Yoshida's Island - Part One
The Sony Worldwide Studios boss on moving to Japan, providing services for free, and the excitement around LittleBigPlanet
Not long after Phil Harrison left Sony to join Atari, Shuhei Yoshida was named as his successor as president of Worldwide Studios. GamesIndustry.biz was among the first to grill him over his plans a few months ago, and at Games Convention this year we followed that up.
In part one of this two-part interview, Yoshida-san discusses the reasoning behind his move back to Japan, as well as some of the ideas behind the key press conference announcements made at Leipzig.
Q: It's been a few months since we last spoke - how have things settled down? Have you completed your move back to Japan?
Shuhei Yoshida: Not yet - we're in the middle of moving. Actually next week is the date, so my wife couldn't believe I was here this week... but we're getting ready.
But in terms of work, as you know we set up the management structure for Europe, with Michael Denny now heading up all the studios in Europe, while Scott Rhode is heading up the US studios - and they're developing strong ties between the development teams in Europe and the US. So I'm very comfortable with that situation.
Q: And what are the specific reasons for you heading back to Japan - is it to be closer to Sony headquarters?
Shuhei Yoshida: Well, yes, although it's really the Sony Computer Entertainment business. My primary responsibility is money and studios, but personally in my head it's more about how we can get closer with the hardware groups in Tokyo.
The best way for me to realise that is to be there, and always make sure that the software side is represented - because I'm sure it's not that the other sides aren't interested in what we are thinking, it's just that they're so busy, so they have to rely on what they hear from the industry in Japan, or internal thinking there.
So it's just more convenient me being there, they can just ask my opinion. I can introduce them to people from the Europe or US teams too.
Q: The introduction of the 160GB PlayStation 3 was an interesting move - does that indicate how serious you are with regards to downloadable content?
Shuhei Yoshida: Yes, absolutely. We're progressively increasing the capacity as we have more and more content. Internally, we find we're already deleting content ourselves to make way for new content - that's not fun. So that will happen with our users as well.
But there's a desire for us to keep the price point at a certain level, so that's why we decided to have two options - the 160GB and the 80GB.
Q: So it means you're coming at it from two directions - first the price cut, then more hardware for that new price point?
Shuhei Yoshida: We're very happy with the momentum that the platform has. People have responded very well with the whole package, not just the games but having the ability to play Blu-rays, the video download service in the US, and the TV programmes for the PlayStation Portable in Europe.
We now have room to play with different combinations and packages so that a variety of consumer interests can be matched.
Q: And being closer to the hardware people, being a hardware company, the ability to improve the consoles is a clear advantage?
Shuhei Yoshida: That has been our company strength, and it will continue to be so. For the same specification they can make more space and a more attractive design, and for the same space they can pack in more technology - they can always do that. Our role from the software standpoint is really to get them to make the right choices - when they have a certain amount of space they can prioritise the most important technology.
Q: The other thing that stood out was the VidZone music streaming service - is that an acknowledgement that people use the Internet, and sites like YouTube, to watch music videos for free already - it will be refreshing for consumers to hear that your service is free as well.
Shuhei Yoshida: Yes - we're more open about approaching and bringing services in to PS3 and PSP. We can't support all the needs of the consumer and there are great companies providing services on the PC already - so we're very open to provide the opportunity to those companies to reach our user base as well.
Q: But the keyword there is "free" - did you consider monetising it at all?
Shuhei Yoshida: We like to provide as many services as possible for free - we already provide our network access for gameplay for free - and the interesting thing about the network side and the Internet business is that there's a variety of revenue sources. Not necessarily getting people to pay, but with advertising and so on.
Those are things we're looking at, and learning how we can provide a service without people having to pay - but we still get our operation running with funding from somewhere so that we can maintain the level of quality we want.
Q: On the software front - we're getting closer to Christmas now, and the release of LittleBigPlanet among other things. That must be pretty exciting from a creativity standpoint?
Shuhei Yoshida: I can't wait to see how consumer will create stuff using the tools. It's great to play many different levels that Media Molecule has been creating, and you can spend hours finishing this game - but there's the possibility of hundreds of thousands of interesting things for consumers, and people will spend that time. When we were kids we'd spend lots and lots of time, just because we were motivated.
Even yesterday looking at the booth, there was somebody trying to recreate a level from Yoshi's Island - it was fun to watch what people can come up with when the tools are robust enough.
Q: That's an interesting point - you could see a lot of the classic platform stuff being recreated... I wonder what Nintendo would have to say about that?
Shuhei Yoshida: Well, maybe the users can't have Mario as a character...
Q: There are some other interesting titles coming out of the London Studio, with the EyePet - the traditional gamers might not think that's for them, but it's a statement about the family side of things. What sort of impact are you expecting that to have?
Shuhei Yoshida: There are two things - from a technical standpoint the London Studio has always been making use of the camera, from the PlayStation 2 days, and they've been working hard on ways to better use the camera technology for PS3. We've seen small applications that make use of PlayStation Eye - but that's really small things, and we know we can do much more.
So I think technically-speaking that one of the things the team really wanted to do was work on what augmented reality really was, and in a way that people would understand - so to interact with the pet, and the pet recognises you, that's something that has a magical power.
But from the other side of the fence, we're doing a lot of games for core users. We have studios everywhere - Guerilla is doing Killzone, and Evolution is working on Motorstorm. So we really want to offer products to a broader variety of people, and we wanted to show the industry that this is how we're expanding our platform.
So London Studio is really best-placed for showing how these things can be done, because they've worked on games in that space for many years - they know how consumers are going to react, how to make it accessible and fun.
Q: Is EyePet one of those products that the cancellation of The Getaway and Eight Days projects has directly benefitted?
Shuhei Yoshida: Yes, there are so many things that we want to do, more than we can do with the resources. So when London Studio was looking at the early work on EyePet and the prototype of Eight Days, they knew they couldn't do all of them - and there are even more things they're working on at early concept stage.
So your expertise and ideas are best spent on some titles rather than others.
Q: The other software project was SingStar - another nice gesture to consumers to make PS2 tracks compatible on the PS3 game?
Shuhei Yoshida: It's really exciting - people have spent so much money already, and these songs are timeless.
Shuhei Yoshida is the president of Sony Worldwide Studios. Interview by Phil Elliott.