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How the big, expensive decisions were made for the PlayStation 4

How the big, expensive decisions were made for the PlayStation 4
July 9, 2014 | By Mike Rose

July 9, 2014 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing

When Andrew House was appointed president and group CEO of the PlayStation brand, he suddenly found himself with a whole boatload of tricky financial decisions to make about the upcoming PlayStation 4.

At the time of his appointment, the development of the PS4 hardware was at multiple crossroads, with plenty of important decisions to make that would define the future of PlayStation.

At Develop Conference today, House and PS4 lead architect Mark Cerny discussed what those decisions were, and how they were eventually made.

The PS4 hard drive was one of the biggest back-and-forths for the team. "Hard drives are expensive, and it's not like you can put half a hard drive in a console, " said Cerny. Going with flash hard drives was a possibility, but Sony wasn't completely happy with this approach.

This decision was a top priority just as House was coming into his president role, and formed one of the first big choices he had to make about the PS4. He looked at what was being said from all the various angle, and eventually decided to pour more than $1 billion into making sure each and every PS4 console came with a hard drive.

"We were starting to get a lot of the naysaying about what was the point of a console anymore," noted House. "Ultimately we had to make that decision."

"We were starting to get a lot of the naysaying about what was the point of a console anymore."
The next big decision - should the PS4 console come with 4GB of memory or 8GB?

"In truth, in the early days we were wondering do we need 2GB or 4GB," said Cerny. "Developers told us we needed 4GB. Part of going to 8GB was that we didn't want developers to worry about shoving their games into 4GB. It was going to be very expensive."

He turned to House at this point, and both smiled, clearly remembering another difficult decision. "I thought, really?" laughed House. "We were balancing priorities, and a lot of the philosophy of what the PS4 did came out of our experiences on PS3. Sometimes these priorities were in conflict with each other."

"We wanted to build a platform with lots of momentum that could be more than just a niche market from the get-go," he added. "Coupled with ease of development, which was very important to us after what happened with PS3, it was definitely another sleepless one for me."

House eventually decided that it was worth spending the billions of dollars now on making the PS4 the best it could be, and better than the competition, with the plan that higher console sales would hopefully mitigate some of the cost.

"It was pretty obvious to me that something was going to have to give."
"I'm glad I didn't have to make these decisions!" laughs Cerny -- and there were plenty of other big decisions in this vein, such as whether or not to include the camera with the console.

"It was pretty obvious to me that something was going to have to give," said Cerny. "The camera made sense as an independent proposition, it didn't need to be bundled with the hardware to be a success."

"You've got another one of these points where there were financial pressures," added House. "But it also made us think through the consumer's position again. Having the camera as an option for consumers was not a negative - it was a choice."

And the actual design of the PS4 casing was quite the back and forth for House too. When the company revealed the PS4, but did not show the actual console itself, lots of people thought this a little odd.

"I think we were honestly just caught a little bit off-guard," noted House. "This felt natural and normal to us. I think we were a little bit wrong-footed when people said it was a reveal, but not a reveal. It was very much with keeping how we'd done it before."

This made the design of the console itself become a priority, and after House had rejected one design, he was presented with five possible candidates. He cut this down to two, and these two were built, and then sat in his office for a week.

Eventually he came to a decision based on which he would rather hold up to the world at the next E3, and which he would be most proud of.

The future of PlayStation

"We think there are two or three potential directions our form of entertainment can go," House said of the future of PlayStation, and video games in general.

One form is video game streaming, as you might expect. "Our acquisition of Gaikai, and PlayStation Now, is very much in the spirit of looking at how the distribution of content will go," he noted. "I've been paying a lot of attention to the music business.... Rather than have the future dictated to you, we want to be a pioneer - that's what we're trying to do with PlayStation Now."

And sensor tech is another angle that House believes will help define the future of games. "I think we're on the cusp of seeing lots of these sensors coming around," he added. "I think the impact of these could play a huge role in a new generation of games."

Added Cerny, "I don't think we can know what's going to be happening six, seven years from now. But I think the corporate culture we have positions us well for whatever it is."

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