As president of Sony's Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida oversees 15 studios and has most recently been responsible for bringing software developers into the hardware creation process, with Move and PlayStation Vita. In this exclusive interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Yoshida outlines the original planning behind the PS Vita, how it has evolved from the PSP, its close ties to PlayStation 3 and how software development costs can be kept low.
Q: How did you hit the $249/249 price point for the PlayStation Vita and deliver the high-end features that make Vita more than just the PSP 2?
Shuhei Yoshida: Going through the PlayStation 3 experience was difficult for all of us involved. So when we started working on PS Vita three years ago we set goals, and one of those goals was to hit $249 price point, 249 from the very, very beginning. That was springtime 2008.
At the same time using the advanced graphics, the larger screen, the network options - these were things we wanted to do so we spent a year looking at every single option in terms of hardware devices that will become available in the 2011 period. The hardware group provided us with some components and prototype hardware for our studio teams to use so we could experiment with our prototypes, such as what if we have a touch panel behind the unit. Initially we thought that was strange, but the BigBig team in the UK came up with the Little Deviants prototype and we realised it would work.
We showed it to the SCEI guys and the hardware guys were convinced by it. That was how we looked at every single option, with always in mind our budget in terms of cost is to hit the $249 price, which is a totally different approach to the PlayStation 3.
In the past, up to the PS3, SCEI kept everything behind closed doors, even from ourselves
Q: Was it difficult sourcing components to meet that price, did it slow the manufacturing process at all?
Shuhei Yoshida: In terms of hardware development it was between 2-3 years and I dont think we spent any longer than we had before. The difference was the timing of the Worldwide Studios and game teams involvement in the process. We were involved in Vita development before we made the decision on what kind of CPU and GPU to use. Thats usually the very first thing because of the semi conductor development cycle, its the first thing we had to decide on.
That shows how long weve been involved and so we were there all the time when the SCEI hardware guys got hands on the components. In the past, up to the PS3, they kept everything behind closed doors, even from ourselves, and making decisions based on their inspirations from a mostly hardware engineering standpoint.
Although Kaz Hirai set out to have the Worldwide Studios group part of the hardware development team from the beginning, I wasnt sure how the hardware guys would react to that. But I quickly found that the people in Japan didnt really want to - its not like they didnt want to talk to us - but the fact was they didnt know who to talk to. There has to be certain secrecy in development process and they also know game creators are different, each individual person has different opinions. So they cannot talk to just one person. I acted the role of looking at the hardware issues they are looking at and then recommend or connect them to the right groups in the Worldwide Studios teams. If it's about the choice of camera then you should talk to London Studios because they have been instrumental with PSEye development, for example.
So I did that role while development teams formed into work groups and begin looking at projects. We got those teams to not just write up their impressions and feedback, but also create something tangible so that SCEI people would not only listen to what the development team said, but also feel why developers wanted certain features.
Q: You're pitching the console as something very close to a PlayStation 3 experience, but is there a danger of being too close to the home console and confusing the consumer, being unable to distinguish the two consoles other than one is for the home and the other a portable?
Shuhei Yoshida: What we didn't do right with the PSP was where we started when we began the development of PlayStation Vita. We were very happy with having something very close to the PS2 experience in a portable format with the PSP, but we didn't do a good enough job creating the proper interface to really play games with graphics in 3D. The lack of a right analog stick, for example. That's something we wanted to attack with the PS Vita because we wanted to enhance the portable core gaming experience and we have to do it right. The other thing was that after a couple of years with the PSP people get used to looking at pretty pictures and especially after the launch of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 the expectations for graphics moves on. Just having great graphics on a pretty screen wouldn't have been enough. That's why we spent so much time innovating with user interface devices like the touch pad or camera and motion sensors.
We made sure we know how third-party publishers made their games and that the transition to PS Vita would be smooth
Q: How do development costs of games for the PlayStation Vita compare to the development costs of PlayStation 3 games?
Shuhei Yoshida: Michael Denny has said that development costs of a Vita game is closer to a PSP game. I wouldn't say it's the same costs as a PS3 game but when you compare to what our teams spent on Blu-ray based PS3 games it's much, much less. Part of that is that because the screen is smaller and the media is much smaller in terms of a card, so developers have to be smarter to create the asset. On PlayStation 3 teams almost have no limits in terms of assets on Blu-ray with 60GB, games like L.A. Noire or Killzone 3 are huge games. Creating assets costs money. Because of the hardware limitation in terms of the size of the games, it pushes teams to be smarter and more economical in terms of creating assets, but still being able to provide a proper game experience. So that helps to reduce the development costs of Vita games.
Q: The Uncharted series is something that's used to showcase the Vita, and at the same time the PlayStation 3. Would you recommend developers create assets that can be used across both systems in order to save on costs?
Shuhei Yoshida: Well, less on making a PlayStation 3 experience on PlayStation Vita. We made sure the development tools and environment will help achieve that, but we really want our developers to be able to look at all the additional UI's and connectivity features that Vita has, and how you can make their PS3 games even better, more intuitive on PS Vita. When you try Uncharted on PS3 graphically you can compare it to Uncharted 3, but the unique way that PS vita version users the touch, the camera and motion sensors you should feel that this is an Uncharted experience on PS Vita that you can't get on PlayStation 3. That's what we're trying to achieve.
Q: What would you say to third-party developers that are concerned about the increased costs of working on another format?
Shuhei Yoshida: That was one of the goals of developing PS Vita because we never forget E3 2006 when we had Worldwide Studios games on PS3 but we didn't see many third-party games from publishers and developers. We made sure we know how third-party publishers and developers made their games and that the transition to PS Vita would be smooth. We've been getting great feedback from the development community that once they got hands on after a couple of months and they had something up and running very, very fast.
Q: With the PlayStation Network the plan was always to bring that over to not only consoles and game devices but also Blu-ray players and connected TVs. How has the recent hacking affected that plan, has it delayed the roll-out or changed thinking at Sony?
Shuhei Yoshida: That totally alerted the company because its a central strategy for all of Sony to bring together the different devices through the PlayStation Network services. Because of this PSN incident the company has invested much more in terms of securing and monitoring the Network so that we can continue to invest and make use of the Network services across different Sony devices. If the same kind of issues happen further down the road the impact would be even larger because more and more of the value that we provide through Sony devices will depend on the health of our Network services. So this was a very difficult experience