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Sony's Jack Tretton: The Full E3 Roundtable Report

Sony's Jack Tretton: The Full E3 Roundtable Report

July 17, 2008 | By Christian Nutt, Staff

July 17, 2008 | By Christian Nutt, Staff
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Following Sony's E3 press conference, SCEA CEO and president Jack Tretton (pictured, left) sat down for a wide-ranging roundtable discussion that covered everything from Square Enix's decision to bring Final Fantasy XIII to the Xbox 360, the state and future of Home, PSP piracy, and Sony's desire to bring a PlayStation 2 to "every last consumer on earth."

Tretton came to the position from his former VP role relatively recently following the departure of "father of the PlayStation" Ken Kutaragi, and the subsequent promotion of former SCEA CEO Kaz Hirai to take Kutaragi's place. The announcement came almost immediately following the PlayStation 3's Japan and North America launch, but, as Tretton made clear in its conference, Sony's view of the last two years is that it's somewhat of a blink in the console's life.

Said Tretton: "We know what we're doing. I think we've demonstrated for two console generations that we have a long-term vision that works with consumers. We truly believe in what we say, whether you agree with it or not, that it is a long-term vision, and it is putting technology in consumers' hands that will pay benefits over time."

"One of Sony's fundamental weaknesses," he admitted, "is that there's one element of the company that thinks we're a hardware company and one element that thinks we're a software company and sometimes the two don't meet."

"It takes a learning curve for the software guys to get their minds around it," Tretton said, "but maybe some of the hardware could have been done better if [they had been involved]. Moving forward we need a better job of doing a collaborative effort with the hardware and software guys."

Tretton On Microsoft

Asked if he was aware of Microsoft's message and what Sony's reaction might be, Tretton joked, "Aware to the point that I feel like I knew everything before they even got up there... We certainly knew all of the fundamental messages."

"I think that every company thinks that they invented the wheel" he said, "but I think that my first reaction is that we must be doing a lot of things right because I see a lot of things that remind me of what we're doing."

Asked if he was disappointed to see Final Fantasy officially make its move to Microsoft's console, he added, "I guess disappointed is clearly an appropriate term. Surprised or consider it to be something that's avoidable? Probably not so much."

"One thing that's crystal clear that I hope you understand," he continued, "from the beginning when we got into the business, people said, '[Sony has] no software development heritage' and we knew that. We invested heavily in internal development and as far back as '95 we reached out and did some licensed publishing."

"In my opinion," said Tretton, "the decision that we made is that we were going to invest in internal development, the majority of our resources and over half of our employee base all over the world. We've built up our base and that's where we've chosen to spend our dollars."

"I think Microsoft has spent the majority of their money on trying to curry favor with third parties," he said. "I think software companies look and say, 'There's no check big enough for us to do exclusive development.' I think it's going to be harder and harder to have third-party exclusives as we move forward," instead offering that, "Exclusives to me mean Resistance 2, LittleBigPlanet, and MotorStorm."

Tretton On Hirai

Asked how Hirai's move to Japan has helped the company overall, Tretton offered, "There's no question that Kutaragi-san ruled with an iron fist and it was his vision with the technology that the regions were very autonomous back to day one."

"Kaz understands [the U.S. market], and he understands the challenges of publishing a platform [in Japan]. The other change that isn't apparent on the surface is that Howard Stringer is very aware of our business," he said. "Now it's much more collaborative."

"We have a huge impact on music, movies, consumer electronics," he concluded. "We can no longer be an island off the coast of Sony Corp."

Tretton On Waiting

Throughout the conference, Tretton stressed that as the original PlayStation and PlayStation 2 didn't see some of its most beloved titles until well into their respective lifecycles -- noting that God of War was a year-seven PS2 title, but he said today that there was no intentional 'just wait' message.

"I don't think that 'just you wait' is the message we wanted to deliver though I could see how you want to intepret it that way," he said. "We wanted to lend a little historical perspective. What is selling PS3s today, to your point, is not where we're going to be in years four, six or ten."

