Wed, Jun 06, 2012 | 13:14 BST
E3 2012: Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida on Vita and disruption
Sony’s E3 press conference was startlingly light on hoped-for Vita games, exasperating many. Nathan Grayson caught Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida to find out where the platform holder’s headed.
“We have 25 new games on the show floor, playable during E3. And many of them are fantastic-looking games. We could have shown more during the press conference, but I observed that the PR team’s one big focus was to make the conference shorter this year. We have been criticised for having a long conference in the past. So this year’s focus was let’s make it very compact and impactful. If you really look for new information for PS Vita games coming out this year and early next year, we totally under-represented that.”
Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida has never been busier. In charge of Sony’s entire games development effort, Yoshida now not only creates software for PS3, but is faced with AAA Vita development and the challenges of taking PlayStation content into the mobile and tablet spaces.
Many were startled at the lack of Vita software announcements in the firm’s E3 press conference on Monday, during which only Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed were confirmed for the platform, but Yoshida reckons Sony has a firm plan for the handheld as it moves into the main hardware transition and beyond.
VG247 spoke to the executive in Los Angeles yesterday.
VG247: During Sony’s E3 press conference on Monday, Vita was, at least to my mind, strikingly absent. There were two major announcements of third-party titles, which were admittedly very impressive, but there weren’t really any first-party games. PlayStation Classics were announced, but that was about it. What’s the plan for the Vita going forward?
Shuhei Yoshida: It was our fault for not spending enough time on PS Vita content. We have 25 new games on the show floor, playable during E3. And many of them are fantastic-looking games; from our own library is LittleBigPlanet on Vita, which looks fantastic. We could have shown it off, or SoundShapes – coming up in August; it plays great – or some third-party [game] – Jet Set Radio on Vita is amazingly sharp and playable. So we could have shown more during the press conference. But I observed that the PR team’s one big focus was to make the conference shorter this year. We have been criticised for having a long conference in the past. So this year’s focus was let’s make it very compact and impactful. We have a kind of new thinking going on. But we still have to cover PS3, PS3-exclusive titles, third-party partnerships, and PS Move, and new initiatives on PS Mobile and network services, and PS Vita. If you really look for new information for PS Vita games coming out this year and early next year, we totally under-represented that.
One of the main concerns I’ve seen with Vita is that both Uncharted and Resistance were both solid games in their own right, but they didn’t really live up to the franchises they are part of. They were sort of second-tier games in those franchises. I guess the worry is that Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed could end up in the same boat. Is there a renewed focus in really making Vita a platform worth owning, setting it apart from the PlayStation 3 or the legacy of the franchises that it’s basically continuing on a portable platform?
I can answer from two different perspectives. One is we are working on new ideas for PS Vita and just-made-for-Vita kind of projects. One game that I’m really excited about is Gravity Rush, which is coming out next week. That core mechanic, the use of the gyro, is not possible on any other platform. It requires both analog sticks and very high-performance sensors. We just announced a game called Soul Sacrifice. It’s Keiji Inafune’s game; he’s hands-on making games, getting back to creative. A very exciting game, only possible or imagined for PS Vita.
At the same time, we’re bringing in our bigger franchises like Uncharted and Resistance like you said, not just to recreate the same thing that is already available on PS3. That was our problem on PSP. We just tried to do the same thing and PSP didn’t allow much for us to do in creating a unique experience. But PS Vita was designed – the hardware itself – to first do a really good job of core mechanics, of the interface of playing these games, and to provide additional features like gyro sensors, or portability and 3G, or Near. And portability – that is not possible to be created on the console.
In my mind we have some of those goals with these titles. In your mind, we can’t show [that]. But I think we continue to try to bring our IP, or third-parties will bring their IPs, to PS Vita, not just to recreate the same thing but to take advantage of the unique PS Vita functionalities. And I hope LittleBigPlanet Vita will be one of the greatest examples of showing off that the PS Vita version is not a lesser version of LittleBigPlanet, because of the touch functionalities.
