Shuhei Yoshida is the affable, approachable face of Sony. The president of worldwide studios is often seen sitting quietly in his own company's presentations, looking more like an interested fan than a whip cracker, earning a reputation as one of the good guys amongst journalists and fans alike.
He's also a happy interviewee, or always has been when the sun has shone for Sony. Catching up with him today at Gamescom, during a period when Sony is under heavy fire from a lot of angles, it was hard to know what to expect from the usually chatty executive. Would the generally positive response to last night's conference have him relaxed, or was it time to don the corporate armour and deflect a few of the more pointed questions? Read on to find out what sort of mood he was in.
Q: The conference yesterday seemed to be well received. What was your agenda? What message did you want to communicate?
Shuhei Yoshida: Our focus was to feature PS Vita. One big criticism we got from E3 was where's the PS Vita, where are the PS Vita games? We spent too little time talking about it, so that was a big focus going into Gamescom.
We were very happy to announce five new titles from Worldwide Studios, as well as the new Ratchet & Clank game - so that's six new titles. PS Vita, PS3, Move, PSN, they all got new titles, so we were able to cover all of the initiatives that we have
Q: Sony has quite a range of products and initiatives now, so it must be difficult to make sure your messaging is strong across all of them.
Shuhei Yoshida: That's fair to say. But we have a lot of development employees at Worldwide Studios, so we should be able to support all of those platforms and initiatives. It's our job to makes sure that our resources are allocated well to give that support.
"We're getting really good feedback from the media and consumers...about the hardware features, as well as the games that try to take advantage of each new input method."
Q: Has the Vita suffered in that respect? It's very impressive hardware, but it can do so many things that making sure people understood it struck me as a key challenge.
Shuhei Yoshida: We're getting really good feedback from the media and consumers...about the hardware features, as well as the games that try to take advantage of each new input method. With that feedback, our developers can be smarter about how to use the new features the Vita offers.
Q: Is the Vita as popular as it should be?
Shuhei Yoshida: In terms of the reactions of the people who have already bought the Vita, we're very happy. They are happy with the hardware. In terms of the sales, we'd definitely like to see more. There are millions of people we're sure will enjoy playing PS Vita games. Our job now is to decipher what's preventing these people from making the jump. Our priority right now is definitely to bring more content.
Q: Is that why the Vita hasn't sold as well as you'd like? A lack of content and services?
Shuhei Yoshida: Yeah. The good thing is that the one thing we can't change is the hardware features, but they are very well regarded by people. But in terms of new content and new system and service features, we can add that, and we can work with third-parties to get more. We're getting a very good feeling when we talk with third-parties companies, and of course we're developing our own titles. And for the people who are hoping that the PS Vita becomes more affordable, we are creating new bundles and adding new value to the package. We're hoping that this Christmas more people will jump over to the Vita.
"For the people who are hoping that the PS Vita becomes more affordable, we are creating new bundles and adding new value to the package."
Q: It was good to see new IP being launched so late in the console cycle. A lot of publishers claim that's next to impossible.
Shuhei Yoshida: Well, it's true that when new hardware launches it's a really great time to launch a new IP, because people are more willing to try out something new. The library is also more limited, so the IP gets more attention from consumers. But that doesn't mean that there's no way to launch new IP later in the cycle: looking back on PS2, we launched God of War and Guitar Hero late in the cycle, and they had a very significant impact.
Q: With a game like The Last of Us, is Sony demonstrating just how much potential could still be mined from the PS3 hardware?
Shuhei Yoshida: That could be the difference with a company like us: our developers can totally focus on one platform and really go deep into what it can offer, but third-party publishers have to create for multiple platforms.
Q: Does the Vita play a part in that for Sony? The conference featured several announcements around ways the Vita and PS3 can work in tandem. That was suggested with the PSP, but it never really took off.
Shuhei Yoshida: The PSP wasn't really powerful enough to do much. We had the Remote Play function with the PS3 and PSP, and that was technically very advanced in terms of concept, but from a functionality standpoint PSP didn't really offer anything apart from the screen. In comparison, the Vita and PS3 combination is far more powerful. As you saw yesterday in the demonstration with LittleBigPlanet 2, I hope you saw the potential that the Vita as a controller can bring to PS3. It's another reason why the PS3 is still a very interesting platform to develop content for.
Q: The hardware is clearly very capable, but do consumers really want that functionality?
Shuhei Yoshida: Well, we're doing this because we believe we can provide something very interesting and exciting to consumers, and we'll have to see how they react. But judging from the reaction we got from the LBP2 controller demonstration, as well as the Cross Play features, it's been pretty positive.
Q: You're also going in a new direction with Dust 514, which is probably the most ambitious attempt at free-to-play gaming on a console so far.
"I still think free-to-play can offer a new kind of content and services to consumers that the traditional model can't duplicate."
Shuhei Yoshida: I agree.
Q: Do you have any reservations about the business model, and how well suited it is to a more closed system like a console?
Shuhei Yoshida: Well, there are free-to-play games already available on console, and the reaction has been pretty good. But when people think of free-to-play they think of social games... and there are certain mechanics in social games that are a bit concerning, personally - they kind of play psychological tricks on people. That's something that we will be watching carefully, because it's not like there are an infinite number of consumers that we can take from. We always consider the long-term trust relationship with our consumers.
But in general, I still think free-to-play can offer a new kind of content and services to consumers that the traditional model can't duplicate. I think it's additive to our offering.
Q: The model really rose up on more open platforms. Is the future for a console manufacturer like Sony about finding ways to open up the platform to these new ideas?
Shuhei Yoshida: The short answer is yes. We will learn as we go about what people find attractive and exciting, and we can use that feedback in our future plans. Without trying we won't learn.