Continuing the GamesIndustry.biz series of high-profile executive interviews from this year's E3, the attention shifts back to Sony.
Here, SCEA's VP of product marketing, Scott Steinberg, offers his views on the rest of 2008, the strength of the PS3/Blu-ray combination, and makes some interesting comments on PS3-native development leading to better-looking Xbox 360 games.
Q: There weren't a huge amount of show-stopper announcements at E3 this year, which some gamers have expressed some disappointment over. Firstly, how do you feel that you're positioned heading into the Holiday season?
Scott Steinberg: Well I figure that the PlayStation 3 is also the Network Store as well, so I think that the download service was a huge announcement - it was probably not expected by the majority of the industry, so it was a big headline.
I think the breadth of the line-up goes a bit understated, but when you look at the games we've still got coming up this year, that may not be 'new news', but I think the quality of that line-up is still one of the things that we're most proud of.
Jack [Tretton] hit on it in the [press conference] presentation when he said that our studios are one of the core competitive advantages that Sony has - our studios are still alive and well and cranking out great games. They're turning out exclusives in a world where exclusives from third parties just may not be economically feasible, with shareholders and stockholders and fiduciary responsibility.
And - of all the companies - we have the biggest development resources to pull from, so right now on third and fourth generation software for the PS3, which is starting to show, we hope and expect to see some distance between third and fourth generations from the rest of the other platforms.
Q: You mention the video download content as a key pillar - that's quite a change compared to years past, for a non-gaming property to take such profile at an E3 conference, isn't it?
Scott Steinberg: Probably, in the sense that the technology wasn't there two or three years ago. I think it's about the how the PS3 with Blu-ray now has multimedia capability and functionality where it's not about games - there's the ability to look at Blu-ray as a device that enables movies, and enables a movie download service - that can get lots of different kinds of entertainment in front of people.
When it comes to getting stuff off of your PC, the PS3 is the best medium for that. It's the best-organised XMB (cross-media bar) interface, and with connectivity and the ability of the hard drive to store large amounts of content, it's the perfect device for that.
The Blu-ray foundation gives us lots of different ways to manoeuvre as a company, and we're not looking at the industry in a monochromatic way - we've got ambitions that are above and beyond where the industry was ten years ago.
Q: There's a social shift in the perception of what consoles can do now - they're not just games machines. But on the downloads front, how important is it that you're partly taking away Microsoft's advantage there? It ticks that box, so to speak.
Scott Steinberg: I think it allows us to embrace a bigger vision, because we have what I consider the Blu-ray offering, that's all about consumer choice - the big, blockbuster movie - and yet we aren't trying to regurgitate content on the Network as well. As Jack said, it's not about the numbers of products nobody wants to play, it's about unique, creative concepts that we're developing on the PSN.
And I've been in this industry long enough to remember the 16-bit days, and it was three or four folks in a garage cranking away for six months, half million to a million dollars development costs. That's sort of what the creative hotbed is that's happening right now with PSN games.
You've got Flower and all these other really interesting creative experiments that the world, which isn't open to seeing those games on Blu-ray - that don't need to be on Blu-ray, which is about capacity, big and bold - these games are smaller in scope, they can be delivered to a consumer and experimented with at a cheaper cost of entry than USD 60.
So I think that breadth is pretty important to the PlayStation brand, it's one of our hallmarks from PS2 - giving our consumers the opportunity to have interactivity on a bunch of different levels. If you consider the notion of entertainment, and the hard drive enabling us to extend the rental and download of movies, people are now using their living-room - with their HD set-ups - as a replacement for the movie theatre.
So why not extend that into the home, and enable gamers to watch movies as well as play games?
Q: This time last year there was a lot of criticism about the inclusion of Blu-ray in the PS3 hardware, but it resulted in a next-gen DVD format victory. Jack Tretton said in the press conference that was time for Blu-ray to "return the favour" to PS3, so how do you see that working in practice?
Scott Steinberg: Well that statement was created in the context of his broader ten-year vision and the critical part of that story is that you've got to have technology that you can ride for ten years. So I think the failing of some of our competitors is that their technology expires or has an artificial collapse to its capability. Our strategy is to find tech that you can leverage for ten years and now we're in the post DVD-standard victory, that gives us another eight years to extend the life of the PlayStation 3.
If we'd gone through a decision five years ago that had a weaker tech, or a compromise, or some sort of inferior decision around how we were going to think on a ten-year strategy, I don't think we'd have the confidence or strong foundation to sit in front of that crowd and say that there's eight more good years.
We see the development just now starting to get going. We're now in our third and fourth generations with first party, and that will start to create some distance with the competition - from our standpoint - but as the third parties begin to move their development to native PS3 and port down to other platforms, they'll start to see their games' fidelity getting better and better - and in fact I think even Xbox 360 games will start to look better as a result.
I think that's the opportunity - pick the tech, and you get ten years as a result. And if you're looking for a Blu-ray player, there's really no better player out there than the PS3. Retail has accepted it because of the three revenue streams - games, movies and peripherals.
If you cement the customer with a Best Buy or Wal-Mart or whoever, and you merchandise it right, you're going to get those customers coming back for games, you'll get them coming back for another controller, or cables, or the latest release of 300.
Q: Going back to what you said there about third parties - are you confident that developers will switch to PS3 as their native development platform? For the most part so far it's been Xbox 360.
Scott Steinberg: I think so, I think it's about the leverage that Blu-ray and PS3 has across the globe. Our industry is no longer thinking about which side of the Atlantic you're on, it's about the global installed base - do they have the right velocity and vitality? And as Jack mentioned, three platforms, three territories - all viable. Extremely so, and if not the leader, then it's close in the US.
There's a historical fact of having the [Xbox 360] dev kits first, so there's the thought of porting down to the late arrivals, but I think that Burnout [Paradise] is a great example of a game that shipped fairly recently that showed what you can do if you start originally on PS3, and we've seen and heard more of that from our third party publisher relations group.
As they realise that if you start on the PS3 other platforms look better, it starts to become a no-brainer.
Q: Going back to Blu-ray - it's currently a hardware exclusive for PS3 in terms of the other consoles. There's been speculation about a Blu-ray peripheral for the Xbox 360, and if that happens do you think you'll lose an edge?
Scott Steinberg: I don't know, I think that the great thing about Blu-ray is that it's such a great capacity. Metal Gear [Solid 4] could only fit on Blu-ray, and even games that may not look to have a large data footprint - like LittleBigPlanet - has a lot of crazy physics that you can only get on the PS3.
It's hard to imagine, and I think [Microsoft] stated they had no plans for Blu-ray, but if they did it would be interesting to see - I think the question is, when you've got these 30, 40, 50GB games, that kind of precludes any other machine except the PS3.
While we look at our portfolio from our balancing act standpoint - we've got the Metal Gears and the Resistances and those are 40GB-plus - that effectively says that you're only on Blu-ray, only on PS3. And then those PSN games, they add the consumer choice, and I think that's native to the PlayStation brand since PS2, and I think that's more important than the question of "Will Microsoft ever go into Blu-ray?"
That's for them to decide, but my sense is there's enough choice within our own first party, consumers who are just now getting into PS3 are going to have a tonne of content to go through that's exclusive - just from our own Western and Japanese developers.
Scott Steinberg is VP of product marketing for SCEA. Interview by Phil Elliott.