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PlayStation Experience May Have Some Big Surprises

Q&A: Naughty Dog's Eric Monacelli teases big news, as he talks about the show's origins and why community is so important to Sony.

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Sony's PlayStation Experience community event this weekend will be one you won't want to miss. That's according to Naughty Dog community manager Eric Monacelli, who says that Sony has a number of surprises to reveal at the show, including potentially an Overwatch-style surprise announcement.

Overwatch was Blizzard's big, surprise announcement at BlizzCon last month. It was notable because A) No one saw it coming and B) It was Blizzard's first new franchise in 17 years. Monacelli isn't so much promising a reveal of that caliber for PlayStation Experience, per se, only that he thinks what Sony does show might catch you off-guard just as Overwatch did.

Project Morpheus will play a part in PlayStation Experience
Project Morpheus will play a part in PlayStation Experience

We connected with Monacelli and Media Molecule community manager James Spafford today to catch up about this weekend's event, and learned how it came to be, what it means for Sony, and lots more. You can see highlights from our interview below.

Among other things, Monacelli told us about three new PlayStation Experience panels. These are:

  • Greatness for Everyone -- Panel with representatives from Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment, 505 Games, Sony's MLB development team, and Sony's University Relations team. It's the perfect panel for people hoping to learn how to break into the game industry, Monacelli says. (Sunday 11:30 AM)
  • Project Morpheus and VR as a New Era for Games -- This panel will feature representatives from Sony's London Studio and Until Dawn developer Supermassive Games. In addition, the director of Morpheus R&D team, as well as PlayStation executive Shuhei Yoshida, will be on-hand. (Saturday 12 Noon)
  • Entwined Panel -- Developers from Pixel Opus will talk about their game, their relationship with Sony, and more during this panel. (Time TBA)

You can see all of the announced PlayStation Experience panels here. Sony will publish an official programming schedule soon--some will be streamed and some will not.

How PlayStation Experience Came to Be:

Monacelli explained that during PAX East one year, Sony assembled the Worldwide Studios community team. They made their own living room-style space at the show, and invited fans to stop by and speak directly with developers. The team was energized by the response, which ultimately led to the formation of PlayStation Experience, a grander extension of that original PAX East get-together.

"That whole concept spiraled into a bigger event," he said. "We were like, 'We have this really awesome fan base and these really wonderful people that we get to hear from ... and how can we talk with them in the most authentic and real way possible?'"

Spafford added that the various community managers and community teams from the PlayStation studios across the world are a tight-knit group. "I'm pretty sure that it's a unique thing in our industry that we have that: being able to share things from one studio with another studio and ask for advice on things they might be better at," he said. "So to put that and focus that into a proper, big whole event, lending some of our expertise and knowledge to the PlayStation Events team to foster the things that we were chasing after at PAX East."

Uncharted 4 will no doubt play a part in PlayStation Experience
Uncharted 4 will no doubt play a part in PlayStation Experience

Why December?

December is historically a quiet month for announcements and conventions, so why is PlayStation Experience taking place now? Video games are a year-round business, so why should community events slow down at the tail-end of the year, Monacelli said.

"We're trained historically that E3, all the big news comes out around that. Or if you're in Europe, all the big news comes out around Gamescom," Monacelli said. "Hopefully we can create this event in the December time-frame, maybe it'll move, we don't really know yet, but for now it's one of those things where we want to plant our stake in the ground and say, 'We have great content coming out all the time.' And we want to be able to have a dialogue with our community, with our fans, year-round."

"I think it really came down to, we have some great content we want to show moving into the holiday season, and just sort of the momentum of PlayStation 4 and continuing that," he added. "And just showcasing some of our upcoming titles and things we have going. It timed nicely with The Game Awards, I think was a consideration; I don't think it was too big of a consideration, but there's something there to that, too, where The Game Awards will be in Vegas and we'll be there, too."

Who is the PlayStation Experience for?

"If you're into games, and you're into interacting with other, fellow people who are into the same sort of entertainment experience you are, it's one of the places you definitely want to end up at and get to have your voice heard, and get to meet one-on-one with the people who make those games," Monacelli said.

"We want to be able to have a dialogue with our community, with our fans, year-round" -- Eric Monacelli

"The PlayStation fanbase, whichever part of it they're fans of, they're quite crazy and amazing with their love for PlayStation," Spafford added. "Having somewhere for them to get together and celebrate that shared passion of the world that they love, and all the games they love, and all the developers that made a big impact on their lives."

Is PlayStation Experience Focused On AAA Games Or Indies? Or a Mix of the Two?

"There's 110 indie developers there [at PlayStation Experience]," Monacelli said. "Which is pretty incredible. That's a great number; a testament to how awesome PlayStation is in finding some really good talent that isn't always right on the surface. It's a mix, for sure. We have all our major studios there, and then a great number of indie developers, too."

Spafford added: "I think it's representative of PlayStation as a platform in general. PlayStation 4 has tons of great indie stuff, it has tons of great AAA things from first-party and third-party. And this event has all bases covered."

Why Community Interaction Is So Important to Sony

"It's incredibly important for us to have these events in the first place so that we can have these interactions with our fans, otherwise we're just away in our castles, making things for people that we never meet," Spafford said. "And that doesn't make sense."

Monacelli added: "If you're in your castle or if you're in your shack or wherever you're making your games, it really comes down to ... fan interaction. I don't always touch code and I'm not directly involved with games as a community guy, but it's one of those things where you relay information back to your development team."