"I think there's enough there that consumers are going out and buying 155 percent more hardware than they did last year at this time. That's the proof of what we have today," he continued. "We tried to walk that line of talking about the present and that future perspective. We wanted to avoid making promises that we can't keep. I would hope that the vast majority of that stuff we talked about would be a reality when I stand here a year from now."

Tretton On Home

On its forthcoming 3D avatar space Home, Tretton offered, that, despite long delays in its release, Sony was now 'on track' with the initiative.

"I think we built a little bit of a grandiose picture of what Home can and will be," he admitted, "we painted ourselves into a corner of not only when it will be available and what it will be. I think that's one of the fundamental disconnects of a company to take something from the creative minds and turn it over to the pragmatic business minds."

Asked whether Microsoft's similar 'avatar' initiative fundamental to its interface redesign put added pressure on Sony, Tretton said "I don't know enough about Microsoft's avatars. I think we're going in a bit of a different direction with Home. We made a line in the sand and made a strategic decision on Home and that's where we're going."

"My understanding is that it's a more simplified vision," he added. "That may be enough for some and not enough for others. We are who we are. You have to be who you are. You can't backpedal down a road if it doesn't appear it's going to plan. You have to be aware what's not resounding with people. We've got a plan for PS3. I think the worst thing we could do is look at the competition and try and do what they're doing."

But, on its progress, Tretton did say, "I think it's in no man's land. Home is not a software title. It needed a lot of hardware engineering support. It didn't get built up beyond what you'd expect from a software title until very recently."

"There was a lot of learning recently and a little naivete about how we'd build it," he admitted. "It took us awhile to figure out what it was and how you'd build it. I'd rather ship it two years from now and have it be filled with a lot of great stuff than open it up as a ghost town, so I think we've got to do a good job of populating it. The shell is there, but we have to get all the good destinations."

During its conference, Sony revealed that not only had a number of third-party publishers like Ubisoft and EA signed up to create spaces in Home, but non-gaming companies like Nike.

Asked if the price to enter the space had come down, Tretton offered that "the cost of entry is enormous for any development decision... The best proof that there is something there with Home is that these guys are there with it," he said. "We tend to try to earn respect and show people a business model that has a good return on investment."

Tretton On Home Theater Buyers Versus Gamers

Asked if the PlayStation 3's role as a media center was frustrating to the company's focus on delivering games, Tretton admitted that "Kutaragi-san built the PS3 as the supercomputer for the home. We thought there was a risk of losing the gaming identity of the PlayStation 3, so we tried to distance ourself from that and understood the credibility would be built with games."

But, he continued, "I don't think we can deny our heritage of selling the PS3 short as only a games machine... The majority of people consume media beyond games. I don't think even the most hardcore gamer will associate zero value with the multimedia features."

Asked if there were any internal programs to try and convert Blu-ray and home theater buyers into gamers rather than gamers into media consumers, Tretton said Sony had "the same opportunity as the Wii" to convert non-gamers into gamers. "Now it's about throwing the breadth of the library at them."

Tretton On PSP And Piracy

Moving to the PSP, Tretton was asked if there were plans for a PSP with more storage space, which he admitted had been thought about internally. "I think you're seeing a migration as the cost of memory comes down and we see it slimmer and lighter. There's certainly a march toward a digital delivery device. I think that's the trend moving forward."

Asked why, even with sales on the uptick -- primarily in Japan -- sales for PSP software were still relatively low, Tretton offered "three very good and distinct reasons for that."

"Multimedia functionality: you're not just turning it on to play games," he said. "Number two: quality of games. People are not interested in buying a PS2 port. Number three: the biggest reason lately has been piracy. We've been able to track that hundreds of thousands of sales, in the case of God of War, are walking out the door on day one."

And what can Sony do to remedy the piracy problem? "We have remedies moving forward," he said. "What it doesn't help you on the 13 million people who own it in the US and 35-38 million who own it worldwide. We'll take steps to close the loopholes and people will open new ones."

Tretton On PS2 Everywhere

Finally, turning to the PlayStation 2, Tretton was asked if there was a plan in place to bring it to $99. "Nothing I can tell you besides that it will be a card that can be played and will be played," he offered, concluding confidently, "We're going to go after every last consumer on earth the PS2."


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