Phil Harrison — Executive Vice President, Sony Computer Entertainment
A Brit who comes off worse in writing than person.
(For an explanation of what this article is, please read this.)
“Nintendo knows its target audience, because it has really narrowed that down; and it’s pretty much defined by a boy or girl’s ability to admire Pokemon.”
“The idea of a handheld rivalry with Nintendo is an irrelevance, those formats don’t appear in our planning. It’s not a fair comparison; not fair on them, I should stress. That sounds arrogant, maybe, but it’s the truth.”
Something the PS2 was widely criticized for – and which Microsoft in particular has played up very much – is being extremely hard to develop for. How does PS3 compare in that respect?
It always made me chuckle, that comment from Microsoft, because yeah, it’s true, but it didn’t stop us having thousands of games and 80 per cent market share. Having said that, there is an element of truth to it – PlayStation 2’s architecture was more challenging for your average developer to get their heads around. Some were capable of getting their heads around it, some weren’t.
Too much bravado
“We don’t need the PC.”
[I assume all Sony employees now use only PS3s at work.]
If the graphics were themselves a major selling point, why was the whole lifestyle angle so important?
If we were successful in positioning PlayStation as an aspirational product we would differentiate ourselves from the old “toy” image of the Sega and Nintendo market. We were not simply selling a game system, we were promoting an entertainment lifestyle. PlayStation was the first game system to make it “cool” to play games and you had to join in, or be left out. We pioneered many marketing techniques that are now commonplace in our industry – things like PlayStation chill-out rooms in top nighclubs, celebrity product placement, guerrilla branding at music festivals, and the PlayStation skate-park in west London. All of these were totally innovative concepts for launching a game system in 1995, although the echoes of these campaigns still resonate today. The advertising was innovative, talked-about, edgy and unlike anything that had been used in the category before. I think that we made some of the best ads, in any industry, for PlayStation.
[Sega built their now crumbling empire on “cool.” They also made many “edgy” commercials for the Genesis and Game Gear that are still highly regarded.]
Are you going to be at a competitive disadvantage with Xbox 360 having a full year head start on the PS3?
We’ve actually never been the first platform to the market in what would be considered the generation shift. I think what you’ve seen today and in our previous announcements is that we have a tremendous powerful hardware coupled with an excellent software backing. We’re not concerned.
This is your third PlayStation launch. Is it much more complicated now than in the good old days?
Yes. It only gets more complicated, but matched with that complexity comes opportunity so I don’t think it’s a negative. It’s only positive.
We are at a unique point in technology history where you have four technology trends all lining up like four big planets. You’ve got HD displays, becoming mass market, must-have purchases. You’ve got Blu-ray disks becoming the pre-eminent standard for hi-def movies. You’ve got the establishment pf a game format in PlayStation 3 that can have HD games and HD movies. And you’ve got the explosion of broadband and the continuing fattening of the pipe. Those four things are happening right now, it’s a rich soil in which the future will grow.
[Blu ray in not yet and may never be a standard.]
“What we should be clear about is that the functionality is identical in both machines… It’s just that the technical method of extracting audio and video from the devices is slightly different.”
[Outputting in HDMI is very arguably a function.]
So, right from the beginning, Sony was marketing the machine as a lifestyle accessory rather than a toy. Where did this idea come from?
PlayStation games looked, sounded and played better – and really delivered an “arcade quality” experience on the TV in the living room. Although by today’s standards the graphics were relatively simple, you have to remember back then it was a revelation. By making games more realistic, more consumers found them interesting and were attracted to play games perhaps for the first time in their lives.
[It is generally agreed upon that the Genesis brought the arcade experience home, not simply because of the hardware’s capability, but because Sega has nearly always had an enormous role in the arcade industry and their games came to the system. The Saturn arguably had better arcade ports of many games when compared to the PSX, like most 2D Capcom fighters.]
Did you not show the new version of the PS3 controller because of the Immersion lawsuit?
That has no impact on why we didn’t show the controller. The controller will be revealed at E3.
[Tilt sensing technology has been used in conjunction with rumble technology. I believe Sony is simply lying when they claim the Immersion suit had nothing to do with the rumble removal.]
“I know what Peter was getting at with his price point issue but he’s not comparing apples to oranges. He’s not even comparing the same kind of food products at all. It’s clearly a case that PlayStation 3’s price is justified by PlayStation 3’s value. That’s what consumers base their purchasing decisions on — value.”
