Your conference felt oddly lowkey this year, lacking the usual showmanship we expect from Sony.
There was a certain amount of bombast and loud bangs. Do you think that’s a bad thing?
No, but in a year when you know Microsoft and Nintendo have new hardware, it makes sense for you to pare things back and focus on games. Was that the thinking?
Yeah. Obviously last year was our year of innovation with PSVR and PS4 Pro. It was [a case of], ‘Let’s let the games do the talking.’ It was really no more and no less than that. It’s often easy to sort of impute some grand stratagem to something that’s often quite straightforward.
How much do you think about the other conferences when planning your own? Clearly it’s a competitive business, but you need to be proactive.
If you try and set out your own stall by reference to what somebody else is doing, that way lies failure and ruination. If you have confidence and belief in your own plans, then just lay them out and let gamers decide. There are certain areas where we’ve gone one way and our various competitors are going in different directions, and I think that’s fine. It’s all good. If we try to mirror, or contradict, or diss what somebody else is doing, I don’t think that speaks well of us.
What does the slate of games you showed on stage tell us about Sony’s strategy for the next 12 or 18 months?
I think it talks quite a lot to breadth and diversity, and I want to include in that comment some games that were not actually at the show.
The Playlink series, which may not be to the palette of many of your readers. We need to talk to a totally different audience, and one that is perhaps, in many cases, rather intimidated by the interface of the Dualshock 4. To bring in a suite of games that is more social, that is easier to interact with and that is kind of going back to the style of games that we had great success with back in the PS2 generation, with EyeToy, Singstar and Buzz – and Nintendo, obviously, with the Wii – we’re very interested in and excited by that.
It’s that point in the generation where you look to a wider audience, isn’t it?
Yeah. These initiatives, by their nature, are speculative, and not without risk. But I think if you have ambitions to go from 50 to 100 million, you have to start to at least experiment with some of these things.
One thing that wasn’t clear last night is what PS4 owners are meant to spend the rest of the year looking forward to.
I understand that. We probably haven’t been sufficiently vocal about a year in which we’ve had Horizon Zero Dawn, which has been a hugely successful new IP. And breaking new IP – and you know this as well as I do – is fraught with peril. We’ve got that, we’ve got Uncharted and we’ve got
Gran Turismo Sport, all in the same year, all from our studios, all exclusive to PlayStation. I think that’s a pretty decent statement. I think that many of the games you saw last night that are coming in 2018 are looking very strong.
Plus, there’s been a realisation across the industry that it’s no longer solely about the final three months of the year.
I totally agree. It’s very interesting to speculate about what might have happened if we’d gone to market with
Horizon in November. I think having that space in March, whether it’s space at retail, organisational clutter internally, the PR thing, mindspace with gamers... Really it can only be a good thing if we’re starting to get more adult as an industry, spreading the releases across the year in a sensible manner.
In a few months you will no longer lay claim to having the most powerful console on the market. We have a resurgent Nintendo. How does all that impact on the way you run the PlayStation business?
Obviously, we watch what they’re doing very carefully. I think a resurgent Nintendo is just great for the industry on so many levels. And you and I having this conversation about Sony versus Microsoft, it creates interest. They’ll be looking for more space in stores; hopefully that means more space for the category overall. I’m not at all unhappy about it. Specifically regarding Pro and X, by the time they launch we’ll have been in the market for a full year. Pro accounts for one in five of all PS4s sold since we launched; we’re really pleased about that, it’s way ahead of the expectations that we set ourselves. They have their plans, we have ours, and we’ll see what happens. Turning the temperature up on the whole thing is no bad thing at all.
Is it time for a cheeky Pro price drop? We thought you might have snuck that in the press conference to steal some thunder.
(Laughs) Well, we said nothing about price. They’ve announced their price, and we have ours. It’s not always a guide to anything, but when they’re at a significant premium to us, it can be a struggle for them. I don’t see any pressure arising as a consequence of any announcements that have been made this week.
Does the success Nintendo has enjoyed with Switch give you pause for thought about portables?
It’s still very early. Many things Nintendo does are so disruptive and different that it takes quite a long time to understand them, and I don’t think we’re at that stage yet with Switch. Like I say, it’s great that they’re back, it’s great to see them doing so well.
Minecraft and Rocket League are offering cross-platform multiplayer on every system except yours. How can a company with the slogan For The Players be the last one holding up that wall?
We don’t have any profound philosophical stance against crossplay. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again. With Minecraft, it’s enjoyed by a hugely wide demographic, many of whom are very young and have been trusted to go online within the confines of the PlayStation Network by their parents. I think opening them up to possible experiences that are beyond our ability to manage is something we take quite seriously. So it’s very easy to trot out a slogan, but these issues are fairly deep, fairly profound. We don’t have any rule that we apply, we just test these things against a variety of criteria on a case-by-case basis.
The last few years have been very busy in terms of hardware. We’ve had mid-gen power refreshes, which we’re not used to. We’ve had VR headsets and Switch. Do you think that’s going to slow down now? Or does the effect of the smartphone market, where people expect these regular updates, mean this is the new normal?
It’s a very interesting question. The cultural phenomenon of regular updates to smartphones and tablets is without question, perhaps subliminally, colouring mindsets. And the days of a 13-year PS2 cycle will almost certainly never repeat themselves. But equally, a platform is a very delicate ecosystem, and if that platform is to succeed, you’ve got to give those who make content for it the chance to recoup on it. At the end of the day, like it or not, these are businesses. We struck – and Microsoft has as well – a good balance of innovation within the confines of the platform. Also, services which operate agnostically of particular hardware, like PlayStation Now for example, are something you’re going to see more of. I think we’re only six months in to Pro, and it’s too early to tell. X hasn’t launched yet. I don’t know if this is the way forward or not.
“I think many of the games you saw last night that are coming in 2018 are looking very strong”
KnowledgeIsPower is part of the Playlink initiative, which lets players use smartphones as PS4 controllers. The link to PS2 hit Buzz! is obvious – and, you suspect, intentional