Q&A: Peter Dille lays out the PS3 game plan
Sony Computer Entertainment America's SVP of marketing talks about his company's gelling scheme for its looming next-gen console launch.
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Last week, Sony held a Gamers' Day in San Francisco to show off the PlayStation 3. As part of the proceedings, executives for the company showed off the next-generation console and its various bells and whistles. Foremost among these were the console's Sixaxis controller, which will translate players' physical motions into in-game actions for various titles. For example, turning the controller like a steering wheel will actually steer in-game cars in MotorStorm, the off-roading game from Sony-owned Evolution Studios.
Another key aspect of the PlayStation 3 launch is the PlayStation Network Platform. The service will launch alongside the PS3 and is tailor-made to counter the online components of the console's competitors--Xbox Live and WiiConect24--with a variety of features, such as game downloads. Another major cornerstone of the service is its price--or, more correctly, the fact it doesn't have one. Unlike Xbox Live Gold, the PlayStation Network Platform will support free online gameplay out of the box and will (presumably) continue to do so ad infinitum.
However, the PS3's November 17 launch in the US has been plagued by problems. Foremost among them is day-one supply of the console, which Sony drastically reduced last month from 2 million units to just 400,000. How is the electronics giant, whose PlayStation 2 is the undisputed leader in the console game, coping with consumers' doubts about its next-generation plans? GameSpot recently sat down with Peter Dille, senior vice president of marketing for Sony Computer Entertainment America, to find out how the US PS3 launch is shaping up.
GS: Let's talk a little bit about what people are going to be getting in the box with the PS3.
PD: What you're getting in the box from our perspective is the best gaming system on the planet. I mean, there's technology in the PlayStation 3 that's leaps and bounds ahead of what's on the market today and what our competitors are offering. Sony's perspective when we launch a new platform is that we're really thinking about the next 10 years. We're not heading back to consumers and saying, "OK, now if you want a hard drive, you got to shell out another couple of hundred bucks. Or if you want to get an HD player, we're going to ask you to do that as peripheral." Everything is included in the PlayStation 3. You've got a Blu-ray player. You've got a hard disk drive in both units. You've got Cell technology. This is a machine that you're going to have in your living room for the next 10 years.
But in addition to that, you're getting a revolutionary new wireless controller, the Sixaxis motion controller, which really changes the way you play the game, and it puts you one step closer to being in the game. You're getting HDMI output in both units. When you see what PlayStation 3 games look like in high definition, it blows you away. We started to see that at the Tokyo Game Show when people walked through the booth and saw all these games running in high def. When you see it, it's just jaw dropping. I think we're going to sell a lot of high-def televisions just by people seeing what these PlayStation 3s look like at retail and saying, "I got to get one of those in my home."
GS: How about the PS3 online plans?
PD: Well, it'll all be ready day one. So on November 17, if you're one of the lucky guys who goes out and gets a PlayStation 3, when you plug it in, you're ready to play online against your friends and that's all free. We've got a little bit of a different perspective on how that should work. From a commerce perspective, there are several different types of content that we're offering via the PlayStation Network. And some of these are what you might expect. So if you get a game like Resistance: Fall of Man, games like that will have microtransactions. You'll be able to buy weapons and maps, levels, racing games--it's another, another great way to offer additional content. So those are the things that I kind of put in one bucket called microtransactions. And those will be from 50 cents up to a couple of bucks. We're leaving it up to the publishers and developers. We'll have our pricing models for the Sony first-party games, but we're not dictating what the third party should be charging. That's really up to them on a game-by-game basis.
The next bucket of digital content that we're making available are fully downloadable games. These are games that were developed by our Worldwide Studios organization specifically for the PlayStation 3 to show off its technology. The neat thing about some of these games is that some of them are designed to be in 1080p while others are not quite so high of a spec. But they're all designed for the PlayStation 3. They're not merely retreads of other games that we kind of cobbled together and threw them up on the Internet. They're really designed to show off the power of the PS3. These types of games are out there and satisfy a completely different experience.
Now another type of downloadable game that we're really excited about are original PlayStation games, and we're really looking forward to leveraging our back catalog. The PlayStation 3 is backward compatible from day one, with PlayStation or PlayStation 2 games. But over time, we'll be adding to the online experience by making great PlayStation games available via the PlayStation Network. You can then play them on your PSP, which we talked about, which is a really cool feature. But in addition, in the future you'll be able to play these on your PlayStation 3 as well. So I think it's a great advantage for us leveraging that great library of games that people, many of whom grew up with and giving them a taste of those again on PlayStation 3.
GS: What's the release schedule like for old PS2 and original PlayStation games to be rolled out on the PlayStation Network Platform?