We can make games using touch panels and it’s much easier to [play] – also you can create [UGC] using touch controls. That’s not possible on PS3. That’s the idea: both new IPs and existing IPs taking great advantage of PS Vita.
On to the PlayStation 3. Microsoft is touting its new $99 subscription model which is really interesting because it completely changes how you sell a console. Do you have plans to do anything similar?
We’re not talking about things like that. But it’s very interesting. It sounds like when you buy a new car. You can get your car and pay later. It’s a financial kind of engineering, and some people would like those options. It’s something we could consider. I’m very curious how it will do.
The PlayStation Suite – now PlayStation Mobile – was a big part of the press conference yesterday. Last year it was announced as a platform that would evolve over time from having retro titles to having newer ones, but it’s still taking shape. What’s the plan for PlayStation Mobile? How will it expand? What sort of games will it bring into its line-up?
For PlayStation Mobile, they have been totally engineering the SDK. The SDK that we offer now, for people to download, is completely new thinking. You can make games using the SDK for smartphones, certified phones – like HTC’s 1X – Sony Mobile phones, Sony tablets and PS Vita. In the past we provided PSOne emulated titles to these devices but there was an individual effort to port those titles to these devices. But going forward, when we launch the store later this year, our focus with PlayStation Mobile is to provide games made on the new PlayStation Mobile SDK that work on all this certified hardware. In short, less of a PSOne games [focus], more of new titles or mobile developers bringing their content and new games onto the platform.
It’s always struck me that especially iOS and Android have really big issues with people being able to find games on their services because there are so many of them. Are you hoping to leverage the PlayStation brand to point out – especially to your audience, which tends to be very different from the mobile gaming audience – to say there are great games on these platforms, here they are, we’re highlighting them for you? Is that the general direction you want to take it in?
“In the past PlayStation platforms have been very hard – quite a high hurdle – in terms of getting the license or purchasing the development kit or going through the concept approval process. But we are totally going for a much more simplified, easy approach. “
Yeah. We haven’t really announced the details of the kind of content or the process for bringing games out to the market as yet. But one very important thing for us to do is communicate what kind of consumers we are trying to reach with this initiative. One interesting feedback we are getting from the developers who downloaded this SDK is that they are very keen to makes games on PS Vita. In the past PlayStation platforms have been very hard – quite a high hurdle – in terms of getting the license, or purchasing the development kit, or going through the concept approval process. But we are totally going for a much more simplified, easy approach. You don’t even have to have smartphones or a PS Vita to start developing your games. You just need a PC. Eventually if you want or need to test your games on the target platform it’s that easy. So we’re trying to reach to much broader independent developers on PS Mobile, and because PS Vita is part of the ecosystem, it’s natural for those people to think they’re able to reach the PS Vita audience. And these are very dedicated core gamers on the platform right now.
The gaming industry’s in an interesting spot financially, especially in the US industry. Things are either in a holding pattern, or there’ve been losses month over month in some cases. Some people are chalking it up to a very rocky transition. Obviously this generation’s been extended quite a bit and that’s new territory – some people are calling it signs of a transition to a new generation, others are saying it’s a result of things staying similar. Is this the on-ramp to a new generation of platforms, or are we still firmly entrenched in this one?
It’s amazing how many new platforms appear and grow. Some quickly grow and mature, and some might go away. There are so many new opportunities for developers and publishers to make games and publish these days. And it’s the same for consumers. There are so many different opportunities to play games on. That changes every year. One year it seems making games on Facebook is the biggest success story, the next it could be iOS or Android. There are so many things happening at the same time that people are really trying to find what is the best for their resources, their IP.
“What we are seeing now from the traditional console platform standpoint is our traditional partners have seen this disruptive growth in social and mobile sectors, so they are kind of jumping onto the opportunities and directing lots of resources to that. It’s getting harder to get their attention, to say, ‘Here, you have your IP that’s perfect for these platforms.’”
