In a small press Q&A after his keynote speech at the Game Developers Conference on Wednesday, Sony's Phil Harrison answered a number of major questions about Sony's entire suite of products, from PSP to PlayStation 3 and beyond.
Responding to questions on the hard disc for the PS3, Harrison indicated: "Every game is being created as though there were a hard drive", putting to rest possible confusion over the HD not being compulsory, as occurred in the Xbox 360. It is, however, not know if the disc will be included in the box itself, or an expanded peripheral.
Next, after being asked: "What are you doing to make sure there are enough units?", Harrison answered simply: "You can see from our history that SCE has been good at meeting consumer demand with supply. It's inevitable that some consumers will be disappointed, but our ramp-up of 1 million units per month [for a worldwide simultaneous release] is the biggest ramp-up we've ever had."
On being asked for his take in terms of the PlayStation 3, in November, being a year after the Xbox 360's launch, Harrison noted: "It doesn't put us at a competitive disadvantage at all. Throughout our history, we've never been the first platform to market, in terms of the generation shifts. It's an interesting debate, though, as to where our competitors sit in that generation shift." He added: "We have a tremendously powerful hardware with great tools to develop them, and now we're seeing great creativity. I have no concerns about the competition."
Harrison was also asked about optimization for both the PS1 titles running on PSP and the PS2 titles running on PS3, indicating that, for PS3 backwards compatibility, there will be some kind of optimization. Technically, he suggested it's possible on PSP, "although the headroom is obviously smaller than what we can do on PS3."
The Sony exec was also bullish about user-created content, noting: "The power of a network is a construct of the people who are in that network. What makes places like eBay and Amazon powerful is that contributors are also adding content, and we see that model continuing on the PS3."
Harrison was then taken to task for the difficulty in programming on the PS2. He replied by saying that "One of the reasonable criticisms of the PS2 was that it was a powerful machine, but was fairly complex to program for - though that didn't affect our ability to sell millions of units. That was down to the proprietary nature of some of the chips in the PS2." He extrapolated that the PS3 will have higher level, more efficient chips. "That's coupled with all the great work that the tools companies are bringing. It should be an easier experience for developers," he concluded.
A question was then broached in regard to downloadable game content - would that service be open to full-scale games that would otherwise take up a full Blu-Ray disc?
In response, Harrison began: "There's no restriction as to what you could download to your PS3. There are clearly some differences in the rollout of broadband around the world, and in some countries, for a long time, the most efficient way of getting 50 gigs of content into consumers' homes will be a Blu-Ray disc," adding that as broadband use gets more widespread, so too will e-distribution. "We don't think that'll happen over night," he admitted, "Blu-Ray will continue to be the major method of distribution. It's more the consumer's choice." And indeed, it behooves Sony to keep Blu-Ray as a primary format, if they want it to win in the next generation media wars.
Harrison was then asked about the PS3 network - whether it would be restricted to delivery of content just to PS3, or if it would also service other Sony and non-Sony products.
His response was that the focus is around the launch of the Ps3, but shortly that kind of downloadable content will branch out to PSP and other formats, adding that "As for other formats that aren't SCE formats, that's not currently on the plan, but I don't see any reason why it couldn't be."
Another question asked if the controller design would be finalized in the E3 timeframe, as Harrison had alluded. More specifically, with the immersion lawsuit regarding the dual shock controls, it was questioned whether this was a reason why the controller wasn't showed today.
"That has no impact on why we didn't show the controller." Harrison simply stated, adding that the controller will be revealed at E3 as planned.
A final, rather revealing question was asked by Gamasutra, to the effect of whether the PS3 would have regional lockouts. Harrison had mentioned that the console would support multiple display formats, and so we pressed him on whether all formats, from HD, to traditional displays, to PAL, SECAM and NTSC, would be supported out of box.
Harrison responded in a rather interesting way - "The things that make a console region free are different from what makes games region free." Voltage differences, plug styles and that sort of thing mean that there will naturally be different SKUs for different regions. But at the same time, software will be region free. It's possible for developers to enforce whatever encoding and format limitations they want. "If they want to divide it, that's their choice. But the concept is that content is region free."
It's a very impressive statement for a company of this size, and we can only hope that it means a more global market for games in the near future.