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Yoshida's Island - Part Two

The Sony Worldwide Studios boss on Europe, launching titles globally, and the importance of understanding regional cultures

Following part one of the interview with Sony Worldwide Studios president, Shuhei Yoshida, here he talks about the European territory, launching new titles on a global basis and the importance of understanding cultural differences.

GamesIndustry.biz SingStar's offering quite a broad selection of song titles now, particularly with the addition of the Disney pack?
Shuhei Yoshida

Yes, we're very excited with the songs, because they're not just for kids - a lot of people grew up singing those songs, so there must be a massive user base.

GamesIndustry.biz And Barry Manilow... should we not talk about that?
Shuhei Yoshida

[laughs] And the Turkish language version! I wasn't expecting the applause [in the Sony press conference at Games Convention] for that...

GamesIndustry.biz As you're looking at the market, Europe's becoming the highest revenue-earner for some companies such as Ubisoft -
Shuhei Yoshida

It's not like we are over-charging consumers - it's a currency thing. We're spending money in Japan in yen, but this currency situation [in comparison to US dollars] clearly helps for us to offer good value, but still allows us to make investments.

GamesIndustry.biz Sony's always had quite a healthy attitude to Europe as a territory on the software side, but do you see the territory maturing now?
Shuhei Yoshida

Yes, it's a massively important territory, and will continue to be. And the divisions are expanding - the PlayStation 2 numbers are very healthy, and not necessarily because of the UK or France, but because of the emerging markets.

They're just finding the PS2 now at the right price point, so they continue to purchase the hardware - and the same is happening in other territories, such as Asia, and we're also starting business in South America.

So having this large territory in Europe which has multiple different cultures offers us a large potential for continued expansion.

GamesIndustry.biz When you're looking at how the titles from the internal studios and how they're going to launch, what do you consider the greatest challenge in getting them out in a global sense?
Shuhei Yoshida

One challenge is getting the support from all parts of the company, getting them behind the titles. Something like LittleBigPlanet is brilliant, but it's such a new concept, it takes a lot of effort to communicate it. That's something that has to be done in each region, but in each region consumers have different sensibilities, so sometimes the message has to be catered to each region.

But we really want to make it successful globally, so what we're trying to do is communicate much earlier in the process of development with the marketing partners within the company, not just in the region where the game's made.

In the past there's been communications between product development and marketing in each region of origin, but now we're making conscious efforts to connect the marketing group in Europe to the development team in Japan, and in the same way the European development teams can have direct communication with the Japanese marketing teams when they start working on a new project.

That's making a huge change in the attitude of people in both the product development and marketing side as well. In the past they've been a bit cynical about titles coming from other territories, and in some cases they've missed the opportunity to go global when something really interesting was happening.

But now, because of that direct communication, there's no guessing any more - they can just ask questions as to why something's not working, or why they're not looking at something, and that influences it. It's hard to do when the game is half done and all the plans are laid out, for somebody to say they wished the game had a certain feature, but in the early process it's much easier to incorporate what the other territories really care about.

GamesIndustry.biz With videogames becoming more global is it a problem to overcome more local cultural differences?
Shuhei Yoshida

It could be a problem in the future, because the core of a game is its interactivity and gameplay. Something really goofy, like a Mario character, is loved by everyone. But if it's a TV show or movie I doubt it would be so successful, because of the strength of that experience.

We've overcome some of the cultural issues so far, but looking forward, because of the hardware, the technology, we're making very realistic human characters, and bringing a lot more production values, storytelling, humour - and that's very powerful if you're in the same culture. But that may start making a title unacceptable in a major way. So there's a fine line between furthering our art, but still trying to appeal to everybody.

In a sense, intentionally or not, Nintendo's choice in staying with the same core technology from GameCube to Wii, and not to make games more realistic-looking but adding more interactivity - that was very smart. They know Japanese culture has only so much impact when it's just visual - anime is popular worldwide, but when it comes to movies, there are hardly any movies that are popular everywhere.

GamesIndustry.biz Do you see LittleBigPlanet as one of those titles that transcends cultures?
Shuhei Yoshida

Yes - LittleBigPlanet is unique in the sense that it defies cultural differences, and will hopefully be accepted in Asia as well as Europe and the US.

GamesIndustry.biz Now Sony Online Entertainment is also under the SCE banner, and you've talked about the focus on internal communication, will it make a difference for the MMO titles?
Shuhei Yoshida

Oh yes, absolutely. The stronger ties with SOE happen on the technical side - you may or may not know that the back end of the PlayStation Network was designed by SOE people, so that's how we started to work together, with the SCEJ technology group and SOE technology group.

This time the whole SOE company has become part of the group, so that means two things for the future - one is to bring their game development focus clearly onto the PlayStation 3 console, and they've been doing some titles, but like some other publishers they're doing more standalone games. But now they'll naturally support PS3 and PC.

The other thing is the business model on the PC side, we can now leverage on the console side. They've been doing some very interesting things like allowing users to trade contents, the Station Exchange, and allowing users to tell their own stories using cartoon interfaces - those things they're doing on the PC side we're looking to leverage on the PlayStation Network.

Shuhei Yoshida is president of Sony Worldwide Studios. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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Phil Elliott

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