Sony Computer Entertainment's San Diego studio is perhaps best known for creating the company's platform-exclusive sports games such as NBA '07 for PlayStation 3, but is also a major audio and motion capture/cinematics hub for Sony at large. The office executes on audio or production work for titles as varied as God of War and Home, and has built massive new facilities to accomodate their next-gen needs.
From the re-done audio building to the 120 x 120 x 35 foot motion capture facility, SCEA San Diego is rather well funded and well equipped. But far from being just a big-budget house of sports and mocap, new teams have surfaced to work on original PSN titles, as we discovered when invited to check out the office and conduct multiple interviews.
Earlier this year we had a chance to tour the studio and speak with SCEA San Diego's Director of Product Development, Jim Molinets, who filled us in on the direction the studio is headed. We were then offered a chance to inspect the facilities -- from the audio production to the mocap -- and learn more about what's going on here and why.
What are the properties that are worked on here?
Jim Molinets: Our external producer is in charge of the ATV franchise, MotorStorm, F1, and other PSN external titles. Internally, we have shifted our focus from doing large-scope PS2 and PS3 titles to doing significantly more PSN titles. We've got three smaller groups now, and they're all doing very differentiated products with different requirements.
Is there a PSN team leader?
JM: Our maximum team size is ten people, so we really utilize the strengths of all the different people within the studio. Each individual product has a technical lead, a design lead, and an art lead.
Are these people who used to work on the larger-level titles?
Do you find that it's going to ultimately be worthwhile to pay people their normal salaries to be making these smaller games? The traditional model has been for indie guys to make stuff on their own dime.
JM: I think there's room for both, actually. We're privy to things from a developer standpoint that indie developers can't pay for. We have the ability to utilize our motion capture, and the ability to use our QA directly as a focus test group. We also have expertise that goes years beyond any indie developer on a PlayStation platform. Our group here has several people who have been with SCEA for over 15 years.
Does that make a longer tail in terms of the game itself becoming profitable, or is it more about building the experience that there's good stuff at this stage?
JM: From a business standpoint, of course we want everything to be fantastic and profitable. But you deal with the exact same experience if you're dealing with a PSN title, a PSP title, a PS2 title, or a PS3 title. We want to focus on what our innovation is, how we're going to expand the core experience for the user, and what we're bringing to the table from an experience level from our team members. The internal teams also have an ability to strategically leverage relationships with our partners that we've worked with before, with the music and movie industries.
It almost sounds about halfway between a smaller indie title and a full production.
JM: That's a safe assumption. I come from a shareware background, and it's really intriguing for me because it's kind of like that model. One of the exciting things about PSN titles to me is the direct correlation between product development and the end user. The community based around PSN is going to tell us if they like or don't like something, or suggest features. Because the team is smaller, the dev cycle is smaller, and because our expertise level is high, we may be able to address things like that very quickly, as opposed to having to wait for a full two-year product cycle.
Were you thinking of being able to patch games?
JM: Patches have the lowest common denominator, I'd say. Patching insinuates you're fixing something that's broken. With PSN titles, what we're focusing on is expanding the user experience.