With the launch of Move imminent, and the majority of in-house studios working to incorporate 3D technology into their games, GamesIndustry.biz took the opportunity to catch up with Sony's Michael Denny in what's proving to be a busy year for the Worldwide Studios Europe boss.
Here, in this exclusive interview, he details the uptake of Move and discusses the costs of game development across triple-A, Move, PlayStation Network and PSP, and why Sony will always put ideas and innovation ahead of budgets and bean-counting.
Q: Are you pleased with the uptake of Move from third-parties now, are you starting to see real results from developers that have had time to get to grips with that technology?
Michael Denny: From a first-party perspective, when we introduce something new to the studios it's great to see them get to work and see what they can come up with. What we learnt from the PlayStation 2 days with EyeToy Play and augmented reality is it was a steep learning curve for us. Having a controller now within that technology, the precision and accuracy that gives means we can move on motion control gaming further. From the first-party teams we have the games that we're excited about, the party games, TV SuperStars, Start the Party, etcetera, but we've also augmented some of our existing games like Killzone 3 and Heavy Rain. And with games like The Fight it really does add a new dimension and experience to the PlayStation 3.
We're also starting to see some third-party games come through and it's great to see them in some of the core genres as well, augmenting those games. We think we've got great momentum and with the launch the excitement is starting to get there.
Q: Does the hardcore audience need to be a little bit more patient with Move software that's aimed at them? That consumer is always the more vocal when it comes to making demands about what games they should have on their systems...
Michael Denny: I don't think there's any shortage of software on the PlayStation 3 that's aimed at the core audience, and far from it - this year more than ever we've got some great games coming through. In terms of Move, the whole purpose of our system with position-based gameplay is that it's not just a system where you just stand up and have to move around in a party sense. There are games being developed where you sit down and use the controller in different ways. Games like Heavy Rain are making interesting use of it, Killzone Move is very interesting. It's a different experience for the core gamers as well, and we will have more games coming for the core.
Q: Is it cheaper to develop games for Move than it is for the traditional boxed console market?
Michael Denny: It's a bit 'how long is a piece of string' to be honest. It really depends on what you want to set out to achieve. You can clearly see some of the party games and augmented reality games, where they're not creating massive interactive worlds, aren't going to be at the same costs as creating a game like Killzone 3. But there's nothing to stop us creating triple-A core games and to have Move at the heart of them. It really depends on what the vision of the studio and the developer is for their Move game. And then we look at it and whether it can appeal to the right audience, and then we move on to the budgetary discussion.
Q: With the rising costs of triple-A games, does Move represent a good opportunity for developers to enter the console space, in terms of creating a cheaper game, or using it to try something more distinctive and help them stand out from the established franchises?
Michael Denny: It's an interesting question and I think you're right in identifying the big budget, triple-A quality games, of those ones that we have plenty of ourselves, whether it's God of War or Uncharted, Killzone, Gran Turismo, LittleBigPlanet, those are the games that get the consumers excited. Outside of and despite the high budgets of those games, they usually have the high returns as well. But one size doesn't fit all and we've always looked at PSN games as well as a nice way to nurture some new talent within the industry, perhaps with smaller budgets, looking at titles that can have a commercial reality to themselves and a training ground for young developers as well.
With Move, as I said before, depending on the type of game we're looking at, the budgets are lower. But I don't think it's really about that. When we're talking to developers it's really about them installing in us the belief and passion that they have to make something that's creative and innovative. The budgetary exercise comes second to that, we have to look at it and believe it's a sensible proposition. But first and foremost it's about us being sold a vision of a creative, innovative game that can be delivered to a high quality.
Q: Sony has the Pub Fund in place to help third-party developers publish on PSN with financial assistance in marketing. Do you think it's possible for a developer to have an impact on a home console without the help of a format holder?
Michael Denny: It depends on the sort of titles you're looking at. The success of a game like Joe Danger is fantastic as a PSN game. I'd come back to it from a first-party perspective and the way we like to look at things is that if there is the passion and the belief for a strong concept from a developer that we believe has the ware withal to deliver on that, it's something we're always going to want to support on the PlayStation platform. In terms of any third-party or marketing motions that can all add to the mix, fundamentally if a developer has a great idea and can execute it they will get support from Sony.
Q: Sony is slowly rolling out 3D now. What type of research has Sony done in terms of health and eyesight issues, because there doesn't seem to be much research publicly available - not just in the games market, but 3D movies and entertainment as well.
Michael Denny: In terms of 3D it's something we believe in strongly and is something we're going to take forward. It's something we know is going to be an exciting consumer proposition and be a great experience for consumers so we don't have any issues in terms of the concerns you're raised there. From a first-party perspective what we're concentrating on is the experience we can give to the consumer that adds to games as it adds to movies. We believe the immersion in games is more than you can get from movies.
Q: Have you conducted specific research on the health issues of playing games in 3D?
Michael Denny: It's fair to say that a company like Sony will only invest and take forward products that they know are consumer friendly.
Q: Can you shed any light on Sony's plans to incorporate the PlayStation Network into other Sony hardware, such as Bravia TVs, PCs and Blu-ray players? The work that Kaz Hirai is currently overseeing?
Michael Denny: When you look at Sony's overall strategy for networked devices it's quite clear that in terms of the different products we want to put forward that having a common network feature would be something that would be very appealing. The PlayStation Network in our space has been a great success and we know that consumers love connectivity in devices. We need connectivity to create great services and great communities to add on to our products. I think going forward in that vein is something we'll want to pursue.
Q: Any movement on Sony's plans to bring MMO content to home consoles? There have been some false starts and it seems to be a slow process, if it's something that can be replicated at all...
Michael Denny: I agree that to have an MMO experience on console, particularly on console, would be fantastic. It is something we've thought about ourselves within Worldwide Studios and we've got Sony Online Entertainment who are the experts within Sony on that. I've mentioned before that we work closely with Sony Online Entertainment. When it's right, when it's the right content and the right time to announce, I'm sure we can make it work and have the right business models for an MMO, and it'll be something that we'll want to do and PlayStation fans will enjoy.
Q: The PSP is now skewing towards a much younger audience - is it a cheaper platform to develop for now, for first and third party developers?
Michael Denny: Firstly with the PSP it was our first attempt at a handheld console and with 60 million units-plus now it's been a great success for us. When you look at where we are this year, and the games we've introduced, you're right, many of them are for a younger audience. But we still have blockbuster games like God of War coming out for PSP, so when you marry that with the Essentials collection - 20 triple-A games there at £9.99, and another 20 that we've just announced, it's a great value proposition for people. Now, in terms of the minis selection of games that are downloadable, clearly the investment for developers in those games are a lot smaller. Again, we don't really set our development wishes by budgetary constraint. We want to be inspired by great games and compelling content that obviously we believe can be commercially successful.
Michael Denny is head of Sony Worldwide Studios Europe. Interview by Matt Martin.