Last night during Sony's presentation unveiling its PlayStation 4 console, Sony's Mark Cerny made a vague promise that the system would be "the most open console" for developers to get games to players.
How restrictive this next generation of consoles will be has been one of our primary concerns…in an age where developers are cleaning up on Steam, the iron gates of console distribution are starting to look a bit archaic to a lot of you. In fact, when we asked you guys on Twitter what you wanted out of the next generation of consoles, the most common answer by far was to ease up and let developers in.
So, as promised, we followed up with Sony to see what they have in mind. We spoke with Sony Computer Entertainment World Wide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida on Thursday to find out what being "open" means, whether the PlayStation 4's automated discoverability means Sony is free to allow weirder games on its service, and just how the company plans to convince consumers that they need to buy yet another dedicated video game box in an age where people seem pretty pleased with their smartphones.
There was a promise made at the presentation yesterday that the PlayStation 4 would be "the most open console" for game developers, what was meant by that?
I don't remember exactly what context he said it in. He was talking about the architecture choice we made this time. We really went for the most common, most popular basic component. And we started from there. So I think that he is talking about "open" in terms of how familiar [the architecture is] to most developers. But I'm not totally sure…
Let me ask another way, then. I understand that the PS4 is accessible from a development standpoint -- once you are a licensed PlayStation developer. What I'm wondering is if Sony is lifting any restrictions, perhaps? Or making it easier for a smaller developer to get onto the PlayStation 4 than it was for the PlayStation 3?
Yeah, that we really want to do. We believe in smaller developers. They are very creative and they go out of the norm to do something really amazing. So we really want to make it easier for them to come to our platform and publish. And we know there are many things we can do, in talking with these guys and asking what they want us to do. And one effort we've been doing in that context is the PS Mobile platform. That doesn't even require the purchase of a dev kit. It's totally software driven, and they can develop games… on PC, for example. And once you decide to publish it, you want to test it on the final hardware, but you don't have to acquire a pricey dev kit.
The approach to PS4 we're internally working on is, I hope to see somewhere in-between the current model that we have on PS3 and the PS Mobile totally software-driven model. We could continue and go and expand the PS Mobile approach, but the beauty of developing games on console is we allow the developers to go really deep into the hardware, and to unlock the potential. And so in order for us to do that, the developer has to have the dev kit to work on. So at least initially, we have to provide the dev kit to make games on PS4.
I just want to make sure I understand what you said, you said your vision for you want to go with that program is somewhere between PS Mobile's open accessibility and the PS3's closed gates, somewhere in-between?
Yeah, that's our direction.
Does the PS4's PC-like architecture mean that dev kits might be easier to manufacture, and might be less expensive this time around? Could they be going out to more developers than in the past?
We usually don't talk about the pricing of the dev kit. But yeah, I'd say it can be cheaper. But I don't know if it's cheap enough for those indie guys. Because it's not just the cost of hardware, it's also the SDKs and tool chains and dev support and all those costs.
So I guess what I'm hearing is that you recognize that you need these smaller guys to be on PlayStation, and you're trying to sort out still how to get these tools in their hands?
I'm saying we want them to be on our platform. You said we need, but it's more like we want.
One big feature being pushed at last night's presentation is a more organic means of content discoverability for users, relying more on their histories and their friends than on what Sony chooses to promote. Does this open the door to distributing more games than you have in the past, now that a lot of that virtual shelf space has been freed up?
Absolutely, yes. We love having lots of different kinds of content. It's hard to find the right content for particular users, so we want to make a service so that we know their preference and we'll be able to prioritize what we push forward to particular customers when they open the software. So we are trying to serve as much information that we think they like onto the system menu.
Sure, but because that discoverability is more natural now, does that mean that Sony might be more open to distributing some games that they wouldn't have before? Maybe titles that are more obscure or niche or weird can be on PlayStation, now that Sony doesn't have to worry about how to display and curate them?
As far as the self-publishing is concerned, I think we already have a pretty open stance to get many different kinds of content…
Through PS Mobile or in general?
I think it's just another degree. I don't understand what level of "weirdness" you're talking about. But in a general sense, the answer is yes, we'd like to make it so that lots of different kinds of content are published on the system and still be able to reach the right kind of audience for that particular content, even if that content is pretty niche.
These last two console launches have been performing below expectations, Sony has come out and said that the Vita is selling below expectations, and the Wii U's January performance [in the U.S.] was a record low for any currently available systems…
…did we say that?
Yes, actually. I don't have the exact quote, but it was insinuated along with the price cut in Japan that the Vita was underperforming.
Okay, fair enough, but the general perception is that the Vita has not sold as well as one might have hoped, and the Wii U certainly did not in January. One might argue that dedicated video game consoles are falling out of favor in the public eye, and I'm wondering how Sony would respond to that and convince consumers that there still is a place in their home for a new video game-centric box when most seem to be pretty satisfied with other devices that also happen to play games?
Well said. Yes. The answer is yes. We have to provide something compelling to consumers to purchase right? So it's as simple as that. Unless we do that-
It's as simple as what? What did I say that you're saying "yes" to?
We have to provide something very compelling. We believe a generalization like what you said, that no console will sell, is wrong. It's very wrong. And we have to prove it with PS4. And PS Vita, for that matter. We've been making efforts to make it more appealing to more consumers. And we just announced the price drop in Japan, and we provided more information about games coming out this year.
So from your perspective, what is the push for consumers to buy the PS4 then? Is it just the social aspects? What makes the PS4 stand out to make people want to buy one?
In the end, we have to provide games that they want to play. That's the most important thing.
So software exclusivity?
You may say that, but it's not just the exclusive software. Exclusive software matters when people are comparing different systems. But [in terms of getting someone to buy a new console] it doesn't really matter, to me at least, if a game is exclusive to PS4 or if it's provided on all consoles. It's true that everybody plays games on cell phones or tablets, and many people are just happy in doing so. For many people playing games, it's just passing time. They don't want to spend money to buy hardware, and they don't want to spend money to buy games. Many games on smartphones are free. So for those people, it's very hard to convince…not only that you have to buy this thing, this hardware, but there are many other people who are willing to spend money to get some great game experiences. And we're going to provide something great for those kinds of consumers.
Isn't that kind of consumer shrinking in numbers?
It's a demand and supply issue. If we don't provide something great for these people, they don't buy. So which is the cause? It's kind of difficult to judge. Once we provide something great, there will be more and more people who are willing to spend money.