Microsoft may have made the most headlines at this year's Tokyo Game Show, thanks to some key announcements during John Schappert's keynote speech. But Sony also has a significant presence at the event, with one of the largest, loudest and busiest stands on the show floor.
And while there might not have been any major announcements, Shuhei Yoshida still had plenty to say when we caught up with him for an interview. Here the Worldwide Studios president discusses what PS3 has to offer this year and next, how important platform exclusivity is these days and why he thinks Microsoft is finally making inroads in Japan.
Eurogamer: What's the message you're trying to communicate at this year's Tokyo Game Show?
Shuhei Yoshida: Our message is about a networked world of PlayStation. So we have a booth showing Home, which we are expecting to launch pretty soon, and LittleBigPlanet, which is really about connecting people. We also have more mature games, many of which have online features, like Killzone 2 and Resistance 2. And we have many games with interesting connectivity on PSP, like Patapon 2. So the overall theme is the connected future of PlayStation.
Eurogamer: What's happening with PlayStation Home? We were told the beta would be happening this autumn, but you still haven't announced a specific date. Why is that?
Shuhei Yoshida: We haven't announced a particular date because we are working on the final debug process, so we cannot commit to a particular date. But we did announce that we are expanding the closed beta at the end of this month and in early November. We are looking to make Home available to all PS3 users by the end of this calendar year.
Eurogamer: So in the next few weeks it will be expanded, but not to everybody?
Shuhei Yoshida: Yes, not quite yet. We are gradually increasing the number of people so we can work out any technical issues as more people hit our servers. We have to make sure we can work through these technical hurdles.
Eurogamer: How confident are you that Home can deliver on all the promises that have been made and all the expectations people have?
Shuhei Yoshida: Well, we are not delivering on all our promises [now]. We have a huge vision, and we have plans for future upgrades of Home. But when we start the open beta this fall, our focus will be on helping to create user communities around games. We are creating spaces themed around our IPs, and we are working with third-party publishers to create space and special items based around their games.
That's coming very soon after the launch of the open beta, so that's our focus for the initial stage of Home. We're going to gradually expand our partnerships for that whole vision we've been talking about.
Eurogamer: We'll also see the launch of the New Xbox Experience in the next few weeks. Have you had the chance to see anything of that? What do you think?
Shuhei Yoshida: Yes, I've seen the videos, some screenshots and write-ups. I think it's quite nice. I like the Avatar designs they're working on.
Eurogamer: It's been suggested they're quite similar to Nintendo's Miis...
Shuhei Yoshida: Hmm... Well, they're a little bit older-looking. Personally, Microsoft's work is closer to my personal preference. The Miis are very nice, but everybody looks cute, like Japanese-style characters.
Eurogamer: In recent weeks, we've seen Xbox 360 outsell PS3 in Japan for the first time. Why do you think that's happened?
Shuhei Yoshida: Because Namco-Bandai released an RPG, and RPGs are very important for this market. But quite honestly, the real number being sold - we haven't seen real acceptance of the platform here in the Japanese market. The Nintendo Wii is still by far the biggest platform in Japan.
Eurogamer: So would you say it's a temporary blip, because of this RPG, and that will subside?
Shuhei Yoshida: When big new titles come out on any platform, it pushes the sales of that platform. I like to see people here in Japan showing interest in high-definition gaming and more sophisticated gaming experiences. In terms of realistic-looking graphics and smarter AI, they haven't really shown the appetite for what this generation of gaming can offer. I'd really like to see both PS3 and 360 succeed here.
Eurogamer: But surely it's better for you if Sony corners more of the market? If Xbox 360 has a bigger share of the pie, and you have less as a result, that's no good for you...
Shuhei Yoshida: If it continues that way forever, it's not a good thing for us. But I'm saying what MIcrosoft is offering and what we are offering are closer, compared to what other platforms are offering. Because of that commonality, the new games coming out on 360 and PS3 help to get consumers more interested in this generation of gaming.
Eurogamer: You mentioned earlier how important RPGs are in the Japanese market. So presumably it was very important for you to hold on to Final Fantasy exclusivity here?
Shuhei Yoshida: Yes, I presume so. I was not involved in that discussion with Square Enix; it was handled by SCE Japan.