"These are the people that are going to buy your games, they're going to play your games and really, genuinely care about what you're doing. So these sort of events are crucial for development cycles and just sort of knowing if you're headed in the right direction or knowing if you need to take a step back and assess what you're actually putting out there," he added.

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How to Balance Doing What Fans Want With Sticking With Your Guns?

"That's always a tricky line to walk because a lot of the impulse is, if you hear a lot of negative feedback to change everything, but we have a lot of talented game developers who have been making games for years," Monacelli said. "A lot of it is trusting your gut and knowing that maybe you're not quite there yet. And if you get that feedback that's not so positive, you'll get there eventually, and sort of rolling with what you have and pushing forward. Sometimes you see something and you hear something and you're like, 'Wow, that actually does click.' You try it, and if it doesn't work, you iterate on it and see where it goes from there."

"It's definitely not that we're going to listen to everything that we hear because sometimes there's people out there that are just going to give you grief for giving you grief's sake," he added.

Spafford explained his role at Media Molecule is to function as something of a "human filter" between the community and the development team, adsorbing the feedback and communicating it to the right people at the studio.

"If a lot of people are saying very similar things, then that's an important thing to take through," he said.

Will PlayStation Experience Help Game Developers Become Household Names?

Movie directors and producers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are synonymous with the things they create, but the same can't really be said for video game creators. I asked Monacelli if he thought an event like PlayStation Experience might help gamers get a first-hand look at the men and women who make the games they know and love, and in turn, grow their profile.

"I think, yeah, that's definitely more of a tertiary thing that will happen," Monacelli said. "People have played games since we were cavemen; sticks poking around in the dirt, and now it's just become ... realizing how fun and engaging and attention-grabbing it is. I think that's one of the biggest things; nowadays if you want to have good entertainment, you have to hold somebody's attention for a long time because there are a lot of options. And I think games do that better than any other medium."

What Kind of Announcements Will PlayStation Experience Bring?

"We have a bunch of announcements coming, some pretty exciting stuff from across Worldwide Studios teams," Monacelli said. "One of the biggest elements, like you've seen at other cons like BlizzCon is sort of the surprise effect. Like Overwatch, right? That sort of came out of nowhere and it was really cool to see. So I think we want to keep those close to the vest until the day comes. We'll definitely get it out there. We have a ton of great panels, a ton of great games you can play, and some really cool swag and collectible stuff."

"We don't want to force anything down people's throats; we want people to talk about what they're excited about"-- Monacelli

"Traditionally, there a few cons that broadcast everything, which is cool. But we want to keep some surprises and keep some stuff that, if you're at the event, you hear about it first," he added. "Or you hear about it, and you can go talk about it and share it and sort of be the mouthpiece for it. It's a good gauge for what people are excited about. And that's what we want. We want real, authentic conversations to start. We don't want to force anything down people's throats; we want people to talk about what they're excited about."

You Won't Want to Miss the Keynote Saturday Morning

Asked what he's most excited about for PlayStation Experience, Monacelli said "man, there's a lot," before letting us know that the keynote address should be one to remember. "The keynote itself Saturday morning is going to be pretty great, I think. There will be a lot of cool announcements and information there."

Sony's Big News Might Have to Do With Mass-Market Projects

PlayStation Experience certainly sounds like an event aimed at the hardcore gamer crowd. But given the PS4's incredible initial success, fueled in part by first-time console buyers, I wondered if PlayStation Experience would offer anything aimed at the more casual, mass-market crowd. Monacelli offered up another exciting tease.

"There's going to be a lot of other opportunities that sort of spiral out of this PlayStation Experience that speak to a more mass audience," Monacelli said. "Be it from some of the reveals and some of the media hits we'll have after those reveals. Or if it's just the fact that we have this really cool, new thing that we're showing and everybody gets some eyeballs on it."

How Sony Went About Choosing the Panels it did for PlayStation Experience

"That was [laughs] that was a labor of love," Monacelli said.

"A lot of that hearkens back to this community support network," Spafford added. "Having people from each studio within the Worldwide Studios putting forth ideas; obviously, having things they want to do at their own studio, but also being excited about stuff within the other studios. And then talking about third-party things as well. Everyone's throwing their ideas into a big pile, and then us working hard with marketing and PR within PlayStation to make those things happen."

"This isn't traditional marketing where it's almost like a panel is an advertisement; we want fan interaction, we want to encourage a dialogue and a conversation" -- Monacelli

Monacelli added: "It really was sort of like 'We've been to a lot of these events. We've been to PAX, we've been to Comic-Con, we've seen what people talk about.' What's the coolest stuff? What can we get up there that our fans will genuinely be interested in? That was the driving factor behind this. We didn't want to make it seem like you're going to go to this panel, and they're going to tell you about their new game engine, and try to sell it to you or something like that [laughs].

"This isn't traditional marketing where it's almost like a panel is an advertisement; we want fan interaction, we want to encourage a dialogue and a conversation. With that in mind, we went out to our teams and talked about what's cool right now, what can we make that's exciting. And we came up with everything from a panel on working in the Japanese game industry to how we got Drake in Uncharted 4, and we're going to talk about Bloodborne ... there's just so many topics that are just really cool."

PlayStation Experience runs December 6-7 in Las Vegas. GameSpot will be on the ground at the show, bringing you all the news as it happens.

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