Shuhei Yoshida: PlayStation 4, indies, and the Xbox One
Part 2: Sony Worldwide Studios boss talks about the battle with Microsoft, keeping the PS3 alive and the state of The Last Guardian
Yesterday, we ran the first part of our huge post-TGS interview with Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida - the "gamer's gaming executive", hardcore Twitter addict and champion of the indies. In that part of the interview, he discussed PlayStation Vita, Vita TV and the challenge from mobile devices - if you haven't read it yet, you can skip over there and do so now.
Today, we publish the second part of the interview, which took place at Sony Studios Japan in Tokyo in the weeks after TGS. In this segment, Yoshida talks about PlayStation 4, the competition from Microsoft's Xbox One, the company's strategy for supporting indie developers while keeping the quality bar high, the future for PlayStation 3 - and not a whole lot about The Last Guardian, despite our best efforts. Sorry.
Q: Moving on to the PlayStation 4, Sony probably had the best E3 it's ever had this year...
Shuhei Yoshida: Since the launch of PS1!
Q: Even at that launch, you'd never have received an ovation just for saying "we're going to have the same business model as last time".
Shuhei Yoshida: Maybe you're young [laughs]. I was there at our very first E3 in 1995 - it was in a much smaller hall, but this huge standing ovation... When the pricing for the PS1 was announced, around $299, it was... Wow.
Q: Okay, but - this year, you had a fantastic show partially because PS4 looked good, but partially because your competition had a really bad time.
Shuhei Yoshida: No no no. We had great competition. Great!
Q: Yes, you had wonderful competition - for you.
Shuhei Yoshida: From our standpoint, yes... [laughs]
"It must have been a very tough time for them. That shows how smart they are, and it shows their dedication to making Xbox One successful"
I'm half-joking but half-serious. It's always great to have two companies fighting each other. People like it; it creates a news story. The games media will cover any platform launch, but the general media - a big Sony versus Microsoft battle is a bigger story. Microsoft launching Xbox One in the same year, the same Christmas - people compare them, lots of news stories are written.
Q: You did very well from those comparisons at E3, but since then, a lot of things have changed in Microsoft's strategy. That's flattering for Sony - a lot of the things they've changed are now more like your approach - but it meant that by TGS, if I walked between the Microsoft booth and the Sony booth, the consoles now seem quite similar. There aren't any really huge differences any more - so how do you differentiate PS4 today, now that Microsoft has stopped doing unpopular things?
Shuhei Yoshida: We know they're very smart people. It's great that they were able to quickly realise that some of the things they were doing were not popular, and were able to make really quick decisions to change some of those things - even things that their engineering group must have spent a lot of time preparing before the launch. It must have been a very tough time for them. That shows how smart they are, and it shows their dedication to making Xbox One successful.We never took them lightly. Especially in the States, we are the challenger - we're trying to compete with them. Some of the messaging that they stumbled on just gave us more chances to compete with them in the States. Other markets are very different - in Europe, we have a larger market share and in Japan, we have a much longer history of being here. Being consistent and persistent helps; the legacy and people's associations with the brand, their memories of having a great time before. Something that can be a weakness but can be a very strong asset for the PlayStation team is the management team that we have. Many of us in key positions have gone through all the transitions from the launch of PS1. Andrew House, Jack Tretton, myself and many of the executives were all there at the beginning. We've gone through great times and pretty difficult times together. I've never worked for another company, so I can just imagine, but we have a very efficient way of discussing issues and being open and honest. We make quick decisions when necessary, and that's something that's very fresh to me.
"We believe this is the most powerful console ever made. The content, the games available, the usage of PS4 surrounding games"
Now, because we work closely with Sony, many people are actually joining SCE headquarters from Sony. The number of smart people on the Sony electronics side is amazing - but all of them who join SCE say that they are amazed by how focused we are on the issues. We have meetings where we just jump onto the issues, make decisions and move on. That's very different from the Sony side, according to them. That history of us working through all the PlayStations of the last 20 years together - including Mark Cerny, who's not a Sony person but has always worked together with us - really helps us, I think, whether we're crafting messages or making sure that everyone knows what other parts of PlayStation are doing.
Q: But in terms of the direct launch of your hardware against Microsoft's hardware now - if you have an audience of consumers in front of you, what do you say to them is the difference, the reason why they should buy a PS4 and not an Xbox One?