What we are seeing now from the traditional console platform standpoint is our traditional partners have seen this disruptive growth in social and mobile sectors, so they are kind of jumping onto the opportunities and directing lots of resources to that. It’s getting harder to get their attention, to say, ‘Here, you have your IP that’s perfect for these platforms.’ Our third-party relation team’s effort has to be really elevated to communicate with our third-party partners, as well as smaller development communities, because we now have a platform that can cater to those people. At the same time we continue to provide great, deep, immersive experiences on PlayStation; at the same time, to reach out to broader consumers who have fun playing games for the first time on smartphones.
For Sony specifically, what does 2013 look like? Is it still focused on PS3 and Vita, or is it moving into new territory?
We are not ready to talk about 2013. But some of the games we showed like God of War and The Last of Us are not coming out this year. We will talk more about what our line-up of games will be like in 2013. PS Vita we just launched. It’s been just four months. It’s in second year next year; it’s a really crucial year for us, so we will continue to invest in making games from our first party studio standpoint, and at the same time, we would like to see more publishers do games like Assassin’s Creed III Liberation; that is fantastic. And also smaller developers come to the PS Vita platform, either through native development or through PS Mobile. That’s one big focus that we have.
Sony’s done a really impressive job of focusing on smaller developers and indies. Earlier this year you launched Journey, which became the biggest game on PSN. Is that one of the things you see as setting PlayStation as a platform apart from everyone else?
We really love working with smaller developers, because they have much less fear to try something new. People like Jenova Chen; he has his own inner universe of thinking and approach to games. That’s so refreshing. We can learn. We learned a lot from working with these young people. Very, very creative. Working with these indies is not a big part of our business from the money standpoint. But for the industry, unless these people are able to try out their thinking and test it through the market, the industry will continue to focus on big IPs and big development. It’s really difficult to bring in new fresh ideas if each team has to have a $50 million development budget. It’s very important to have the digital market [being] very productive. We support smaller developers so that millions of younger people can aspire to do the same.
Watching the press conferences yesterday it seemed there were some really similar games all around. There were a lot of shooters, a lot of very straightforward action titles. Was that disheartening to see, that a lot of other publishers aren’t emphasising these creative ideas? Here’s this game 4, here’s this thing 3, etc.
It’s kind of understandable when you’re spending $30 million. You tend to try some proven market. We are a company who encourages a more unique approach, like David Cage’s game. We really have fun watching the Media Molecule people, who have big ideas. Because we are platform holders, we have a good excuse to try something new so that we can show to the industry and consumers that PlayStation has something unique and new. We’re in an advantageous position as a publisher for development groups to be able to try something new even if it’s very risky. Our company supports our efforts. That’s how we think we can differentiate PlayStation platforms. That’s something we’re wanting to do.
There’s been a big focus on multimedia from both Sony and Microsoft in terms of having Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and so on. Especially Microsoft likes to tout that it’s the highest-used living room Netflix box. Do you think there’s a danger that the gaming industry, at least in that portion of it, is no longer focusing on games?
In terms of focus, people may not know that we have dedicated group of people who are just focused on providing network services. Whether it’s first-party services like Video Unlimited or Music Unlimited, or third-party partner efforts like Hulu or Netflix. So their focus is there. But when you look at the whole company, we have a dedicated group of people, huge studios, making games. And we have dedicated teams who are working with third party publishers and developers to support their efforts to make games on PlayStation. It’s just a presentation that the same person, Jack Tretton, talks about games and music services. From the company focus standpoint we have dedicated people really focused on games and network services.
One last thing. It’s not a question but I think I’ve figured it out. The Last Guardian is going to be a launch title for Wonderbook.
For Wonderbook? Wonderbook’s launch title is The Book of Spells. But that’s interesting.