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Phil Harrison on PS3 - Part 2

Backwards compatibility, Blu-ray and being the market leader.

In the first part of our interview with Phil Harrison, the Sony Worldwide Studios boss discussed his GDC keynote speech and its significance to the ongoing evolution of PS3.

Here, in part 2, he discusses Sony's creative strategy, the backwards compatibility issue and Blu-ray. Plus, he reveals why he's confident that Sony will be the market leader once again in this console cycle.

Looking at LittleBigPlanet and what you're doing with Singstar, it seems that you're focusing more on the actual users and the content they can generate...

We've always tried to do that. I hope we've been recognised for some really creative things in the past. Our studios have always taken risks, we've always encouraged our creators to take risks, and as a result you've seen things like God of War, LocoRoco, Shadow of the Colossus, Singstar, Eye Toy, Buzz... Things that perhaps wouldn't come out of a more conservative product development strategy, and certainly wouldn't have come from a multi-platform third-party publisher.

As a platform holder we have a responsibility to grow the market and to try and push the market. What I wanted to do here at GDC is paint of picture of where this industry should, I believe, move, which is to empower the user with user-created content. That's what I was referring to with this Game 3.0 aspect to my presentation yesterday.

I hope that the industry debates it and challenges it and takes it to another level beyond what we have imagined. We just wanted to kick off the debate; we're not trying to own it or control it.

The backwards compatibility issue has been talked about a lot in Europe recently. You made comments some months ago saying that backwards compatibility was important, something that you wanted to give consumers and that they wanted... Why has that strategy changed?

The strategy has not changed. We have made a technical change to the machine which moves us from being a hardware-embedded backwards compatibility solution to one which is a combination of hardware and software.

While that has unfortunately reduced the total number of games that will be compatible from the PS2 catalogue, it's important to remember that the PS1 catalogue remains unchanged, and definitely, March 23, we expect over 1000 titles to be playable for PlayStation 2. Within that list is the vast majority of games you would want to play.

So I think everybody just needs to calm down and be comfortable that the strategy is still in place.

How confident are you that Sony will retain its position as market leader in this new console cycle?

Very. I think we have everything that we need to compete, not just relative to the other players in the market but also to grow the market. This is something that is part of our corporate culture.

I was watching Miyamoto's GDC presentation, where he was talking about growing the market to new audiences, and we couldn't agree more. But I think Sony has proved to be more successful at that over the PS1 and PS2 cycle than any other console, and we will continue that with PlayStation 3.

When you look at the kind of game titles we have coming for the platform, when you look at the kind of network services we have coming for the platform, and the general background of the growth of the Blu-ray disc movie market - that is a positive factor which will play more into the consumer psyche as the year goes on, as more consumer electronics firms launch standalone disc players, as more Blu-ray disc movies become available, and as more shelf space is dedicated to the category at retail.

I only have to remind myself of what it was like in the HMV store near my office in London when we launched the PS2. There were 16 aisles of VHS, and one aisle of DVD. Within a few weeks that had almost completely inverted, and I imagine it will be the same with Blu-ray disc.

In America, where PS3 disc is already out, Blu-ray disc is surging ahead as the next-generation movie format of choice. It's absolutely trouncing any other formats, and I think we'll see the same in Europe and the UK.

A lot of third-party publishers are saying that in this console cycle, they think there's going to be a more even split - not necessarily into equal thirds, but for sure, it's not going to be Sony way far ahead in front. Do you disagree with that?

Yes. I think that there have always been different market shares depending on the region, and I think we've always seen that in the history of PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2. I think that certainly, in parts of the world where PlayStation is most successful, to a certain extent it defines the videogame market - and that I think will continue.

Because of the innovation that we're putting into PlayStation 3, because of the innovation we'll be continuing to put into PSP and the continuing sales of PS2, as a category we will maintain our leadership - without a shadow of a doubt.

Phil Harrison is president of Sony Worldwide Studios. Interview by Ellie Gibson. To read part one of this article, click here.