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Interview: The State Of The PlayStation Network

Interview: The State Of The PlayStation Network

June 29, 2010 | By Christian Nutt

June 29, 2010 | By Christian Nutt
More: Console/PC

Gamasutra recently had a chance to speak with Susan Panico, the senior director of PlayStation Network at SCEA, about the shape of the service, its new PlayStation Plus paid service, and more.

"It's a service package that sits on top of PlayStation Network and doesn't change -- everything that's free yesterday is free today," says Panico of PlayStation Plus, which will be included in the next PS3 firmware update.

The new service, which will cost $49.99 a year in the U.S., offers games, demos, and other enhancements to the existing, free PSN service -- including push content that will be automatically sent to subscribers.

"I think that we're always looking at how we can provide enhanced services, experience, and content to our customer -- one thing that was important was that we could provide them what they're looking for and make it appealing to them," says Panico.

And while the service delivers perks in the form of free games, "the entitlement to the games is active as long as you are subscriber." In other words, they will de-activate when subscription lapses -- but re-activate if you re-up.

Getting Games on PSN

All three hardware manufacturers have a different style of populating their services with games. According to Panico, Sony both seeks development talent, such as thatgamecompany (Flower) to populate the service with titles, as well as taking pitches from developers who have games they're working on.

Panico says that when it comes to selecting titles for PSN, the company is "looking at quality over quantity play. It was really important as part of our brand culture and DNA, and to look at how we could bring very unique and creative experiences to PSN."

"PSN provided a really great distribution opportunity... and in turn it challenged people to be very creative," she says. "What really also differentiates PSN for [developers] is that it comes with the full package, in terms of providing marketing opportunities. It's not like the mobile space where you get lost on a deck somewhere, where you have to float up into the top 20 to be successful."

While Microsoft is well known for scheduling games in advance, and keeping prized slots for specific titles, Panico says that Sony has its "primary publish every Tuesday. There are some things we tend to be strategic with, to maximize sales or to deliver a certain experience to the consumer, but for the most part we want to be very flexible for the third-party publishing community... Work with them to get their content out as quickly and easily" as it can.

The Networked Future

PlayStation Network will form the basis of the company's broader efforts in the space, moving across its other products. Kaz Hirai, CEO of SCE in Tokyo, is now also sitting over Sony's overall Networked Products & Services Group, which will connect to all of the company's devices.

Panico says that this appointment shows that the Network is vital to Sony overall -- and its importance is "going even further up the food chain with [Sony president, CEO, chairman] Sir Howard Stringer. Connecting devices is a really important strategic initiative."

Sony's approach toward networking, she says, is "born from the broader Sony heritage where you have a company built on technical innovation" and is designed to bring together its "entertainment side of music, movies, and games" into one package.

She spoke, as other PlayStation executives have recently, of "the transformation for us of not just being a gaming company but a media company."

Says Panico, "I think what's important is that gaming is the heart and soul of the company, and it's what we do really well. But what we've learned over the years... What we did as PlayStation, if you go back 15 years ago, we legitimized it as a form of entertainment. It's not a hobby; it's a broader form of entertainment. But what we've learned over the past 15 years is that we have to provide other forms of entertainment to the consumer: movies, comics, music, what have you."


And one of the other forms of entertainment is PlayStation Home, the PS3's often maligned or ignored -- yet popular -- virtual world. Is it meeting Sony's expectations? At 14 million worldwide users, Panico says that it is.

"Home has been a really good learning experience for us, because we did something that hasn't been done before in the console space. It took us awhile to figure out what works. What we've learned is that people want to go to Home so they can share their passions in gaming, but they really want something to do. They don't just want to sit there and talk to each other. So we had to look at how we could game-ify home."

This was accomplished most notably via late last year's launch of Sony's Sodium game, which is playable only inside of Home.

"The events that we have been building have created a huge stickiness factor," says Panico. In fact, she thinks that the service is "almost like a built-in loyalty program in a way," and the company has "learned how to cultivate that" that stickiness through its initiatives.

PSP and PS1 on PSN

Just a fraction of the '90s PlayStation classics are available on the North American version of the store compared to the Japanese store. For example, 16 games came to the Japanese store during June; three came to the U.S.

Says Panico, this discrepancy can relate to "stricter legal policies" in the U.S. compared to Japan, but "we always want to see more. I think PSone Classics has been an extremely successful content offering for PSN, and I tell any publisher it's money on the table that they're leaving, if they don't participate in that program. The one challenge is that those games, in a lot of cases, are 10 years old or longer so... There may be licensing issues that prevent them from going up."

On a similar note, many PSP games are not available on the store as digital downloads. Of that, says Panico, "In a lot of aspects they're business decisions. It's going to be different for each title. We have a lot of great content choices for PSP users."

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