The lights are on
Earlier this week at Sony’s New York City PlayStation 4 launch event, we had the chance to speak with president of worldwide studios Shuhei Yoshida. During our conversation, we talked about the lessons he and his team learned from the PlayStation 3, the excitement around the PlayStation 4 launch, and where the console is heading.
If you follow important gaming industry personalities on Twitter, you probably know that Yoshida regularly engages with fans and media. In fact, when I walked into the room, he was on his phone, probably responding to a fan’s question.
“We get instant reactions from consumers and the community,” Yoshida explains when we ask about his social media presence. “This allows us to communicate with consumers without spending a lot of money like we used to do. That helps reinforce when we are doing something right and gives us an opportunity to revisit what we’re doing with our messaging. As a result, consumers are much more involved in how the system and services are being developed. That’s a very positive thing.”
In fact, it’s that response that led the PlayStation team to quickly acknowledge consumer interest in MP3 playback and media server capabilities, two features left off the roster for tomorrow morning’s launch. However, it isn’t what drove the company to diverge from Microsoft and make a camera peripheral an option.
“During the development cycle, we had a tally of things we were considering, whether hardware or software features,” Yoshida says. “The hardware decision had to be made earlier than software. We had a very strong belief that $400 was the maximum price point.”
The camera was on the list for consideration, but ultimately didn’t make the cut for multiple reasons. “There were lots of tradeoffs, and we wanted to make sure that we had the RAM and that the PS4 is fast. At the end of the day, the decision was made to make the camera an option.”
Yoshida explains that the decision also gives customers options. “We’re very happy with how the camera works with PlayStation 4,” he says. “However, we learned that not all games benefit from these features. If a consumer likes these experiences, that’s great. However, there are consumers that don’t like these features. We didn’t want to lose other hardware features for a camera that not everybody needs.”
One of those baked-in features that did make the cut is the PlayStation’s integrated share functions. Conspicuously missing from the offerings (and also from the Xbox One profile) is YouTube. We were surprised to learn that integrating with Google’s popular video service is already prepared for implementation.
“[YouTube] is not off the table,” Yoshida tells us. “Technically, there are no issues. It’s essentially done. The system is designed to add and accommodate other services. We’re definitely in conversations and we’re keen to include YouTube on the PS4.”
On the games side, Sony has courted independent and free-to-play developers to flesh out the launch lineup. When gamers start picking up their PlayStation 4 units in an hour or so, there will be five games waiting for them to play at no charge.
“We believe that the free-to-play, which is extremely popular on PC and mobile, will catch on with consoles,” Yoshida says. “We’ve already seen some indication through consumer reaction, for instance some people have moved from the mobile space, for example, to the PS Vita. Because of digital distribution, there’s no incremental cost other than some server support. The incremental cost of getting people into the game is very small.”
Yoshida is not concerned about app store clutter, though. “We are far away from having that kind of issue,” he says. “They have tens of thousands of apps fighting each other to get some attention from consumers. When we have that kind of issue, I think we’ll be doing extremely well, but I think it takes years to get there.”
Should Sony ever reach that point, there will already be a solution in place. The server team has constructed a recommendation engine based on your play habits and those of your friends. “Based on that, we’ll customize what you see in the storefront,” Yoshida explains. “The more you use the PS4, the more it will know your taste. Even if there are 10,000 games that might be chosen, there will be something right for you.”
PlayStation Plus is another mechanism for Sony to put good games in front of fans. “We evolved [PlayStation Plus] to more than just providing free games. We make sure that the games we choose are quality games and the kind we want people to try. We want people to trust us when we put games on PlayStation Plus. We want them to say, ‘This must be a good game, because Sony chose to include it.’”
As for the future, Yoshida sees the PlayStation 4 as a growing platform, with launch simply a starting point. “We foresee that PlayStation as a platform will evolve into more of a service offering, in addition to the hardware offering so we can expand our reach beyond our own hardware,” he says.
“For instance, second screen features and the application available on iOS and Android. Some time next year, we are planning on introducing the cloud gaming service starting in the US serving PS3 titles to PS3, PS4, and Vita.”
As for when exactly the cloud service might be starting, Yoshida is reluctant to commit. “I’m looking forward to being able to announce the start of service,” he tells us.