PS4, VR and why Sony must “break the mould” for the good of the games industry

Thursday, 29 October 2015 14:23 GMT By Matt Martin

Detroit, Dreams, Wild and a belief in VR: Euro boss Jim Ryan says it’s fundamental that Sony pushes the boundaries of console entertainment.

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With over 29 million PlayStation 4 consoles shipped, you’d be forgiven for expecting Sony to rely on a safe and steady route to market. But despite shifting more consoles than its main rival, it’s still pushing at the boundaries of what constitutes a console game, going large on tech like PlayStation VR, and letting creatives head up ambitious projects like Dreams, Wild and Detroit. None of those look like system sellers, but Sony was more than happy for them all to shine under the spotlight at Paris Games Week.

We sat down with Sony’s European boss Jim Ryan to get a handle on its approach to experimental games, whether it genuinely believes virtual reality will usher in a new era of video games, and just how the hell does it sell a game as abstract as Media Molecule’s Dreams?

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“It’s incumbent on us to break the mould. Hopefully, if we can break the mould and demonstrate that this stuff is successful and works, then others will follow”

Interview by Patrick Garratt.

VG247: Are you pleased to have done your first press conference in Paris?

Jim Ryan: Yeah, I really enjoyed it. I loved being at the foot of the Grand Arche. I thought that was cool. I liked the room itself. Nice and cosy. I really enjoyed it.

Do you think you’re going to be doing your main European conference in Paris every year from now on?

Don’t know. I really don’t know. It’s obviously quite a sensitive topic. I’m sure you know the history, but the window between E3 and Gamescom was early and it was just inconceivable to put together a proper show this year. I think we’ll get through this week and reflect on how its gone, and we’ll also think about what our plans are for this year. Then we’ll make a decision. One thing I’m very confident about is that we’ll do a European event. That’s very important to me.

It must have been important for people like David Cage and Michel Ancel to be able to speak in front of the crowd in Paris.

Yeah. It ended up being quite serendipitous, because obviously the fact that they have games is the determining factor to them being on the stage, and it’s secondary that they’re French and we were in Paris. But it was extremely nice. They obviously enjoyed it, and I think the crowd enjoyed it, too.

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You don’t see David Cage reveals every day. Are you excited about what you’ve seen so far?

Yeah, I am. David’s great because he tries different things and he does stuff that’s a little bit away from the mainstream. It’s so important that we have that on our platform and it’s important for the industry that that sort of material is encouraged.

To stick with that for a second, there’s some pretty left-field stuff coming to PS4, based on what we saw last night. Your commitment to unique, exclusive content creation, especially on console, is kind of solitary now. Microsoft’s backed out, pretty much, and their first-party development is very much focused on genre and safe bets. You, distinctly, are not. Why are you so committed to pushing the medium’s boundaries?

This is something that is absolutely fundamental to the ongoing health and – survival is an emotive word, and probably too strong – but to the health and prosperity of the industry. Development budgets with each generation spiral, and most publishers are publicly-quoted businesses that are accountable to shareholders. This is entirely appropriate business behaviour: they have to take a proper attitude towards risk. We feel it’s therefore incumbent on us to break the mould. Hopefully, if we can break the mould and demonstrate that this stuff is successful and works, then others will follow.

The other thing I think that helps is the ability to publish digitally. We’re used to a world where stuff goes on disc, and you have warehouses involved, and you have inventory lying around which can be very costly to manage and to close-out, and with digital publishing the games can be shorter in form. That issue of business risk that I talked about earlier is somewhat assuaged.

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If you altered your stance on being committed to furthering the medium creatively, do you think there would be other elements of the games industry ready to pick up the chalice, or do you think it would stagnate?

I think there’s a risk it’d stagnate. We have considerable ambitions for PS4 in terms of broadening the audience and getting more and more people on board. I think that process of rejuvenation is really pretty important.

I want to talk about VR for a while. A lot of people were hoping for a price and a date and a little more information last night. It seems as though we’re still a way off?

Well, we’ve said it’s the first half of 2016. We’re not altering that statement.

Can we expect VR to be comparably priced to console hardware?

Andy House has made a statement along those lines.

I wanted to ask you for your personal opinions on VR. Obviously, it’s still untested and these are very early days. Do you personally believe that there’s a real future for games with VR, or are we just looking at the next 3D? That arrived and everyone said, “This is it!” And now it’s gone.

I am optimistic about VR having a long-term future as an important part of the gaming eco-system. Yes, I am.

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“I am optimistic about VR having a long-term future as an important part of the gaming eco-system”

There does seem to be some genuine concern among players about Sony’s commitment to VR, and this is probably in the wake of Shuhei Yoshida’s honesty in relation to Vita development. Can you reassure players that if they buy into PlayStation VR that you won’t remove its first-party support if things don’t go quite as planned?

To clarify what was said about Vita, which was either misinterpreted or misreported: I think what was said was that we’re no longer in the business of triple-A development of games for Vita. But there is still first-party Vita content being worked upon.

I think it’s very hard to make concrete promises about something that is completely untried and unproven. But I think what we can say is that we’re taking this very seriously. We do view it as something that will be of considerable long-term importance. I’m aware that might come across as a bit mealy-mouthed, but I think that’s probably about as much as I can say.

Let’s talk about Dreams for a bit. Media Molecule said in that session last night that they have no idea what Dreams actually is.

[Roars laughing.]

Doesn’t that concern you from a marketing perspective?

No. First of all, communicating and marketing something that is new and fresh and different should be every marketer’s absolute dream. Surely better to have that challenge to have to communicate an endless iteration in a long-running series? I also think that things became a lot clearer last night about that game, and that process will continue. Things will get clearer still. The community gets the developer and it gets what the developer stands for.

Do you think we’re going to see Move re-marketed a bit with Dreams? The Media Molecule guys were using it a lot with the creation tools in the behind-closed-doors demo last night.

It is an interface that obviously does lend itself to it, and we’re thinking a lot about how we manage that.

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