Are console games going digital and online? The Interactive met with Scott Rohde, Sony’s senior vice president in charge of North American game development for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita to ask that question and many more. You can read the complete interview here.
We already broke the news that Rohde believes the that digital distribution and downloads on PlayStation are inevitable and that they’re something Sony would like to do, but there’s a lot more to the discussion about digital content and new media in gaming.
For example, what about MMOs and other games-as-online-services? Will the next generation of games leave the old model of one-time $60 game purchases and solitary experiences behind? How confident is Sony in its strategy of linking of the PlayStation 3 and the newly launched PlayStation Vita handheld, and what does he think of the Wii U?
Sony’s first-party games are among the most acclaimed differentiators for Sony’s PlayStation 3 against competitors Nintendo and Microsoft, so Rohde was the perfect guy to ask.
For our readers, what do you do at Sony?
I manage the first-party development teams in America. That consists all the studios that you know and love like Naughty Dog, Santa Monica studios and the San Diego studio and so forth.
Do you foresee a shift in Sony’s strategy to more digital download releases of triple-A titles as opposed to just the PSN, Journey-type titles? For example, Mass Effect 3 was a day one digital download.
I think this is a natural progression, I mean you saw what Jack announced in terms of the PlayStation Plus plan and the giveaway with all of those great titles. These are full games that can all be downloaded as well. I think it’s a natural progression. You’ll start to see more and more digital offerings across the board. And this is not just a Sony thing, you’re obviously going to see it across the board. It’s the way the world is progressing, not just Sony.
So do you think that’s inevitable?
It’s something we want to do, and it’s inevitable, yes, it’s all of the above.
Do you personally believe that the focus of the next generation will be more about games as online services, and expanding those as opposed to more powerful graphics? You see this on the PC already with Diablo 3: digital download, required to be online, auction house, all those things. Is that something that first-party developers in Sony and Sony in general are angling to do more of in the future?
The example you gave was Diablo 3 — I mean, it’s both obviously. It’s a much prettier game than its predecessor and it comes with all these news services that you’ve indicated, and it actually requires you to be connected so, I think that… I have to be careful how I answer this with you.
We’re always thinking about all this stuff, right? We have been for years. So you’re starting to see a little bit of proliferation of those types of services in our industry in general. Think about something like Call of Duty Elite, for example. So of course the whole industry is taking note: “Hey, is that working? Is that not working? What do consumers like, what do they not like, how can we apply different types of similar services to different games.” And not always necessary to just tack on an extra charge, but maybe a totally different model of how we deliver these in general.
Like Free Realms.
Yes, yes, exactly. And even not just Free Realms, but DC Universe Online as well, right? They iterated that business plan after launch, as you saw. So we’re always thinking in this area and we will continue to do so. There is no definitive answer about where we will go or where the whole industry will go and there’s not necessarily a strategy that says, “Hey, three years from now, all of our games are going to be totally different. The whole industry is in an experimental phase to understand what consumers want and what makes them happy, and that’s what we want to deliver.
And then you just respond to what the market says and go in that direction?
Not that simple, because I will go to my grave saying that the market doesn’t always know what they want until it’s put in front of them. So we have to try new things so that they can respond. We’re not going going to watch what the rest of the world does and then respond. It’s going to be more about us trying things along with other companies trying different things, and together we’re all going to come up with slightly different yet similar strategies moving forward.
One of the things you guys are trying is this Vita/PS3 dual-screen thing. You look at Microsoft and Nintendo and they’re doing their own versions of similar ideas. Sony’s version appears to be different in that—
Not really Microsoft. I mean, theirs is more about connecting to the digital space — the mobile space, I mean … It’s more of a connection to the mobile world and I think that’s inevitable. We’re gonna use that word all day.
I think all companies, ourselves included, will embrace the fact that everyone has a smartphone or a tablet in their house, and you’ll start to see more and more touch points between those two devices. I think Microsoft just called that out. Nintendo has the Wii U. We have the Vita, and we’re also reaching out to mobile as well, enhancing some of our titles that way.