Shuhei Yoshida: We continue to say what we've been saying since February - PS4 is really designed for consumers and focused on how people want to play games. At the same time, we've really made sure that it's hardware which game developers will enjoy making games on. We want consumers to look at how much fun it is to use this system, not just for playing games but for finding out about games and sharing the experience with other people.Of course, we have large studios, Sony Worldwide Studios creating exclusive titles for PS4, as well as what is, for me, one of the most exciting aspects of PS4 - the amount of indie people who have expressed interest and are already making games for PS4, as well as PS Vita. The ease of use, the performance... It's very powerful hardware. We believe this is the most powerful console ever made. The content, the games available, the usage of PS4 surrounding games... That's the message we've been communicating, and we'll continue to do that.
Q: You mentioned the support PS4 is getting from indies - arguably one of the most interesting th...
Shuhei Yoshida: Oh, sorry, sorry! And somehow, this is $100 cheaper.
Q: Yes, that helps... Anyway, one of the interesting things is that you're open to new business models - Deep Down, which was popular at TGS, is going to be a free to play game, there are other developers who will experiment with other business models. You're allowing a lot more indies onto the platform. Some of those are people Sony is directly supporting, but some of them are completely independent.
Shuhei Yoshida: Yes, many more are totally independent.
Q: What does that mean for Sony's role as the gatekeeper of its platform? On PS1, PS2, PS3 - Sony's role was to stand at the gate and say, "this game can come onto this platform, but this other game is not suitable". What happens to that role now that you have a much more open publishing platform?
Shuhei Yoshida: So, if you are thinking about the situation that mobile platforms have - hundreds of thousands of applications - people say that it's very hard to find good content, or that if you make a game on a mobile platform you're almost just throwing a dice to see if your game, a great game, can be found by consumers. That's what people say about discoverability there.
"It's a much more hand-made, manual, labour-intensive process. We're trying to make the actual publishing pipeline more automated and easier for everyone to use"
When we talk about being more open, about reaching out to indies and trying to get many new games made for PS4, we're not talking about these numbers. We're not talking about hundreds of thousands of games. We showed eight games at E3. Maybe we showed 15 at Gamescom - compared to tens of thousands. So at this moment, what I'm proud of, what especially SCEA and SCEE third party relations teams are doing, is that they're really going out and visiting all these indie events, indie developers, and reaching out to teams who are already making great games. Indies want to get their games known by people - they try to promote their own games - so our guys have a chance to meet with developers, to try out games in development or games that are already released on PC, Steam or mobile. They can target the teams that they already know can make great games for PlayStation. Rather than "gatekeeping", they're trying to reach out to these great guys. Because these guys, indie people, do not necessarily have business relations people or PR people - they're just so focused on making games - they like the personal connection. If a Sony guy comes and says that we love your games, what can we do to help you to move your games to PlayStation - they're like, "okay, I feel very comfortable working with you". Very personal level relations can be developed. I think that's really important. From the very beginning, when people see indie games on PlayStation and try them out, they'll play quality games.
Q: So although you're supporting indies and that's a big part of your strategy, games which come out on Vita or PS4, even indie titles, will have gone through some kind of direct contact with Sony's third-party publishing relations. It's not going to be like the iOS store, where there's just a web form to upload a game and it appears on the store.
Shuhei Yoshida: Right, it's a much more hand-made, manual, labour-intensive process. We're trying to make the actual publishing pipeline more automated and easier for everyone to use, but in terms of getting games made on PlayStation... Indie guys typically start on mobile or PC, so we have to reach out to them and say, no, we do want your games on PlayStation as well! Once these games are released on PS3 and PS Vita, once they experience getting their games noticed by PlayStation users, many of them say that it's great - that people who have PS Vita, for example, play lots of games, play their games very deeply and purchase their games. Those stories will very quickly be shared because of the network that these people have, which will definitely encourage more indies to look at PlayStation because it could be good for their games as well.
Q: You're describing a world where developers start out on PC or on mobile - very accessible platforms, but almost too full of content, with discoverability problems - and the best games can "graduate" to PlayStation. You see PlayStation as where you end up if you're really good.
Shuhei Yoshida: Well, "best" for the console. To my mind, the best games on the iPad, for example, or the iPhone, are the games made with the touch input of the iPad and iPhone in mind. Those games might not work well on console, because of the quite different controls.However, there are lots of indie people who used to make console games - under large studios or under publishers - and became independent to make the kind of games they wanted to make. Because of the accessibility of the platform, they start out on PC or mobile, but they might find their games are not necessarily best played on these devices. In such cases, moving to console is a perfect match. In a lot of cases, people who brought their games to PS Vita, for example, say that this is the best version of their game.
