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GDC: What's Next for PS3?

Dave Perry on what Sony's done wrong - and right.

Dave Perry has one of the games industry's greatest success stories to tell. It all began in the early 1980s, when he wrote a batch of game programs for a magazine and was paid the grand sum of £450 for his trouble. Two decades later he sold his development studio, Shiny Entertainment, for $47 million - a somewhat grander sum, then.

Perry stayed on at Shiny after the Atari acquisition until February last year, and has since been working on a series of new projects. As he's no longer tied to any specific publisher or developer, he's able to speak freely on a wide range of issues affecting the games industry - and he has a lot to say.

Of course, one of the biggest issues at the moment is the next-gen console battle and whether Sony will be able to remain in the position of market leader. So what's Perry's take?

"I think that Sony has made the best machine. It's the best piece of hardware, without question," he says.

"It's absolutely insane hardware, and most people don't really understand that. I've been to the technical summit, I've sat there and listened to complete disclosure of what's in that machine. Being a programmer, it made me just sit there and go, 'Oh my God, this machine's incredible.'"

But while Perry is full of praise for the technical capabilities of PS3, he's not so convinced when it comes to the software line-up. "I haven't seen a single game that shows me the power of PlayStation 3. I haven't seen anything even close to what the machine's capable of doing. So that's the sad part for Sony - I feel really bad for them that somebody hasn't really stepped up to show us the hardware all singing, all dancing."

Of course, Perry says, someone will step up eventually - but there might be a while to wait. "We're stuck in this time loop. It happens every single time - we know the games are going to be really bad at the start, and then God of War comes out at the end, and you go, 'The PlayStation 2 hardware can do God of War? It looks incredible!'

"The point is you're not going to get to see the PlayStation 3 for probably a couple of years, and then you're going to go, 'Wow, that's incredible.'"

As Perry points out, history repeats itself, and it's not the first time a console has launched alongside a less than stellar set of games. But he believes that Sony has made one decision that's different this time around, and one which is causing them different problems.

"Sony is charging the price for the [machine] at the end of the cycle at the start of the cycle. You'd be willing to play the price at the end of the cycle, because it would be absolutely worth it, but at the start, you get home and you're like, 'Okay, I've got it now! I've put down $800 for the games and everything else, here we go!'. And you fire it up, and it's just not that $800 experience.

"The price is what's going to kill them every time. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how great your marketing is - are people going to show up with that kind of money?"

However, there's still a huge PlayStation fanbase, and the combination of the best hardware and the best marketing, as Perry sees it, mean that Sony is still undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with.

"Sony are going to sell a lot of units. Don't ever underestimate their abilities. Their marketing's just cooler than Microsoft's, and I think that's very valuable. They know what they're doing."

But the question of price just won't go away, Perry says, and it'll still be there when Sony comes to release the successor to PS3. "Here's my problem - are you going to make the next PlayStation even more expensive? If they think they did it right this time, the answer would be yes, because it's more powerful, people are going to pay for it, whatever... No, they're not."

According to Perry, he's studied the way consoles sell over the years and has come to the conclusion that $150 is the ideal price point to encourage impulse purchases. "The farther you get from $150, it's like a cliff that you head for. They threw the 3DO off the cliff, they did exactly the same thing but worse - they released it very expensive with dreadful games."

And there's more than one parallel between PS3 and 3DO, Perry believes. "This is how sad the industry is right now. If Sony thought of a way that their architecture designers could somehow add even more power for less money, but made programming a misery - actually made you just want to kill yourself - they would do it.

"The fact that they said, 'Oh, we have to use Linux,' that was funny. 3DO made you use Macintoshes when nobody used Macintoshes in development kits. It's like, 'Are you guys crazy? What world are you in?'"

Perry is by no means the first person to question Sony's game plan - both gamers and industry professionals have been asking what the company is thinking for months now. But what does Perry think? Is Sony indeed crazy? "No. I think they just took a wrong turn."

So, according to Perry, Sony has the best machine but a problem with price. What's the solution, though? Isn't it an impossible choice - either make a less powerful machine that you can sell at a lower price point, or make a hugely powerful one that people aren't willing to pay for?

"My suggestion is that somebody should get Miyamoto, Molyneux, Will Wright - all those key guys, whoever wants to be a part of it - and have them design the next machine. Sony should do this. They will not be asking for web browsers, all that kind of crap. The PSP comes out and they put a rubbish web browser in it, and it's like, 'Why would I want that?'.

"Focus on what's important. Let the game designers design the device, based on what they want and what interesting peripheral ideas they have. Then have them sign the box, so when that box comes out it's got signatures from all the top designers in the world.

"I couldn't even tell you what they'd come up with. They study this stuff, this is what they live and breathe. I don't think they would have designed the PlayStation 3, or the Xbox or the Wii - they'd make something that's ideal for games. I wish a PC manufacturer would do the same thing, and actually let the games community design what we're looking for."

It would be interesting to see Perry's design for the ultimate games console, and he's already got a few ideas when it comes to what makes a machine great. "I think the biggest problem is controls in games. It's not even a theory any more - Guitar Hero proved it," he says, observing that he's seen middle-aged women try out the game at parties and go away with plans to buy a PS2 - having never previously touched a controller in their lives.

And it's not just Guitar Hero which has changed the way we play games. Perry's a big fan of the Wii - "Nintendo said, 'Let's innovate with the controller,' and that's the smartest thing they could have done."

Then there's the Xbox 360, which Perry says "kicks ass". He particularly likes the option to choose whether you want a hard drive, although he believes this concept could and should be developed even further in the future.

"One thing I wanted to do was to have consoles scaleable based on what you can afford. You start with great, you don't start with sh*t - then if I want to spend $1000 on my Xbox, I should be able to do that, to add more memory, make it run faster, do whatever I want to customise my machine."

It's not just about game controllers and machines, though - there's the way games are delivered to the player. "The next box won't have any media, it'll be online only. And if it's not this next one it'll definitely be the one after. My vision of the future is a world where you don't own any media."

But that's just one of Perry's visions, of course. He's always been a man full of ideas, and his attempts to be creative and think differently have paid off. His days at Shiny may be over, but that doesn't mean Perry is just going to sit back and count the cash. He's still coming up with new projects and exploring new ways for the games industry to mature and grow - although probably in an office that's somewhat bigger than the bedroom he started out in...