Sony's Michael Denny
The SVP of Worldwide Studios talks motion control and its implementation in first-party gaming
Sony has released a number of blockbusters in 2009, from Killzone 2 at the start of the year to Uncharted 2 last month, both of which have given the hardcore market the action experiences they crave from the PlayStation brand. While these games might have hit all the right spots for your typical triple-A title, next year adds an entirely new element to the PlayStation n3 – motion control.
GamesIndustry.biz recently caught up with Sony's senior VP of Worldwide Studios, Michael Denny at this year's Develop Liverpool, to discuss the integration of motion control into existing franchises and new IP, how the internal studios are getting to grips with the technology, and what it means for PlayStation gaming in 2010.
Q: The last time we spoke, Worldwide Studios was overseeing Killzone 2, Uncharted 2 and EyePet – now those titles are out, are you pleased with the end results and are they right calling cards for the future of Sony's first-party business?
Michael Denny: We're very pleased with the results. One of the primary drivers now for Worldwide Studios is quality. Both those titles – Killzone 2 with a Metacritic of over 90 and Uncharted 2 over 95 – are great experiences from two development teams that are really pushing the PlayStation 3. I think we're getting to that stage in the PlayStation 3's lifecycle now where the developers can get the best out of it and create experiences that can show that off to full effect.
Q: Sony uses Metacritic as an indication of sales and quality for the more hardcore titles – but how do you measure the response and success to your more social games like SingStar, those that don't necessarily get the same amount of attention by the specialist press?
Michael Denny: It's fair to say that social and casual games tend not to get reviewed quite as well as core games. Yes, we still look at quality in those games, but it comes more through user testing and focus groups with the audience that we actually have in mind. We're always trying to refine and expand those experiences that have been very successful for us.
Q: Is it harder to measure those experiences because you have to wait a certain amount of time after a social game has been released to measure the community feedback and acceptance?
Michael Denny: That's an interesting point. Certainly in this generation our social franchises such as Buzz and SingStar had massive success on PlayStation 2 and are now migrating across to the PlayStation 3. Clearly the early adopters of the PS3 were more of a core audience. What we're trying to do with those titles is migrate them to more of a network experience as well. You're right, a lot of the new experiences in those titles comes from sharing – whether that's creating your own quiz in Buzz or uploading your own performance in SingStar. We can absolutely see the growth of those titles going forward.
Q: Your biggest news this year has to be motion control technology for PlayStation 3. How are your internal teams getting on with motion control internally, and how does that slot into the development philosophy at Sony Worldwide Studios?
Michael Denny: It's certainly an exciting addition for PlayStation 3. It's not only internal teams that are working on motion control but external teams as well. They need to get to grips with that experience because there is a lot of innovation, both with motion sensing technology and its use in the hardware. We need to come up with experiences that really show that off. We have a two-pronged approach. We are looking at original titles that can really showcase the technology, but we also want existing franchises to support motion control where it can really enhance the experience that we're trying to build.
Q: Is the development of motion control technology being led by one region in particular? Initially, motion control seems to lend itself to social experiences rather than hardcore, and obviously Sony London is your key team for causal and social gaming... is Europe the centre of motion control development?
Michael Denny: No, that's not the case. The motion control system we're putting in place going forward is we're treating as more of a platform. You're right that here in Europe we have a lot of experience helping develop the peripherals for our social games but we see the motion control solution and experience as being broader than that. We do believe it can come into a core experience as well. The development of motion control software and games is a worldwide venture for us.
Q: Is it difficult implementing motion control technology in core games compared to bringing that technology into social games?
Michael Denny: You have to look at the system we have and I think it's a question of yes, looking at new IP and new experiences, but with the existing franchises and more core games, it's a way of enhancing those experiences. I'm not here to announce what those experiences are going to be, but it's fair to say we have had or we are experiencing some real great moments looking at our existing franchises and putting in that support.
Q: Was it a steep learning curve for the internal teams to go from DualShock – which have been a Sony staple for a good number of years – to motion control, as the input mechanism?
Michael Denny: It was certainly an exciting challenge for the guys and one that the teams have embraced. In Europe we have a history of looking at new user interfaces, particularly on the social games side, but for more of the teams they have embraced it. The key for them is that they want to implement it in a way which is additive to the experiences they could otherwise give with the DualShock.
Q: Are you confident the PS3 motion control can bring something new to games creation as a whole, and something different to what has already been achieved with Nintendo's Wii and is promised from Microsoft's Project Natal?
Michael Denny: Yes, definitely. First off, as I've said, we want to enhance the gameplay experience and anything that can enhance that is a good thing. With the unique mix of vision technology and the motion sensing technology that we have we believe we can give that experience.
Q: Just looking forward to next year – your big titles are MAG, God of War III, Gran Turismo 5 – do you see those titles making a statement for Sony and PlayStation 3 gaming in 2010?
Michael Denny: Yes, along with Heavy Rain and new SingStar and White Knight Chronicles. I think the line-up for PlayStation 3 is looking very healthy again. Exclusive titles like that do show off the platform to great effect. When people get their hands on these experiences, each of which are pushing things along, it does make the experience and what people hope to get from the PlayStation 3 really come to life.
Michael Denny is Sony's senior vice president of Worldwide Studio's Europe. Interview by Matt Martin.