Sony E3 2015 Interview: Final Fantasy 7 Exclusivity, Faith in The Last Guardian, Backing Vita

GameSpot speaks with PlayStation Europe's chief executive, Jim Ryan.

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During the second-half of the PlayStation 3's lifespan, Sony was publishing acclaimed and exclusive titles with such regularity and creative flair that it made the whole operation seem easy.

Things don't seem so easy at the moment. As we now approach the second anniversary of the PlayStation 4's release, the system still lacks flagship first-party exclusives. Key releases, such as Uncharted 4, have been delayed to 2016, and the slate for this year is, by its own account, "a little sparse."

And yet, PlayStation has entered into one of the most prosperous periods in its 20-year history. The PS4 has become the first choice, both for consumers and the publishers who serve them.

At this year's E3, Sony revealed a powerful and promising line-up of exclusive first-party games, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Uncharted 4 among them. It also put an end to years of speculation by finally reintroducing The Last Guardian--complete with an awe-inspiring gameplay demo--and made dreams come true by announcing a Final Fantasy 7 remake. All of these titles are scheduled to ship in 2016 and beyond, which makes you wonder, if Sony has such incredible momentum already, just how dominant will it be in the months and years ahead?

GameSpot sat down with Jim Ryan, the chief executive of PlayStation Europe, to discuss that future in greater detail.

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Hi Jim. How has E3 been for you so far?

All good. I enjoyed Monday a lot, I enjoyed all the shows, and you really get the sense that developers are now really confident about next-gen development. They're getting into the swing of things.

It's great to see so many publishers making bigger bets on triple-A games. In the three years prior to the release of Xbox One and PS4, I found that publishers were a little more reserved in terms of how many games they were working on.

Yes absolutely, I think there were a lot fewer games than we would have liked.

Now there's a lot of major franchises in production again, across the industry, and I think a lot of it has to do with the commercial success of the PlayStation 4. I think it has given more incentive for publishers to invest in consoles.

Yeah, and this industry is all about cycles. If you start a virtuous one, you're in a good place. If you're in a vicious cycle, things can get very tough.

With regards to that virtuous circle, Sony has been striking a number of major timed-exclusivity deals with third-party publishers. There's the Capcom deal for Street Fighter V, the Square Enix deal for Final Fantasy 7, and the Activision deal for Call of Duty. These are the kinds of partnerships that you appeared to struggle with during the PlayStation 3 days. What's changed?

I think a few things have changed. It certainly makes discussions with publishers easier when you have a significant installed base, and one that is fast growing, and one that is noticeably further ahead than the competition. I wouldn't say we have become the industry's default option, because there are other factors come into play, such as amounts of cash. But I would say we're starting to become the first thing a publisher thinks about when they consider partnerships.

The last Guardian re-reveal is one of Jim Ryan's E3 career highlights
The last Guardian re-reveal is one of Jim Ryan's E3 career highlights
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Was getting to that position the hardest job for you? Because only a short while ago, Microsoft was the first thought for publishers, because of the success of the Xbox 360.

Well, I think the vast majority of people running third-party publishers are rational executives, who are very observant. They are making the right decisions for their business.

"It certainly makes discussions with publishers easier when you have an installed base that is fast growing, and noticeably further ahead than the competition."

Going back to the press conference, you must be relieved to finally announce The Last Guardian project on PS4.

[Laughs] Yes. Relieved. If only to stop you constantly asking me about it. I'm so happy just for that alone. You can't imagine how much of a relief it is.

Jim, when is The Last Guardian 2 coming out?

[Laughs]

Could you give us a bit more detail about what was happening to the project during that long period of silence?

Well, clearly, when a game has a gestation period as protracted as this one was, not all could have been well. If all had gone swimmingly the game would be out by now. So, it's fair to say that there were times when the publishing side of the business wondered if the game would ever happen. But the pedigree of the developer is such that we kept the faith.

I think that faith was justified by the reaction we got. When we showed the game on stage, I think it was one of my favourite moments in all the years I've been doing E3. It was wonderful.

I heard a rumour that Mark Cerny was called in to help the project. Is there any truth to that?

Well, as you know, I'm not closely involved in the development side of the business. But, y'know, Mark gets active in all sorts of areas of PlayStation.

Sony won't say when the FF7 exclusivity PS4 deal will expire
Sony won't say when the FF7 exclusivity PS4 deal will expire
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Another big E3 reveal for you was the HD Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which was a huge crowd pleaser. How long does the timed exclusivity deal last?

We don't have anything to say about that at this point in time.

I understand. I remember when Microsoft announced the Rise of the Tomb Raider exclusivity deal, and Phil Spencer was engulfed by the press who were asking him how long the exclusivity lasted. I feel this issue deserves the same scrutiny.

Yes, but that whole thing was very ambiguous.

Yes, but this is ambiguous as well. No one knows how long Final Fantasy 7 is a timed exclusive for.

[PR spokesperson: "At this stage, we are announcing that it's coming to our platform. There's nothing else we can say, in terms of exclusivity."]

But that is ambiguous. People who want to buy this game don't know how long it will remain as a PlayStation 4 exclusive.

[PR spokesperson: "At this stage, we are just saying announcing the title, so it's very common, especially at this stage, to say it's coming and that it's coming to our platform.]

Ryan: What we're not doing is saying it's an outright exclusive, which I think is a subtle difference [compared] to what happened last year.

I'll move on. You also have a deal with Activision on getting Call of Duty exclusivity for add-on content, and some would say you need key third-party deals right now, because your first-party slate is looking a little thin.

Yes I'll admit it's not the strongest we've ever had. But if you look over the full year, we've had Bloodborne, we're getting Until Dawn, and Tearaway Unfolded. I think the latter will surprise many people, and we also have the Uncharted trilogy. So taking all that, and added with all the third-party games in the pipeline for this year, we're feeling confident.

Ryan insists that Sony is still backing PS Vita
Ryan insists that Sony is still backing PS Vita

Sony is in a unique position, because there's no flagship, must-have, first-party game for the system yet, but it's also remarkably popular. How does that make you feel?

Well, it certainly gives us some cause for optimism in 2016 [when Sony will ship major titles, such as Uncharted 4].

Certainly in the UK, it's still rather close [when compared to Xbox One sales], but we have been edging ahead every month. But across Europe, it's fair to say we're beating [Microsoft] by a considerable margin. Once you get into that position, the popularity of a console can start to become its selling point.

So when you look at what drives sales of a console, obviously exclusive games do help, but if you have 75 to 80 percent of the market, it makes the system easier to sell.

"We've had Bloodborne, we're getting Until Dawn, Tearaway Unfolded, and we also have the Uncharted trilogy. All that, and add in the third-party games in the pipeline for this year, and we're feeling confident."

I'd like to talk about PlayStation Vita too. Is it over for the system?

No, not at all. We're still selling respectable quantities. We have a hundred games in development, and you might say, "Well yeah but they're all indie games," but many of these games review very highly. Also the PS4's Remote Play feature is something that is valued a lot.

Sure. I'm not sure if the handheld market has long-term potential. I know you still support PlayStation Vita, and I know people who own it swear by it. But the handheld market has collapsed, has it not?

There's no disputing that it's not the size it used to be. It's a much smaller market than when the DS and PSP were in their glory days. But that market still does exist.

But is it still a profitable market, is what I wonder. Do you think that PS Vita will be Sony's last handheld?

You know, that would be a great headline for you there if I answered that, but I'm not going to give it to you [laughs].

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