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Shuhei Yoshida - Part One

Sony's Worldwide Studios president on how the company has changed, his plans, and the cancellation of Eight Days and The Getaway

In late February broke the news that Phil Harrison was leaving Sony to join Atari - a move that many questioned initially, as much because Harrison had become synonymous with the Sony Worldwide Studios name as the Infogrames/Atari struggles were well documented.

Last month Sony named Shuhei Yoshida as his successor, a man heavily involved with the PlayStation project from the very beginning, and who worked closely with Harrison over the years.

In part one of the interview with Yoshida-san, he looks back over the changes to Sony Computer Entertainment, offers an insight into the importance of creativity, and addresses the somehwat controversial cancellation of Eight Days and The Getaway. Part two of this interview, which looks at the future of the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Portable, will be published tomorrow. Phil Harrison was with Sony for quite a long time - how would you evaluate his legacy?
Shuhei Yoshida

Well, I met Phil in January 1994. I'd joined Ken Kutaragi's team in February 1993, before Sony Computer Entertainment was established. So we were preparing for the launch of PlayStation, and we went to CES in Las Vegas, and we started trying to evangelise, showing the early demonstrations to major publishers.

Phil was doing the actual demonstrations, and at the time he was only about 23 or 24, he looked like a kid, but I was so impressed with how professional and how articulate he was already, talking to the execs of the major publishers.

So I guess he was chosen among all the people on the project as the best presenter, and since then he kept the role for all the main platforms we've made. So I've known him for a long time.

In 2005 Worldwide Studios was established and he became president, and my boss, but before that - about two or three years - Sato-san [Akira Sato, VP of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc] was a key man in Product Development, well-respected, and he started having meetings every quarter or so in different parts of the world, and that created quite nice, relaxed relations between the development groups across the regions.

So when Worldwide Studios was made official I was happy, because it was what we had been preparing for. Phil invited me to discuss the goals - he's a vision person, and he had a lot of ideas - and he asked me to act as part of Worldwide Studios management, while at the same time as managing the day-to-day US studios.

So to me, stepping into this role - I don't intend to fill his evangelist role, other people should be doing that. But in terms of managing the Worldwide Studios, for me it's a continuation of what I was helping Phil to do.

In the short term I don't intend to change anything, but there are lots of things we're already planning to implement - there are so many things that we are working on.

But in the longer term - three-to-five years - I believe I can contribute a little that perhaps Phil might not have tried. Because I came from Japan, I have connections with those people that started the PlayStation project, many of them are still there, and we started in the same way.

After Ken Kuturagi's departure, Kaz Hirai completely changed the way we worked internally. Before, because Ken was such a big visionary, he came up with something - a great technology - but then landed it on us as a finished article...but Kaz is involving Worldwide Studios members and regional headquarters people to inform strategy, for the company and the platforms.

That's a major, major change in how we work, and I think it's the right change. Looking at how we struggled with PlayStation 3, one visionary just can't get it perfect three times in a row.

Because of this change, in the long term, that's going to be a major responsibility for me - it's kind of outside of managing Worldwide Studios, but it's going to be part of life for senior management in the SCE group to participate in that strategy formation. How would you evaluate Worldwide Studios in terms of its assets?
Shuhei Yoshida

There are many ways to answer that. I think one strength or value we share - all studios - is that we totally believe in supporting creative people, and not from the top-down. We have some strategy, some direction, but we never look at the sales chart and say that we have to make sandbox games, or we have to make massively multiplayer online games.

We really support the creative vision in the people who have that, and help them to achieve it. Something unique like that must be easier to come out of our group, then perhaps with other publishers.

I believe that's a strength we share across studios, and that's one core value that we've kept from the very beginning, from 1993. It came from the founding members of the PlayStation project, and Sato-san was a big part of setting that direction. Explain the reasoning behind the cancellation of Eight Days and The Getaway.
Shuhei Yoshida

As you might know, starting and cancelling projects is just a normal part of our business. What's unusual about this case is that we usually don't announce titles until we have a really good feel, until they're getting ready and we have an idea of launch day.

The situation was that because we started talking about the PS3 in 2005-6, the idea concepts that became the Eight Days and The Getaway projects had something very representative of things that we think will define this generation of game development - the particles, the fantastic explosions, and so on.

So company management decided to show it as an example, as a demo, not necessarily meaning that they were titles to come. It could have been a little bit confusing because there were lots of announcements of actual titles, but because of timing we made the unusual decision to announce those two at a very early stage of development. In hindsight do you think it would have been better to announce them as tech demos instead?
Shuhei Yoshida

Well, I don't know - it must be disappointing to the people who worked really hard, but they know this is part of what we do. So I think it looks like big news, but it's really not. It happens, just usually without you knowing.

Shuhei Yoshida is the president of Sony Worldwide Studios. Part two of this interview will be available tomorrow. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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