PD: We want to have a lineup of games available day one so that we can give people a taste. But we also know that the beauty of the online environment is that you can add to it as you go. Whatever we have on day one, we're focused on making that a very compelling experience. But we're not going to just say, "OK, that's it. Knock yourselves out." I mean, we're going to add to it--every day and every week there'll be new content going out. So with respect to things like PlayStation games, we've got a back catalog of thousands of games and many of them are first-party games. But we're also going to be working closely with the third parties to evangelize them, making them available in the store, and those will be added on a regular basis as we go forward.
Very similarly, some of these other games will be fully downloadable games--we'll have a steady stream of those available, as well. Also, we'll be looking to do some episodic content so that there are planned releases throughout the year to keep people involved in the storylines that are going on.
GS: So, Sony's got a ton of games already because of their legacy, but do you foresee maybe classic arcade games winding up on the PlayStation Network Platform, too?
PD: Well, we think we've got some very classic games of our own. And classic arcade games, many times they're really from a PC heritage, and there's an audience for that. But we think console gamers are going to be more excited about playing some great classic console games. So I'll throw out some names, and we haven't nailed down that'll be available day one. But these are all games that you will find coming soon to a PlayStation Network near you. Games like Jumping Flash, which had a great core gamer appeal. Many of these games didn't really find a huge commercial audience, but were some of the best critically acclaimed games. Another game I'm excited about is the original Warhawk. We're coming out with the new version of Warhawk, as you know, and what better way than to take you back to the roots of what Warhawk was all about and give people a taste as well as introducing people who never had that experience to say, "What is this Warhawk thing I've heard about?" Here's the first one.
The other thing that this allows us to do is broaden the portfolio of the platform from day one. So, we'll obviously have games like Resistance: Fall of Man, a great core-gamer game, and if you bring that back into the house that you've got a little brother who maybe isn't ready to be playing a Mature-rated game like Resistance. Now you can go up on the Network and pull down some great, classic games. So really, there's something for everybody.
GS: So, you're talking about the Sony catalog and bringing a bunch of old games online. Does this also present the opportunity for releasing games that became cult favorites but never came out in the US?
PD: The beautiful thing about the PlayStation Network is that we have no limitation on shelf space. Oftentimes the commercial decisions come about because of what US retailers going to get left behind. Can they sell enough of a game that maybe has a real kind of niche appeal but just isn't mass market enough to make sense on the shelf? We could find room for that on a PlayStation Network environment and offer people games like that all day long. So that's something that we're very excited about, and again leveraging that back catalog, which is something that our competitors just can't do.
GS: Can you give us an insight into how you're securing content? Obviously, there's a PlayStation back catalog. Do you guys have strong emphasis on original games from outside third-party developers?
PD: So the downloadable games that we have from day one--some of them were created by established teams within our Worldwide Studios organization. [God of War designer] Dave Jaffe is the brains behind Criminal Crackdown and is spending time on these other types of games, and he's very excited about them. So you've got the leading pedigree of game designers out there thinking about that type of thing.
But the other avenue is that it opens up ways to get smaller developers involved and much smaller teams. There's a lot been written about gaming for next-generation platforms, and how it is going to require hundreds of people and the programming power is going to require armies of programmers, armies of artists. There's some truth to that in terms of where the industry is going. But I think many of these games were developed by two-, four-, and six-man teams and they're just a lot of fun to play. So it does give people a chance to get involved and not just make games for their own sake but to make them for the commercial outfit in the back end.
GS: Are you guys going to have enough controllers out there in case somebody wants to buy like four controllers for their unit?
PD: We know there'll be a lot of demand for the controllers, so we're making sure that we have as many of those as we can. If you go into a particular retailer, it's possible that they might not have it on day one or day two. We know that those types of things happen as you're beginning to fill a channel, but we'll catch up very quickly. We're very focused on having a steady stream of supply, not just on the hardware, so that we're not running dry on the peripherals, as well.
GS: And then how are you working with the retailers?
PD: With PlayStation 3, we're going to have demand that just well outstrips supply, and that's really what happens with any launch. We've been through this a number of times. We know how it works. Let's face it, there's 40 million PlayStation 2s used in the US, and there's a lot of fans who can't wait to upgrade to the PlayStation 3. It just can't all happen on day one. So we've discouraged retailers from generating waiting lists that might take months and months to work themselves through and instead are focused on providing them with a steady flow of hardware. So that what you see on November 17 will be followed up, week by week, with hardware that can help fill the channel. And again, it's going to be a mad dash to make sure we have enough, and I'm sure everyone will want one and not everyone is going to get one initially, but that's just really the nature of the beast.
Our focus has always been not so much on day one. Launches are important, and we're going to celebrate the launch, and it's a very important thing to us. But really, we talk a lot about being in it for the long term, so we want to make sure that from January to March, we've got hardware.