Naughty Dog discusses being acquired by Sony

Jason Rubin, one of the cofounders of Naughty Dog, speaks candidly about the company's future as a SCEA subsidiary and the future of the PlayStation 2 in general.

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Since its entry into the console industry, Sony has hardly played it by the book. While Nintendo and Sega supported their respective mascots to the tune of numerous games in countless genres, Sony steadfastly maintained that the PlayStation shouldn't have an official mascot - a decision that was in line with its interest in catering to all types of gamers. However, although Crash Bandicoot was missing the official mascot designation, the character was, for all intents and purposes, associated with Sony's 32-bit console, as is Mario for Nintendo consoles and Sonic for Sega's.

But Crash was never Sony's property, as Universal Interactive Studios owned the franchise rights to the character. Since the announcement that Crash will go multiplatform in the next generation of consoles - as part of Universal's multiyear agreement with Konami - Sony has been in search of a new unofficial mascot. The answer came on Monday, as Sony announced that it had acquired Naughty Dog Inc., the company originally responsible for creating the Crash Bandicoot persona and developing all of the Crash games on the PlayStation console. Naughty Dog is developing a new character, whose games will appear exclusively on the PlayStation 2. The parties involved aren't ready to talk specifics regarding the character just yet, but GameSpot spoke with Jason Rubin, cofounder of Naughty Dog, about the effects of being acquired by Sony, PS2 development and the console's chances in the next generation, and the whole "unofficial mascot" issue. Rubin's candid answers reveal that Naughty Dog is very excited about its new game and about Sony's PlayStation 2 console.

GameSpot: What type of effect does being acquired have on the operations of Naughty Dog, both in the short- and long-term? Do you look forward to having further access to Sony's resources?

Jason Rubin: The short-term effect of the acquisition is nothing - nothing will change. We have the same staff here that we did before the acquisition. My partner and I are still running the show here. I report in to Shuhei Yoshida, who runs all of Sony's North American development. That relationship is very similar to the relationship we had before. It was just on a contract basis, instead of on an ownership basis. I've been working with Yoshida-san for over five years, and we're very close. So our relationship will remain basically the same, in the same situation we had before. We are working on a game that we've been developing - at least part of us have been working on it for two years, the rest of us for a year - and we are going to keep working on that single game until that comes out. And really, Sony has no intention of changing the way things are done at Naughty Dog. We've been very successful in meeting deadlines, creating good software, getting good reviews, and pleasing the public. Sony's reason for purchasing Naughty Dog was not to change anything here, and in the short-term there aren't going to be many changes at all.

In the long-term, I think that there are a lot of advantages that we're going to get out of the new relationship with Sony. The first is that Sony now knows that our game is going to be exclusive to the PlayStation 2 and that the character is going to be exclusive to the console. That gives us the ability to do a lot more with the character. Because unlike the Crash situation - where they didn't own Crash, UIS owned the character, [and Sony was] always spending marketing dollars for somebody else's franchise - now Sony will have the ability to say that "if we get behind this guy, he's something for our system, he's something that we can be proud of, and he's something we can work with." Likewise, Sony now knows that if this is a successful product that Naughty Dog will be around to make sequels. They know that we're going to be around to advise them and work with them, if they want someone else to work on the character as well. Sony is in a good situation. They can do with this character what they did with Crash, reap more benefits than they did with the Crash franchise, and they can say that this is something that they're doing themselves not something that they're doing for somebody else.

GS: Can you talk at all about what type of character it will be? Are there plans to tie the character in with PS2 marketing, perhaps as a new mascot?

JR: Well, I can't talk about the character. That's not something that we're talking about yet. The last couple of months have been wrapped up in getting our relationship in order, and we've obviously been working on the game that entire time. The next few months we'll spend trying to figure out what the timing is and how to get the public to know about what we've been working on. Obviously, Sony is very interested in the product. Otherwise, they wouldn't be getting involved with the company. It's a very good product and we're excited about it.

With regard to the mascot, Crash was never really an official mascot for Sony. Sony isn't like Nintendo where they're making a toy that kids play with, where they have to sell you the toy because Mario is cute. You know what I mean? It's not like they are marketing, or directing, it at one age group or single type of game player. They were always marketing the PlayStation as a gaming unit. If you're a sports guy, you may never pick up a game like Crash. You don't want Crash covering everything, because it's not the kind of guy you are. You may be a 24-year-old that plays nothing but sports games. That's a very different market than what Nintendo has ever dealt with. So, Crash was never really a mascot. Having a successful character like Crash, who goes with multiple products, does extremely well, and has a very good following is something we all aspire to. So, if we do our job well, this new character will be loved by millions just like Crash was. In that case, we'll bring out more games with the character. Because that's what you do when people are clamoring to find out more of the story and want more of that kind of game. That is our goal, but I don't think it will ever be a mascot. That's not what Sony generally does.

GS: Are you planning at some point to take the character into multiple genres, like you did with Crash in the latter stages of the series?

JR: We're not really planning. We didn't plan back then, either. After we did the original Crash, we weren't done with what we thought we could do with the character and the way the game was played. We thought that there was more we could do with it. We did Crash 2, and at the end of Crash 2, we asked ourselves the same question. This time we were a little more hesitant. So, we started doing experiments, like the Jet Ski, the motorcycle, and the biplane levels. When it came time to do the fourth title - we did want to do one last game for the PlayStation - we just couldn't come up with more of what we originally wanted to do with the Crash character. So, we decided to do something else, and it made a lot of sense at that time to do a four-player game. People were getting into the whole multiplayer thing, and there wasn't a good four-player racing game on the PlayStation. We were the first, so it made a lot of sense to do what we did. Looking ahead, it is certainly possible that we'll do multiple genres with this character, but I can't really say because we're not done with this first game yet. I don't know what more we are going to have to say about this kind of game after we're done, because we kind of play that by ear.

GS: When do you expect to show your PS2 game? Perhaps at E3?

JR: That hasn't been decided yet. We have a target date, but we're not really discussing it. I'm sure we'll release that information soon. Regarding E3, that is not being discussed yet. We'll talk more about the character very shortly.

GS: Your company's history has been closely tied with Crash, particularly in terms of game development. Do you see that continuing with this new character? Any plans to develop PS2 games in another setting?

JR: It's possible. Again, if Crash hadn't been an exciting thing for us, and people didn't want the sequels, then we wouldn't have done more of it. If people say that we're looking for something else - if we see a gaping hole in the PlayStation 2 lineup for something totally different - then maybe we'll do it. There is always that opportunity. We looked at the PlayStation before it was out in Japan, and we said that this is the hardware we are going to be supporting. We are not going to make a multiplatform game because we know that this is going to be the hardware that succeeds. That paid off big. Two years ago, we made the same decision with the PlayStation 2.

GS: What do you see as the future of the PlayStation 2?

JR: After this CES, with the Xbox announcement, I feel more justified than ever that the PlayStation 2 is going to be the big system. I'm not worried about Microsoft in any way at this point. The only thing that I wonder is whether or not the GameCube will be able to make up for some of the mistakes that Nintendo is making, by not including a DVD player, and so on. I think the PlayStation 2 - and I think this more strongly than I've felt so far - is going to be the winner this generation. It has the best price-performance level. And with the Xbox being only 2 to 3 times as powerful and coming out two years later, it fails Moore's law. Microsoft knows this very well, because they work in the PC environment. They should know that they need at least four times the power two years later. Otherwise, they are falling behind the normal technology curve. So, I feel that the PS2 delivers what it promised and it's going to be a great system.

GS: Thanks for speaking with us.

JR: No problem.

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