Because of the amount third-party publishers have to invest to produce a game for this generation, it's really hard for them to justify releasing on only one platform. We did expect more third-parties to go multi-platform. I'm very grateful that some key franchises, like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy, are staying exclusive to PS3.
Eurogamer: We're seeing fewer and fewer exclusive games, though. Yesterday it was announced that Tekken is coming to 360, for example. So what's Sony's current strategy when it comes to exclusivity?
Shuhei Yoshida: We anticipated this shift in third-party publishing economics. We have invested in our first-party studios so we can produce more exclusive titles.
Eurogamer: But you canned a couple of titles recently - The Getaway PS3 and Eight Days. So you're doing fewer first-party titles?
Shuhei Yoshida: No, we're not doing fewer. We start more projects than we finish. It's part of the process, and I think we have that in common with many other publishers.
If we started the same number of projects we expected to release, that would mean we weren't trying something new, where we don't neccessarily know whether it will work. We purposefully start more projects and check after a few months, or after a year or so, when there's playable code, how the original vision turned out.
If we decide it doesn't work, or a lot more money and resources are required, and if it doesn't match with our business expectations - we stop the project. Eight Days was an example of that. That doesn't mean we are making fewer games.
Eurogamer: What's your policy on exclusive downloadable content? There seems to be an emerging trend towards this; there's the Grand Theft Auto IV DLC, for example, and we've heard there will be exclusive content for Mirror's Edge on PS3. But some gamers aren't happy about this - when they buy a game, they want to know they're going to get access to everything available for that game...
Shuhei Yoshida: I've never heard consumers complain that games developed by other platform holders aren't playable on the console they own. I've never heard complaints from our consumers that they can't play Mario games on PlayStation, for example. So I'm slightly confused by your comments about consumers and exclusive downloadable content.
But I think when we see more announcements about exclusive downloadable content, it's because it's getting harder and harder for third-party publishers to justify making their games exclusive to one platform. They want to cater to interests of different consumers, and they find the additional content is a place to differentiate.
Because PS3 offers more disc space on Blu-ray, I'd really like to see third-parties using this space to provide extras like you see on DVDs, such as behind-the-scenes movies. People love that kind of stuff. I expect third-parties will start using the space to provide additional content and extra features, and I think that's great for consumers.
Eurogamer: But there's a difference between a special feature like a making of video, which there's perhaps a more niche audience for, and something like the GTA IV content. Let's say I've bought my PS3, I've chosen it over the Xbox 360, and then I discover that this game I'm really looking forward to - I'm only going to get the full experience of this game if I buy a whole new machine. Isn't that frustrating for consumers?
Shuhei Yoshida: Many people choose to play games in different ways, especially games like Grand Theft Auto. Many people don't follow the main missions, and they don't play every single mission available. They enjoy the open nature of the game.
The game in itself is huge. Yes, it will be meaningful for some dedicated gamers who finish every single mission and look for more additional content. But I think in large part, people who purchase Grand Theft Auto IV on PS3 will have their own experience of the PS3 version.
Eurogamer: Turning to the PSP, the hardware is selling very well, but would you agree there's still a software issue? That third-parties just aren't producing the games?
Shuhei Yoshida: I would recommend you spend time walking around the show floor at this TGS. What I've found very encouraging is, Japanese publishers are putting serious effort and money into producing games for PSP. More and more, it's the choice platform for the large IPs.
This is really thanks to the success of Capcom's Monster Hunter games and the enormous amount of people playing PSP in Japan. Publishers saw that happen, and with the PSP's capabilities, many of their franchises are perfect for the PSP platform.
These games will come out in the US and Europe as well. That will attract more people, and I hope these trends in Japan will inspire US and European publishers to look seriously at their IPs, and how they can take advantages of the PSP. Some games, like sports and racing titles, are perfect for PSP. You can barely do any better than PSP for playing these types of game.
Eurogamer: Obviously you're focused on the Christmas market right now, but how's Sony's 2009 line-up looking?
Shuhei Yoshida: Early next year we're releasing Killzone 2 and inFamous, and we've also been showing Heavy Rain, EyePet and MAG. So we have quite a few games already announced for release next year.
But we have some other games we haven't announced yet. As you said, we are focusing on releasing this year's Christmas titles and titles for early next year. Some time in the next year, we're going to find the right place to announce those games we haven't been able to announce.
Shuehei Yoshida is the president of Sony Worldwide Studios. He has a lovely smile.