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The State of PlayStation Network: John Hight Interviewed

March 4, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

What do you see as the future of retail versus download titles? A lot more download stuff is coming, but a lot of people seem a bit cagey about going against retail. What do you think?

JH: Well, people are still very comfortable going to a store and buying a game. We experimented with that with Warhawk, when we released both, and I think we had a lot of success with it. To make our retail partners happy, we gave them a value-add. They had a headset that came along with the game. And we sold more at retail than we did on download.

I think what's cool about the download space is that we can release games that would just be noise for retailers. They'll take lower-cost jewel case games aimed at children on the PC side, but those aren't the games we typically do. We have higher quality games.

There's no mechanism to get a $10 game to you right now other than online, but the neat thing about it is that we can drive people back to retail with games like Warhawk, because now our customers hopefully realize that when we release one of these games, we're going to back it up with continued online content. We just released an expansion on Warhawk in September, and we'll release another one in April. Each one makes the game bigger and bigger.

It seems to me that retail has too much control for not being game developers, of what comes out in terms of games. You couldn't release flOw in retail as a boxed product for PS3. I don't know. It's a pet peeve of mine that people want to still please the retailers when they're making a lot more money off of games that developers sometimes make.

JH: Well, they take a huge risk. They're carrying an inventory. They don't know whether the customer's going to like the game or not, yet they're sitting on stacks of boxes of these things, and they've got to maintain stores, keep the lights on, keep the workers paid, yadda yadda yadda. And our costs for direct distribution are minimal.

We have a significant investment in the PS3 and establishing the network, no doubt, but basically, I'm not carrying an inventory around. When you purchase that game from me, boom, we download it from the servers, so the distribution costs are very low. We pass those savings along to our customers.

I understand the retail side of things, and we couldn't be here without them. That's important. And there will always be a place for big, epic games like God of War, where it's an event. You want to go to the store and be there at midnight when it goes up on the shelves and be one of the first people that play through it and brag to your friends about it. Those are fun. Those are fun events.

I mean, where are you going to get your hardware, you know? (laughs) A lot of the times, when you buy that hardware, you're going to buy a game along with it, and I don't think we're going to see retail just go away.

I don't think digital distribution is going to cut them out completely, and I don't think that will necessarily be the right thing. I mean, a lot of things have been available for a long time online, like with, and they haven't killed the book business. People still like going to a bookstore and hanging out, perusing.

Also, there seems to be an attempt with downloadable services to emulate a storefront, so you can still sort of browse. It's arguably a better experience, because you can actually play it before you buy it.

JH: Yeah. I think with these types of games, this is absolutely the right space to be selling them. We could not have gotten flOw to the consumer if we did not have PlayStation Network.


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Robert Schultz
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Sony sounds like the republican party in the United States.

Declare victory regardless of the actual reality.

XBox 360's online network is far and away the best of the three right now.

In fact Sony's whole approach is so different, I doubt that it will ever catch up.

This isn't a problem if you listen to Sony however, they kind of admit that and say 'Well our approach is better'.

XBox 360's indie game approach with the XNA toolkit and being able to develop a game on the PC and then just move it over to XBox is amazing power.

Sony's approach of 'well we have more power, so you have to do more work to develop on our platform' is just backwards thinking.

I find it amusing that Microsoft with it's Live Arcade and XNA toolkit is embracing the openness that has allowed Open Source and Linux to trounce Windows products.

It's like Microsoft has learned a lesson and is reaping the rewards on their XBox 360.

Sony meanwhile holds on to old concepts of control, control, control. Complexity is king.

Sigh. If I were a Sony investor, I would be VERY worried.

Ahhh well, at least Sony has Blu-Ray to keep it alive :)

Chad Thomas
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Robert, did you read the article?

Sony talks about how they work with independent developers instead of just throwing them an SDK and leaving them to fend for themselves. They are interested in growing products and careers; XNA Studio is interested in becoming the YouTube of games. So far, the XNA Studio games are incredibly underwhelming; they play like unfinished Flash-games. I can't see paying $5-$10 to actually buy one. Jelly Car is not the next Everyday Shooter.

Microsoft is not embracing openness on Arcade, which is why Epic has been unable to get permission to allow user-created content on UTIII. XNA Studio games still have to be peer-reviewed before they are allowed to be posted. You may see more bite-sized games as a result of XNA Studio, but I'm not sure you'll see more quality games.

The statement on page 1 kind of says it all: "We're very careful about how too much quantity could kill us, because it's more about having really well-selected, cool experiences." That's a different stance from their competitors. It is not necessarily wrong. There's so much I dislike about XBL that I welcome a different approach.


Robert Schultz
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I suppose your right. A lot of good indie games come out on the PC platform all the time. Being able to easily download XNA and develop games that can work on the XBox, with it being so easy for 'anyone' to do, I see a HUGE potential for some amazing games to surface on the X360.

YouTube may have hundreds of thousands of total junk videos, but there are a large number of very good videos that drive insane amounts of traffic and profit (through ads) to the site. I can easily see this sort of scenario surfacing on the X360 with indie games. Some awesome games are sure to arrise, games that will only exist on the X360. As the months and years roll by the number of great games on the X360 will continue to rise and the PS3 may look far less attractive to the gamer consumer.

I guess that's OK with Sony. They are going after the more 'grown up' market I suppose. They also have Blu-Ray and other 'features' to help sell units too.

The PC indie game movement is growing and growing. Very high quality games are being created by very small teams usually numbering in the single digits.

I suppose the huge, complex, massive budget, multi-year, mega games that Sony is going after will still exist, I just question whether or not it's wise for Sony to be betting so much on it.

Maybe I'm just looking at things wrong...

Joseph Hight
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I actually think the Nintendo Store on Wii is well positioned for digital downloads for the casual to med core gamer. You can currently purchase (via credit card or Wii card) retro games but I think the indie games and full scale games are close behind once the consumer gets educated. For the hard core gamer, I think X360 and Microsoft will be tough to beat. Sony has not even figured out how to get their licensed music and movies in a live on demand service. They had the opportunity to be one of the early adapters with a connect service to their PSP and failed miserably. I worked for Sony before and as great as they are, the last time they were truly innovative was the transistor.

And tell John Hight to quit using my name... :)

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I think that it's a really smart article, a lot different from Reggie's bluster or some other PR people(including Sony's) are, and it makes a lot of good points, and although they are beating a zombie horse to death again with acting like this is news, the fact is, the PS3 has vastly more potential than the 360, and Wii as a piece of hardware. I hope Sony continues with their strategy of sticking with their console until its had its run, because the PS3 could easily wind up in the lead again in the end if they can get some actual exclusive killer apps and super ambitious developers like Bioware to build titles specifically to take advantage of the Cell processor.

It's still funny to me how much shouldve been obvious by now, like having a comprehensive online service around launch, but its also kinda ironic to call Sony the republicans when all ms does is buy studios they like outright.