With Microsoft’s approach, it’s safe to assume that if you’re going to be using that thing, you probably already have a smartphone or tablet. Nintendo packages the tablet with the console. With the Sony solution, you have to buy the PS3 and the Vita, and my understanding is you have to buy two copies of the game in some cases. Is that accurate?
All those details are yet to be determined, is the bottom line. But I think they’re all very different parts of this topic, I suppose that you’re hitting on. I mean, Nintendo is releasing a new platform where they’re releasing a tablet that does not have a processor, that requires the box to do a certain amount of processing, to take away from what’s on the big screen to show you what’s on the small screen. That’s a unique strategy.
Microsoft is simply saying, “Hey, our games will have touch points out to these mobile devices, and we’re going to brand that idea,” is essentially what they said in the press conference. I’m paraphrasing, but in general that’s true.
We just have two completely different platforms that can talk to each other very well and we’re starting to release some titles that are very similar on both platforms like PlayStation All-Stars, for example, where you can play cross-play versus whatever combination of PS3 and Vita users you like. Sly 4 has a different type of solution where they interact in a unique way, just like LittleBigPlanet — that was talked about as well.
They’re different avenues to arriving at similar experiences but I’m not sure that it’s a big concern of mine that everyone is approaching it in a different way. Yeah, everyone might have a smartphone in their pocket, Nintendo’s putting something in the box, we have two different machines, but there’s many different ways to arrive at a similar experience.
Do you think that the fact that the player has to buy these two separate machines specifically for this purpose and potentially has to buy two copies of the game could be a barrier to adoption of that feature?
Let me put it this way: We’re working on the best ways to make sure that that consumer experience is a very positive one. And I also don’t want to say that… we’re not necessarily trying to market this feature per say as “this is the only way you can play this game,” as opposed to Nintendo, which has that solution.
We are saying, “Here’s this PlayStation Vita. You can totally enjoy it on its own for years and years to come. Here’s a PlayStation 3, you can totally enjoy it, and hey, if you own both of those, there are many ways to have additional fun using both of those machines in harmony.”
It’s slightly different than the question you’re asking. It’s not like you can’t play Sly 4 unless you buy all those machines. That’s not how it works. You can play either/or, if you happen to own both you can have a different experience and a connected experience so that I can play over here, save, continue over here, save, continue over here. So if you own them both we offer all the integration for you as a consumer.
What’s next for the PS3 as a media center for stuff besides games? Are you doing second-screen stuff with Vita, are we going to see more services, is there going to be any overhaul of the Sony Music service?
So not really my department, right? But of course I’m attached and I know what that group is doing. I’m going to answer this in unfortunately for you a bit of a vague way. That group is always out there looking for good business opportunities.
A lot of the stuff that you see announced by the other two manufacturers this year was already in place on PlayStation 3. What you’re seeing in the big three conferences is that those different companies like Amazon, Netflix, what have you — they’re just offering their services and they just want to expand their audiences and these platforms are becoming a great place to do that.
So that being said, the PlayStation Network team absolutely is always searching for new, pretty unique services that can be an addition so that you can do something on PlayStation that you can’t do elsewhere.
Is there anything else that you think would be pertinent to our audience?
Especially for The Interactive audience, which is where I live, it’s so important for me to reinforce the fact that PlayStation is totally about the gamer and the types of games that you saw [at E3] really reinforce that. And the other types of things that I talked about like the fact that a game’s gonna ship when it’s ready, for example.
Like the fact that we are willing to innovative in spaces that are unsafe to many other publishers, like Beyond: Two Souls — there’s not another publisher that would take that risk, I don’t believe, because it’s a very different style of game that doesn’t appeal to everybody but we really want to advance that part of the business and that part of our whole industry by showing that you can eventually, potentially have a whole family, not necessarily the kids but the wives who are typically not involved in the video game activity really engrossed in a story with something like you’re seeing in Beyond.
It’s because it’s not just guys running around shooting everything that moves; there is that drama and that tension that’s building just like on a serial TV show. I think that it’s something that’s really important to what we do. Innovation for gamers and pushing that forward in the industry is core to the PlayStation value, and it’s something we’re going to continue to do.