D.I.C.E. 07: Phil Harrison speaks
President of Sony Worldwide Studios fields questions in Sin City; says European PS3s are already in transit; LocoRoco 2 and PS3 rubber-duck game revealed.
LAS VEGAS--With the PlayStation 3 supply now steady in North America and Japan and the console's European launch around the corner, people are pondering Sony's next move. Many speculated the electronics giant might tip its hand at the D.I.C.E. summit in Las Vegas. The annual event takes place each February at the sprawling Green Valley Ranch complex, and it draws a select group of elite game-industry glitterati together for an extended weekend of schmoozing and boozing.
Today, Sony Worldwide Studios president Phil Harrison sat in front of this high-powered crowd for an "informal" question-and-answer session with Newsweek games correspondent N'Gai Croal. GameSpot is on the scene with live updates of what the affable executive has to say.
10:29: Phil Harrison and N'Gai Croal have taken to the stage, and Croal is making a statement that his questions have not been preapproved by Sony. Harrison's stating that there are two topics that he can't cover--anything related to Sony's stock price and Phil's personal life.
10:31: Harrison is comparing part of Sony's process as an A&R-style process when they choose to work with external developers. They're looking for something exciting, something that has that creative spark, but something that also has commercial potential.
10:32: The next question is about how this relates to developing downloadable games for the PlayStation 3. This is where Sony is seeing some interesting innovation and some interesting risks.
10:34: Phil brought a PlayStation 3 with him, and he's threatening to play MotorStorm if the questions get boring. He's currently showing SingStar for the PS3. It will be out later this spring. As previously announced, the game will work online with the SingStore, an online mode where you can navigate through different album covers, view music video previews, and purchase content for use in the karaoke game. Video downloads appear to be around 38MB. The game will download songs in the background, which gets a cheer from the crowd.
10:36: SingStar will also have downloadable wallpapers for its menu screens and USB camera support. You can save those videos and upload those performances online. Other users will be able to rank your uploaded performance.
10:38: The next question is about the game's user interface. The game will offer various community elements. You'll be able to find users that like the same music as you via the "my SingStar" menus, which is meant to offer MySpace-like social networking within the context of the game. The next question is about the popularity of MySpace and whether that sort of functionality should be integrated on a game level or across the entire system. Harrison claims that we'll start to see more, deeper community functions in the PS3 XMB in the coming weeks and months.
10:41: Now we're moving on to developer support, with the question boiling down to "how does Sony intend to improve its developer support," with the sidecar of "Microsoft's is better." He says that the rumor of most of Sony's developer support coming in the Japanese language only is merely a myth, and that since most of the parts of the PS3 were developed in English-speaking countries, the developer support is primarily in English. He says that Sony has taken a lot of strides to improve, but that there's always more to do. Croal is looking for a specific example, and Harrison points to the nearly 40 games that are available and says that they're adding people internally, as well.
10:43: Now we're moving on to the difficulty involved in developing for the PS3 compared to the relative ease of the Xbox 360. Harrison is talking about how the PlayStation 2 was very difficult to develop for--actually, his word was "voodoo." He says that developing for the Cell chip in the PS3 strikes a good balance between an abstract, tools-driven development experience and that deep, "coding to the metal" path. And that it's a very different process than developing for the competing platforms.
10:47: Moving on, we're now talking about development-kit distribution. The question claims that PS3 dev kits were primarily sent to Japanese developers. Harrison basically says "Nuh-uh!" And that's that. He turns to someone from EA in the crowd and asks him to verify. The man in the crowd says that EA got their kits at the same time, but that they could always use more.
10:52: The next question is about how the PS3 hasn't matched Xbox Live's feature set for its online support. Harrison starts talking about how the PlayStation 3 is continually updated over time and that how the system looks today might not be how the system looks tomorrow.
"The day you buy [a PS3] is the start of a long-term relationship with that console that is going to evolve over time," explained Harrison.
He says that there will be forthcoming announcements regarding the future of the PS3's online features.
10:53: He's now talking up MotorStorm's 12-player online gameplay. So that makes the "how many times will he mention MotorStorm" count up to two. If you're playing the MotorStorm drinking game, drink!
10:54: Sony will be adding deeper online functionality for the PSP later this year.
10:55: Croal is mentioning Gabe Newell's interview in Game Informer, where he basically trashed the PS3. As he reads on, the crowd starts to chuckle. The eventual question is "why wasn't the launch delayed to fix many of the PS3's supply and lineup issues?" Harrison is turning it around a bit, asking "by what measure wasn't the PS3 a success?" He's talking about the huge lines for the console back at launch, the supply of consoles into the retail channel, and so on. He says that the launch was better stocked than both the PlayStation and the PlayStation 2 launches. He doesn't seem to see a problem with the launch, though he does say that they could always have done better. Also, PS3s for the European release are currently on a boat headed for Europe.
10:58: Croal's next question: "Why do you think that there's so much skepticism out there, considering people said many of these same things about Sony's previous launches?" Harrison feels that the launch issues on the previous platforms were quickly overcome and that he feels the same will be the case for the PS3. He then says "MotorStorm" one more time, for good measure. That's three drinks.
11:00: Concept approval at Sony is moving over to a worldwide process from a region-specific one and it will be rolled out shortly.
11:02: Turning it over to the audience for questions, the first is "What's Phil playing that isn't on a Sony platform?" He says he plays things for competitive analysis, but that the PS3 has enough for him. He mentions that he's been playing the next LocoRoco game, then he turns to a new PlayStation 3 downloadable game called Super Rub-O-Dub. It's the duck demo from E3 turned into an entire game. You play with the Sixaxis and tilt a pool of water to make a big duck move around, picking up little ducks and moving them to an exit. It will be out in the next few weeks.
11:05: The next question talks about XNA (without directly mentioning it) and how it puts some of the power of making games into the hands of average users. Is Sony considering a response? Phil says that Sony started that with the Net Yaroze on the PS, continued it with Linux on the PS2, and is now continuing it with Linux on the PS3. Sony will continue to support that kind of homebrew and organized development initiatives.
The follow-up asks the obvious question about the PSP's place in all this. Phil claims that the PSP isn't well suited for homebrew. Croal name drops Dark_Alex, the hacker that's been busting open the PSP's firmware lately and opening it up for homebrew. Harrison has a sort of cryptic response about future announcements.
11:08: They're looking for more questions from the crowd and not finding a ton, so it looks like this will wrap up soon. The next question continues down the path of user-driven development, about Sony's willingness to provide development kits to dedicated independent developers. Harrison starts talking about Sony's support of various educational institutions and says that one of the graduates of these programs now works on Gran Turismo.
11:11: The next audience member says that Unreal Engine 3 is shooter oriented and nearly starts a brawl. Well, maybe not quite a brawl, but his question is more about Sony's tools and available middleware. Phil begins talking about Havok physics and how it helps development. Did you know that MotorStorm uses Havok? There's your fourth mention--DRINK!
11:13: That's the end, the duo shakes hands and makes their way off the stage, but not before getting Super Rub-O-Dub running again.