe and around the world, and whom the above new bods have succeeded.
But now a truly viable console-based digital commerce marketplace (not PC, where episodic gaming, in-game ads and microtransactions have already found their feet) is in reach as the PS3 continues to fly out of shops, outpacing PS2 sales.
Sure, Sony says that in time digital will surpass retail, but this week’s best selling game, Metal Gear Solid 4, proves the power of PlayStation, and disc-based games in general. Konami’s epic arrived on a maxed-out Blu-Ray disc – the exact kind of thing consumers will never be asked to download.
And maybe the next Gran Turismo HD-style game – which appears both online and in stores at the same time – won’t be from Sony, and instead from EA or Activision and could even be a game which involves retailers with special retailer-branded in-game characters or vehicles, like those seen in Codemasters’ Race Driver: GRID.
So the opportunities are there for all – that’s the message from Sony. And this digital future won’t put traditional retail out to pasture – at least not yet.
Sony’s vision is for a marketplace open to third parties – publishers and developers, and maybe retailers too, as long as they’re smart about it.