Kratos' Boss: The Studio Head of Sony Santa Monica Speaks
May 21, 2012 Page 2 of 4
How do you determine things to double down on, like "Yes; we're going to go multiplayer this time" or "Yes, we're going to double down on graphic violence; these are what we consider the bullet points for this franchise"?
SS: That really needs to be driven by the creative. We are not a studio, nor are we a company, that has the publisher mentality driving the creative decisions within the franchise. That happens at the team level, and we cherish that ability that Sony gives us.
It's certainly something at Sony Santa Monica that we take advantage of. We want the visionary in there making those types of decisions. What does that person believe in as far as what compels the gamer, and what is the new experience that they want to introduce? It's all happening on the ground floor.
There is a point where upper management needs to look at it again as far as expense: How many people are we going to need to throw at that new thing, and what is the future of that new feature? What does that maybe open up down the line that we didn't have before? All of that stuff is highly scrutinized.
You're one of Sony's very major studios. There's Naughty Dog and many other studios in the organization. How independently are they run? When you run the studio, is it run the way you want to run it, or do you pass back and forth with the other studios?
SS: We work within an infrastructure together, but we run our studios pretty independently. Again, I go back to Sony as a whole -- Shuhei Yoshida and Scott Rhode -- who really understand PD enough to understand how tremendously important that aspect is. If you can't build a culture that people want to be a part of and you're just a run-of-the-mill cookie-cutter studio, then you're not going to create greatness. That's hands-down my philosophy. They really get that, and they allow us to live within our own expectations of how to run a team, what crunch looks like, to what is a quality product.
We make all of those decisions at the studio level: what products we want to pick up, why. And we partner with marketing on how it's going to get out there to our ever-growing fan base. So we're really very fortunate in that sense, I think.
I was curious how much these things go up to Shuhei Yoshida or other people at the management level of Worldwide Studios.
SS: He's completely tuned in because he's a gamer, and that's what we love about Shu. You look at him waiting for a meeting to start, and he's typically in a corner playing some game, whether it's on his handheld or the Vita -- more recently it's the Vita -- and really loving every minute of it.
When you're really with someone like that at the top, they get what your day-to-day is; they understand your challenges. He's very aware of what's going on within the organization. He gives enough autonomy, though, to the head of his group, like Scott Rhode, who runs WWSA, which is the America side of the studios, to make the right decisions for the business.
There's a lot of autonomy built into not only the studio level, but also up the chain, which I think, again, is part of the Sony culture that really allows us to explore outside of the confines of what marketing thinks is going to sell.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
Something interesting to me yesterday was when I was talking to Chan Park from [PlayStation All-Stars developer] SuperBot and he said that they started out as an incubated studio within Santa Monica; obviously, we know Thatgamecompany also incubated within. I was wondering if you could talk about this idea of incubating studios, why it's important, and what you contribute as a strong, process-oriented, more powerful, traditional studio to incubate and grow studios within you.
SS: Well, certainly these days it's always hard to find a team and construct a team, but also to get the funding. When you look at an incubation opportunity, what you're looking at -- not only at the studio level but as an independent developer -- is the ability to get in with limited risk. Certainly, there's still risk involved, but you're not looking at the overhead of just the facility alone.
When we were able to carve out space for a company like SuperBot within Sony Santa Monica, it's in the belief of the leadership within that team, or maybe it's a high concept that we really, truly believe in. In the case of SuperBot, obviously All-Stars was something that, as you can imagine, was living within Sony for many years. It just wasn't the right time -- on top of it not being the right team.
SuperBot was crafted from the ground up to build that experience, and that type of experience, when you look at a brawler, is really critical. The type of talent that you're able to bring in around a game like that -- it lives or dies by each individual frame; that's the type of game that is. When we saw that opportunity at Sony Santa Monica and some of the key or creative leadership that SuperBot was able to bring in, we knew that the timing was right; it was a great opportunity to celebrate the IP that has been living within Sony for many decades.
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