How do you think the PlayStation conference went over this year?
Very well. There are two aspects to it. The first was the format, which I think was rather different to anything that’s been done before. An orchestra, for Christ’s sake, at E3. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, but it really made the whole thing. More important, of course, were the games. We felt confident that we had a good roster, but you’re always a bit nervous going into these things. But the reaction in the room was great. I’ve hung out with journalists and publishers and retailers, and everyone’s saying good things. I feel really good.
We were struck by how you kept chit-chat to a minimum, too.
Yeah. One thing we concluded – and it’s taken us far too long to do this – is that having middleaged man after middle-aged man on stage talking is not necessarily the best recipe for success. If you’ve got strong content, just let that do the talking for you. That’s the approach we took, and it seems to have worked.
Many of the games you showed had a rather mature tone. Not in terms of blood and guts – they just felt a little more personal, more about relationships.
This generation’s technology does facilitate narrative. For us it really started with The Last Of Us, which would almost be a primitive level of narrative and emotion compared to what’s now possible on PS4. The starkest illustration of that, for me, was
God Of War: historically it’s a very credible, highly rated franchise, but there were dimensions in the demo that started our show of narrative, of emotion, the relationship between father and son. That bit at the end where they plunge the dagger in? I’ve spoken to people who were close to tears at that. That’s not an emotional reaction we’ve ever seen in a God Of War game before. Not to disparage what’s gone on in the series previously – it’s just that we’re seeing a completely different dimension to these things on PS4, which is great.
With many big publishers pulling out this year, some say E3 is on the wane. What’s your take on that?
Historically it’s been extremely important to us. There have been times when the industry has tried to walk away from, or diminish E3, but it’s never happened. To me, it’s interesting that many of the companies who have ‘walked away’ from the show are still very present. E3 is clearly the most prominent event on the calendar, but there are events in the Far East, in Europe... it’s a big fixture in a kind of complicated global picture.
Speaking of complicated: you’ve confirmed the existence of PlayStation Neo, and Microsoft announced Project Scorpio. What does this mean for the traditional notion of a console generation?
There are people making rather bold, sweeping statements, about how it’s all changed forever and it’s going to be different in the future. Many of those are probably the same people who predicted the demise of the gaming console four or five years ago. It’s very dangerous to be too certain in any predictions. It’s certainly the case that technology cycles are going to be shorter. Smartphone manufacturers iterating their hardware on an annual or semi-annual basis is making consumers more receptive – indeed expectant – of mid-cycle improvements.
But I think our space is rather different. Whether you’re a developer spending three or four years and a great deal of money making a game, or a consumer who bought into PlayStation 4 back in 2013 or 2014, you have a reasonable expectation that this thing is going to have a reasonable lifecycle in front of it. Moving to the smartphone approach is potentially very fraught. We have a responsibility to ensure that expectation of a stable environment in which to develop or play games is met.
Finding a way to do that, but at the same time offer an enhanced, differentiated, rather premium experience, is the challenge that lies ahead of us. It’s an area we’re exploring with interest. We’re excited by it. It definitely could be the future. Will it be? We’ll see.
In the more immediate future is PlayStation VR. Some developers are calling it the first commercial wave of VR. How do you feel about that?
I don’t want to disparage anything that anybody else is doing, but what I would say is that when we go to market in western Europe and the US on October 13, it will be a proper PlayStation launch. There will be significant quantities of VR machines in all the major markets of the world; there will be significant presence at retail. There will be proper marketing, proper in-store presence. It will be a proper PlayStation launch.
“There are people making rather bold, sweeping statements, about how it’s all changed forever”
The Shrine Auditorium was once again Sony’s home after five years at the cavernous, though rather soulless, LA Memorial Sports Arena, which was demolished in June. It’s a grand old spot, and the ideal venue for a live orchestra, which soundtracked most of the show
Ryan didn’t take Sony’s stage; instead he was seconded to Ubisoft’s conference, where he announced Sony Pictures’ Watch Dogs film (above) and some PS4-exclusive Ubi DLC