"I don't know if PS3 will last another five years - but definitely for the next couple of years, because of the price difference, the library of games and the publisher support"
There are many different kinds of "best". Not all of the best mobile games will work well on a console, but some kinds of games will work really really well. These are the games that we really want indies to consider PlayStation for. Some of them are going so far as to target PlayStation from the very beginning - their new titles are targeted at PS4 and PS Vita, for example. That's happening now.
Q: Let's talk for a moment about PlayStation 3. PS3 had a shaky start but it's done well over its lifetime - what happens to it now? You have this ecosystem, this network you're building up with PS4, Vita and Vita TV - once PS4 is out next year, or this year, what happens to PS3? Do you have a strong plan to support that in future, or an idea in your head of how long you will continue to support it?
Shuhei Yoshida: When we launch PS4, it's $400 - versus PS3's $250, or $200 for the new 12GB model. It's half the price. The number of titles available for PS3, in the library, is huge, and especially those great games which were released a couple of years ago are now available at a much cheaper price. The whole cost of ownership, if you're a new game user, is way lower on PS3 compared to PS4.With this generational transition, from PS3 to PS4, the publishers are smarter now - they're able to develop engines that support multi-generation platforms, not just multi-platform. Many games will come out this year on PS3 and PS4, and Xbox 360 and Xbox One, and PC, sometimes on Wii U as well. They're very flexible, and they'll be able to support PS3 as long as there's a market. We'll see. There's still a lot of price difference in terms of the hardware and the games, and PS3 has been doing great - but it's not like everyone owns a PS3 already. There's always a group of consumers who come late in the cycle, people who wait for the price to come down. We're expanding geographically as well. The demand from Latin America, for example, is really really strong for PS3. So we'll have a parallel strategy with PS3 and PS4, like we had between PS2 and PS3. PS3 was launched in 2006, in the sixth year of PS2, but PS2 lasted for another five years. I don't know if PS3 will last another five years - but definitely for the next couple of years, because of the price difference, the great library of games and the publisher side being able to support both.
There'll even be new games. We were talking about indie games - many indie announcements at GamesCom were for games coming to PS4, PS Vita and PS3. These guys also support multi-generation platforms, so there'll continue to be a great supply of games.
Q: In terms of the supply of games, though, I would guess - perhaps you can confirm - that all of Sony's internal development must be on PS4 and Vita now.
"We're waiting for the right time to re-introduce The Last Guardian in an appropriate way. The game is in development, and it's well staffed, and Ueda-san is here, working"
Shuhei Yoshida: Our large teams are shifting, transitioning from PS3 to PS4, and continuing on Vita as well. But for our digital releases, we always look at PS4, PS3 and Vita. Many games like Hohokum or Doki Doki Universe we have announced for PS3 and PS4 at the same time. We'll continue to support PS3 in a way that makes sense, especially the digital games that we work on - but our large teams, our AAA release teams, are transitioning from PS3 to PS4.
Q: I'll wrap up with an inevitable question which you're probably not going to answer. The Last Guardian - where is it? It's in this building [Sony Studios Japan] somewhere, presumably?
Shuhei Yoshida: Yeah, in this building!
Q: What console is it coming out on?
Shuhei Yoshida: Ahh... That, I cannot talk about.
Q: It doesn't seem to make any sense for it to a PS3 title so late in the lifespan. I know they have PS4 kits in their office, because I heard them talking about them...
Shuhei Yoshida: So, we're waiting for the right time to re-introduce The Last Guardian in an appropriate way. I can't... Well, the game is in development, and it's well staffed, and Ueda-san is here, working - even though he's not a Sony employee, he's dedicated to the product. But we're not ready to update yet.
Q: The hiatus that was talked about at one time, that's over now? It's back in full production?
Shuhei Yoshida: Hiatus, I never... It was Jack Tretton! He used that term, and I said no, hiatus is misleading. It was a hiatus in terms of releasing new information. The game has never stopped - the team has always been here. They're going through the re-engineering of the game, so the team size is smaller, because it's more engineering focused right now.
So there you have it - there's no hiatus, the game is being “re-engineered” (as distinct from content-focused work), and Fumito Ueda is in the building beavering away. Take from that what you will - and as with anything else, if there's more you want to know, you could probably just ask Yoshida on Twitter...