[The concept that PS3 is a computer and other systems are not is a PR line. Xbox and Xbox 360 are computers. As such, it is unclear why comparing them to the PS3 is erroneous.]
Considering that you are doing a worldwide launch, what sort of steps are you taking to ensure that there will be sufficient numbers of units available at launch?
I’m in charge of the software studios, not the manufacturing plant, but as you can see from our history, Sony has been very good about supporting our hardware launches. Yes, some consumers will be disappointed, unfortunately. But our ramp-up of over 1 million units per month is the fastest we’ve ever had.
[Sony was not “very good” about supporting the PS2 at launch.]
“Are there two versions of the Xbox 360 that people want to buy, is my question,” he continued. “I don’t know.”
“This is my personal view, not my corporate view, but when I look at those formats, I think it just confuses the audience. They don’t know which one to buy, developers don’t know which one to create for, and retailers don’t know which one to stock.”
“So I think we wouldn’t take that strategy. We wouldn’t create confusion,” he concluded.
Yet some media outlets are still getting it wrong. USA Today reported that there will be a two-tiered pricing structure for PlayStation Network Platform?
I think that some analysts must have been in a different presentation. Some things they got wrong, and others they speculated on areas that we did not even touch upon. Obviously we hope that this conversation can help to clarify the message.
In terms of your devkits – obviously some people have them already, so what’s the schedule going forward for delivering them to developers?
Well, clearly Monday and Tuesday have been our big coming-out parties. We’re now public, so we can now be a lot more open with all of our partners about what we’re doing. You’ll see a lot more devkits rolling out – but exact schedules, who they’re going to and what they do is not something I can discuss here.
You’re going to start rolling them out more rapidly now, though?
Yeah, for sure. We’ve been making them for some time, but obviously they’re not in abundant supply at the moment. (5/05)
[Many developers have reported not yet receiving dev kits.]
You showed demonstrations of the console running multiple applications across the two HDMI outputs – is that something which is actually built into the system’s operating systems, or do games have to support it specifically?
Depending on the features that you exploit, some of it’s handled by the OS, some of it will be handled by the applications. I should also explain that although yes, there are two HDMI outputs, you don’t have to have only high-def devices attached to PlayStation 3 – there’s also a standard PlayStation AV Multi-Out connector. So one of them could be an HD output, and one of them could be an AV Multi going to the TV.
[The PS3 will have one or zero HDMI outputs.]
Sense of humor
There’s going to be a worldwide simultaneous launch?
We decided to restrict it just to this planet.
How much input did game developers have into the specs of the PlayStation and its APIs?
Not a huge amount, to be honest.
Some of the developers who worked on demos for the launch have said that even those aren’t running on hardware approaching the full power of the final unit – so what percentage of the full performance was that running on?
It’s really hard to say, because as technology gets more and more complicated, there’s no concept of the “perfect” engine. We used to say on 16-bit that a game used 90 per cent of the machine’s power, or Gran Turismo uses, you know, 94 per cent of PlayStation 1’s power… There’s no concept of the perfect game engine that uses everything. So it’s hard to say.
Admission of mistakes
The PS2 was widely regarded as difficult to program for – will the PS3 be similar?
One of the criticisms of the PS2 was that while it was very powerful, it was also to harness this power. I accept that it was difficult to program for. That came down to the proprietary nature of the processors.
Online is one area where, without a doubt, Microsoft did get it rather more right than Sony last generation – Xbox Live being a much more comprehensive worldwide service than what Sony rolled out…
But more people play online games on a PlayStation 2 than on any other game console.
Right, but then a lot more people own PlayStation 2s than any other game console.
Yeah, but it is something that is worth pointing out – although, personally I have a great deal of respect for what Microsoft has done with Live, and I think they’ve got a lot of it right.
“Microsoft has done a lot of things right, and there are certainly things that are going to form the model for many of the high quality consumer experiences that we will deliver with PS3.”
“I think Peter Moore is exactly right. I think Nintendo will be the second system consumers purchase after PlayStation 3. I haven’t had a chance to check out the Wii myself, but Nintendo has a great history of innovation and has always done great things for gaming and long may they do so. But as it relates to our strategy they are very much in a different market.”
“We are a business, we do have to make a profit. We can’t just do this for the fun of it – we’re not art house theatre. We have to balance the two.”