Sony talks exclusives, 4K gaming, Scorpio, Kojima, and a “proper” VR launch.
Sony had another barnstorming press conference at E3 this year, revealing game after game, new and known, to wow the assembled press and fans alike.
In a year where its main rival revealed two new consoles, Sony confidently stuck to software as its central message, highlighting that its own internal studios are pushing a generational step change within this generation itself.
Yesterday we got to sit down with Sony's European president Jim Ryan to talk about the big reveals, the future of 4K gaming, why it's important to have a proper launch for PSVR, and games for 2017.
VG247: That was another strong first-party showing in terms of software from Sony. Do you see that line-up as validation of your content strategy? Obviously you've gone to great expense and commitment to keep your internal studios open.
Jim Ryan: I think it was very nice for us to have such a strong and comprehensive showing of work for our own studios. It's taken everybody slightly longer than anticipated to get up to speed with this generation - all formats, all developers. Questions have been legitimately asked about this and I think it was a really positive validation of our approach to first party development.
"It's taken everybody slightly longer than anticipated to get up to speed with this generation - all formats, all developers"
I was fairly astonished at the level of tech. It is significantly beyond what we're playing at the moment. That was obviously very deliberate on your part, to show that there is still life in the old dog yet. Was it important to show a generational leap within this generation?
Personally I don't see it as a binary step. It's a gradual progression. Uncharted 4 showed a similar progression from the games that were released in the launch window. We're now getting to the stage where you can look at PS4 software and go "wow".
To talk about progression, there was the Project Scorpio announcement from Microsoft. How does Sony feel about that?
We obviously follow chatter and speculation online and some of it appeared to be fairly well-grounded so there wasn't too much that was a particular surprise to us. Good luck to them with their strategy and we've got our strategy and we'll pursue that. We're very happy with the way things are going. Fall 2017 is quite a long way off.
2017 appears to be a big focus for you. Most of the software we saw isn't ready yet. Are you happy with your games going into Christmas this year, and do you think Christmas 2017 will be a really major year for PS4 as a platform?
If you look at our portfolio of platform-differentiating software in 2016, we had Ratchet & Clank which sold amazingly well. We're really happy and delighted with that. Uncharted 4 obviously, we've got No Man's Sky in August and then The Last Guardian and GT Sport. I could be wrong but I think it's the first time we've had a GT and an Uncharted in the same year. 2016 is really strong in what is not only great gaming content but also games that differentiate us from anybody else. We're really happy with that. We've got a partnership with Activision on Call of Duty, we've got the partnership with Ubisoft on Watch Dogs 2. So we're very happy with what we have this year. And in 2017 we'll just build on that.
A lot of people have been asking for the Xbox One S, a smaller box from Microsoft. The slim chassis is something Sony is very well versed in. Do you wish that you had one going into this Christmas?
For this E3 all we wanted to do was talk about software and that's what we did. We're happy with the shape of the PS4 and what it does.
Let's talk about software then. Hideo Kojima's new game was up on stage and was really well received. Can he just do whatever he likes? Are there any restrictions placed on him at all?
"Just as important is the way in which our studios and somebody like Hideo Kojima can deploy the horsepower of the platform and demonstrate what's possible and showcase what can be done"
First of all I'm not a studio guy, I'm a publisher suit. But my perspective on that would be if you try to place too many constraints on a free spirit like that it's probably not a wise thing to do. But equally, clearly, with something like that there's a significant investment on the part of Sony, and all of us who make those sort of decisions around that sort of investment are ultimately accountable to Sony shareholders. It's a balance between allowing the creativity to flourish and recognising that we're part of a business.
How important are the themes of technical progression and exclusivity. How important is it for Sony to hold onto these first-party exclusives?
There's obviously the issue of differentiating our platform from any other platform, which is fundamental. Just as importantly is the way in which our studios and the way somebody like Kojima can deploy the horsepower of the platform and demonstrate what's possible and showcase what can be done. Uncharted 4 was a brilliant example of that. Ultimately we shouldn't rely on anybody else to do that. We should blaze a trail.
The next technical ask for consumers looks to be 4K TV. It's something you're getting to and Microsoft is pushing on it for the end of next year. Is it a big ask for people to upgrade to 4K, is it the right time or something that's a few years away yet?
I don't work in the television business [at Sony] but we obviously have access to the data. The share of the market for televisions that are 4K is growing very steadily. I make this as an industry observation not a Sony observation, that the cost of production of a 4K over a HDTV, the incremental-on costs are not that great. Again, from an industry perspective I understand that it will become the defacto standard before too long because it doesn't cost any more to make them.
"Star Wars, Batman, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil. These are heavyweights. Those sort of games legitimise what we're doing and add real substance to VR"
You have VR as a hardware release for this Christmas. Are you excited now it's coming, do you think it will give you a good Christmas?
In terms of the relative component of our turnover this year, PS4 will continue to make up the majority. But I think in terms of the buzz that it will bring will be very important. I don't mean this in a negative comment on anybody else; we will have a proper launch on October 13. It will be a proper PlayStation launch. There will be a lot of noise about it, there will be activity at retailers, they'll be lots of consumer trial before then. It's going to get everybody nicely excited. I was really pleased with the announcements on stage. Star Wars, Batman, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil. These are heavyweights, serious stuff. Those sort of games definitely legitimise what we're doing and add real substance to VR.
Last question: where's your European press conference going to be this year?
It's not decided. It's a tough one to call. It's a balancing act between timing, availability of software, announcements to be made. We've had a long history of enjoying Gamescom, we went to Paris last year and really enjoyed that with such an iconic venue. So plans are still afoot…