One of last year's biggest talking points was the latest clash between Microsoft and Sony in the console space - this time around motion control. While Nintendo surpassed both companies with the Wii, the next-gen rivals announced a specific take on motion-based systems, but while Microsoft detailed it's Project Natal at E3 last year, Sony's version has lacked a brand identity - until last week.
The big reveal came at the Sony press conference and revolved around the official unveiling of the PlayStation Move brand, as well as new details on the range of games that it would support. Right afterwards we spoke to Worldwide Studios Europe boss Michael Denny to dig deeper on some of the company's thinking.
Q: PlayStation Move - it's straightforward, and a lot better than some of the rumoured names (Arc, Gem, Laser...) - but it took a long time for it to be announced. Why was that?
Michael Denny: I don't think there was any delay, I think this is the natural event as we explain more about the system and got more in-depth in the games for the first time, so it seemed the natural opportunity to announce the name as well.
You say it's a simple name, but I think it's a good name in terms of the metaphor of moving PlayStation, perhaps with audience and playability as well as the actual movement and motion. So we're pleased with that, and pleased with all the software we've shown off.
Q: Was it frustrating at times to see some of the speculation going around? It's part of the circus, I guess.
Michael Denny: I think that's absolutely right - that thing's happened, but I think it's because people are genuinely interested in a new system that's coming out, and they want to know the name for it. I think for you guys, you want to put a name to it so the articles can read more specifically.
But the time was right now to announce it, and we're all happy.
Q: It's a brand issue really - if people can identify with a product, they can start to get excited about it, and part of that is that Microsoft gave Natal a name (even if just as a working title), it at least had that identity. When people I've spoken to in the industry about Move, nobody knew what to call it - there was confusion there.
Michael Denny: You say that, and I accept that's more of an issue for you guys to write about, but in terms of a brand and what PlayStation Move is about - or any other system is about - that's ultimately defined by the experience it gives and the software that's out there.
I don't think coming up with a name, without having a great system and software, is actually an important issue. Now we've got it all together, it'll make sense to people.
Q: Now it is out there, you've been showing off some of the software during GDC - how pleased are you with that line-up, in terms of how representative it is for the PlayStation Move experience?
Michael Denny: We're really pleased, and excited as well. We've had the system out there with the dev teams for well over a year now, and seeing their initial reaction to it and the creatives on the teams go at it, has been an exciting experience.
Looking around at the software we've got today, it's great that you see a balance there. We have casual and social experiences, party experiences, but we also show that we can appeal to our core PlayStation fan as well. It is a system that has wide appeal, and does move the experience on in a number of ways.
Q: It does move the PlayStation experience on, but people will inevitably look at what Nintendo has already done in the space - not so much the core or mature experiences, but certainly the social and party ones. How much impact do you really expect Move to have on the overall PlayStation experience?
Michael Denny: It's interesting - you look back at PlayStation 2 and it was about the same time in that console's life cycle that we started introducing new casual/social games and new interfaces, like SingStar, or Buzz!, or EyeToy before that. It's not new to PlayStation fans having physical gaming, or having new interfaces.
If you look at where we are with PlayStation 3, and where we can get to, this new system that has genuine new appeal in both vision technology and motion technology - and the experiences it can bring - I think it really will not just attract new audiences to PlayStation, but re-excite some of the existing PlayStation fans in the experiences we can give them.
Q: Do you expect it to shift console units, or will it initially appeal to those people who already have a PlayStation 3?
Michael Denny: It's going to do absolutely both of those things. If you've already got a PlayStation then it's a great additive experience. It can add to existing games, or existing franchises that people already know. We'll bring new IPs, new experiences for it - but as I said before, the stage we're at in the life cycle with PS3, it can help us broaden the audience now, as we'd expect to do at this time anyway.
Q: There's a good level of third party support in terms of companies working on Move solutions - how easy were they to persuade? Was there excitement from their point of view?
Michael Denny: Genuinely, there was. From dealing with external first party developers, when we showed them the system and they had some hands-on time - some of the ideas they came up with - there was great excitement in terms of the true third party publishers as well.
Some of the stuff we talked about today - the ability to take an existing franchise and add a new dimension to it is also very exciting for a lot of those players.
But genuinely, the reaction to the system has been great, and when more people get hands-on with the system that's going to keep growing now.
Q: How important is it that the Move product is a slick and responsive product?
Michael Denny: It's important in anything we do - we want to stay true to our visions, and we've always held out augmented reality and vision-based technology very strongly, going back to the PlayStation 2 era with the EyeToy. That was important, that we based it in an area we had expertise in - but anything we introduce new has to be innovative, has to feel like it's next-gen, it has to feel PlayStation and slick.
We think the system is all of those things - in terms of the gamer sense, the precision it brings means that we can augment core game experiences with it as well. It certainly moves on what we can do with augmented reality games as well, so when you look at a game like EyePet that we've already launched, adding motion control to that gives it an added dimension, and a more intuituve interface.
Q: So is that where the innovation is, then? The way that it interacts with the whole range of software?
Michael Denny: That's a big part of it, for sure, but it comes from a number of sources. In terms of mixing the motion control with true HD gaming is a genuinely new experience for people in gaming - so when you combine all those things, it's easy to see the appeal to the consumer in terms of enhancing the game experience.
Michael Denny is head of Sony Worldwide Studios Europe. Interview by Phil Elliott.