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Scott Steinberg - Part Two

The SCEA exec on Sony's mainstream strategy, the importance of LittleBigPlanet, and why Nintendo can keep its audience

Following the first part of the with SCEA's Scott Steinberg last week, here he unpacks his thoughts on the company's mainstream strategy, the importance of LittleBigPlanet, and why Sony has no plans to chase Nintendo's gamer base. How do you feel PlayStation 3 is performing with regards to the new audiences that have come into gaming in the past couple of years? PS2 has done a pretty good job, but if people are to transition to PS3, what is there for the family and social audiences?
Scott Steinberg

Yeah, that's a good question. I think we've done it by design in a couple of ways. One is to bring the familiar to the PS3, and that familiar is the SOCOMs, the Gran Turismos - those brands that are somewhat iconic to the PS2 - and of course reshape and remake them for the new technology.

The other side to it though is that you never want to buy a new platform and play the same old. It's like comfort food - I like this, but occasionally I want to step out and have something a little bit more exotic. And that's where we've got games like LittleBigPlanet, and that freshness, newness and creativity - plus all the stuff on the Network side - it's the magic that gets people to think there's enough critical mass there now to keep them engaged, enough breadth of line-up.

When it comes to social or family games, there's no question we've got the Rock Bands and Guitar Heros, and we've got third parties supporting us in those ways. We're going to make a bigger push on Buzz! We've got some great ideas that we haven't announced yet that we think will broaden the casual and social gaming market.

There's also the aspect that we're maybe thinking of LittleBigPlanet as a gamer's game, because it's built by gamers, but quite frankly I think it's got more universal appeal - anybody can play it as a normal action game, but there's the ability for people to step out and do things differently - the ability to create and post, to share and play with other people's levels, and evaluate them.

It's democracy in action, and I think that gaming democracy has got to spread itself into other walks of life, and be an aggregator of gamers, as opposed to being a limiter, which I think is what some of our competitors wind up being - limiting that pie by being so narrow and defining around a certain genre. I think LittleBigPlanet is a genre-buster. It's actually blows up the notion of taking a pie and trying to carve it up - it's so unique and such a big idea that I don't think you can define any one classic gaming segment as the target audience for that. I think it has the ability to step out and be a game truly for everyone. It's the second time I've seen an event presentation conducted through the medium of LittleBigPlanet -
Scott Steinberg

What was the first? GDC Paris - do you think it could replace Microsoft PowerPoint in big business boardrooms around the world for long, dry financial meetings?
Scott Steinberg

A productivity tool, I didn't even think of that. That's a market expansion, we could go to small businesses [laughs] When it comes to the user interface for the PlayStation 3, there are two ends of the spectrum. The XMB and Home, and they're quite different things. Against a backdrop of Microsoft redesigning the Xbox Live system, what are your feelings about the XMB - any evolution planned there?
Scott Steinberg

That's interesting - a half hour ago I was having a conversation with somebody who thought that the XMB was the most elegant way to get in and out. When you think about it from a usage model standpoint, when you drop a Blu-ray disc into the drive, it pretty much goes right to the movie. So, depending on what the purpose is, it enables grazing - so you can drop something in, have a single utility - it accepts that behaviour pretty well from a gaming standpoint as well.

I think there's the ability, just by it's definition, the cross-factor delivers a sense of depth without having to wade through a whole lot of different windows and menus. So I'm not sure if that complexity is any more of an obstacle than a DirecTV or any kind of cable interface - especially when you have a remote, perhaps it's a little more complex with a controller, but if you have a Blu-ray remote it's easy.

I think we're still occupying a space where its elegance is still right for the market. And you're happy that it will sit well in contrast with Home?
Scott Steinberg

I think the interface of Home is a different paradigm. It's more about human and social interaction than it is wading through things. So I think the user interface of Home - they're pulling from social media as the inspiration, or ambition, around that. The XMB is about delivering the potential for high-end consumers who have got music, photos, videos, games, movies, all that kind of stuff on there and wants to tweak it and adjust it - they're on the Store and changing their look and feel.

But it's also by definition - the 'X' part is relatively easy to get through if digital mom is dropping in a Blu-ray disc, or wants to run a slideshow for vacation photos, or whatever. So they both allow for sophistication, but in different ways?
Scott Steinberg

That's the brilliance of the two. We haven't launched Home publicly yet, but social interaction is built off of a different mindset than how we get through content - which is the means, while the end is the asset. So it's a slightly different currency. You mentioned the Blu-ray remote, and one of Nintendo's key successes has been the accessibility of controls - something that's not daunting to non-native gamers. What are your thoughts on that area?
Scott Steinberg

I think the reality is that we will win hands-down if we convert the PS2 owners to PS3. When we look at the total available market, we salivate at the notion of converting our existing PS2 universe.

Every million units we drop into the PS2 is an annuity that's going to pay out later on for PS3 upgrades, and we've got some interesting ideas on how to reach out to those PS2 owners in the US and convert them up.

But I think the notion of that controller is a non-trivial point that you've brought up, that control and that familiarity is like comfort food - from my perspective, we lead, we don't follow. And as a brand, Nintendo's got their thing, and we're not trying to get the senior citizen group to get into gaming, we're looking to convert the PS2 owners and the tens of millions of installed base that were playing DVDs and playing games on their PS2, to now play Blu-ray movies and Blu-ray games with their PS3.

We would look at technology that helped enable that, as oppose to trying to iterate or be derivative off of somebody else's vision. Ten years - it goes back to our mantra of ten years. Technology that's associated with the PlayStation has to have future-proof qualities to it. I think that we're seeing, graphically, PS3 games starting to create some distance and some of the other competitors are going to feel that they're getting long in the tooth, looking quite dated, because they haven't created that ten-year vision from a horsepower standpoint.

So we're all about looking at ways to keep that bar high, and from a peripheral standpoint the Blu-ray remote helps people get in and out of their digital media, but we'd never consider iterating off of existing competitive technology - because we think that's a fad and that's not the way we approach product development. It's not the way we approach the marketing or the branding of PlayStation. Do you understand the slight disappointment in the reaction to this year's press conference, in terms of there not being any show-stopper reveals, or even in-game footage from something like God of War 3 or MAG?
Scott Steinberg

I think it's all about tease, and we made sure they were initiated with the notion of teaser trailers, and I think that sets the table as to what their role is. I think our industry has never been closer to movies in a lot of different ways - and we're not looking back, I think we're going to get closer to a lot of their techniques.

I think this is an indication to the fans that we have these titles in the works, that the big blockbuster exclusives keep on rolling down towards PlayStation. So they can absolutely look forward to hearing more from us, but I think the notion here is to let everyone know that the God of War rumours that have been floating around? Well, we can say with some authority now that it is happening, and MAG is going to push the PlayStation - so people should get excited about that, as opposed to any other emotion, because the opportunities are there, and the developers that are working on them are the domain experts. So it's the recipe for absolute success.

Scott Steinberg is VP for product marketing at Sony Computer Entertainment America. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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