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Sony's Shu Yoshida talks the next 20 years of PlayStation

The big interview: PlayStation VR, PS4's Christmas line-up and the challenges facing consoles.

Sony's PlayStation hit a significant milestone yesterday in the UK, celebrating 20 years since the original PS1 released over here. Three generations later it's still going strong with the PS4, its newest console exceeding expectations and becoming the fastest selling PlayStation yet. You can forgive Sony, then, if there are a few hangovers in their offices this morning after any celebrations last night.

There's still work to do, though, with a noticeably slim first-party line-up going into Christmas, a handheld that's had dwindling support and the prospect of an all-new piece of hardware in the shape of PlayStation VR next year. Sony Computer Entertainment's president of worldwide studios Shuhei Yoshida made a visit to this year's EGX to mark the 20th anniversary of the original PlayStation's release, and we caught up with him immediately after his on-stage talk.

Thanks for joining us at EGX - I know you've got a busy schedule, with Tokyo Game Show last week. I was out there myself and it seemed like a good show.

Shuhei Yoshida: I was very surprised, in a good way - people outside Japan said we had a great conference. It's been a long time that Japanese games mattered to a western audience. I was very happy to see that.

I saw a fair few people playing Vitas in the wild in Japan, which took me by surprise a little - you don't see them so much over here. Is it still going well over there?

Shuhei Yoshida: It's going steady. People are still playing games outside their houses. So the Vita's very popular, still.

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How about over here? Does it have a future in the west?

Shuhei Yoshida: The sales are pretty steady. Not as much as in Japan, but there's no shortage of great indie games coming out on the Vita. The game that just came out, Super Time Force Ultra...

Which you're in!

Shuhei Yoshida: Yeah, I play as myself! And I choose to play on Vita. It's a 2D action game, and that's great to play on Vita.

Well, I'm still playing Spelunky on mine so it's perfect for that. In terms of Japan, they've been quite slow on the uptake with new consoles. Is that changing?

Shuhei Yoshida: Yes! Japanese publishers are one year behind western publishers in terms of shifting their resources to this generation. Last year I remember the first time a Japanese publisher finally said yes, we're developing this game for PS3 but we're also releasing it for PS4 - an upgraded version. That was last year. This year, I saw many games that were targeted for PS4 that might also come out on Vita and PS3. And some games, like Nioh, is made only for PS4.

That's Tecmo Koei's first PS4-only game, right? It's taken some time.

Shuhei Yoshida: Yes! The president, the head of the company, he was very proud. He looked so happy and animated to announce that Nioh is finally coming out on PS4 and PS4 only. That's a huge change from last year. Also, the sales of PS4 games, like Metal Gear, it was almost double that of the PS3 version in Japan. Publishers are now seeing clearly the shift from PS3 to PS4 for the Japanese audience as well.

You also had the Bloodborne DLC, finally. Are you hoping to work with From Software again?

Shuhei Yoshida: Absolutely. As you know, they're a publisher as well, and also occasionally developer. Being management of From Software, I can totally understand they're publishers, they have to manage their resources. But also they support Miyazaki-san's creative vision. Sometimes he might want to do something risky for them - in that case, we might have a chance of working with us. That was the case for Bloodborne. It was early, from a Japanese publisher's standpoint, to bet big on a PS4-only title. That was a quite large development effort. We're able to work closely with them. We have great relationships, and because of the nature of them being publishers and developers, it's a unique relationship. We wish to continue to work with them.

One other thing you had at TGS was a price-cut in Japan. Why was that timed for then, and will we have one over here soon?

Shuhei Yoshida: Any time we do a price cut we help push the back of the people, especially when the titles are being announced and getting out. We just don't price drop when things are not going well. People don't buy just for the price. It was the right time to do that in Japan. I have nothing to say about outside of Japan. It's kind of interesting, because of the exchange rate, now buying a PS4 in Japan is the cheapest. There's a lot of people visiting for sightseeing and shopping because of the weak currency.

We've got Naughty Dog this weekend too. Do you see the Uncharted collection as your big Christmas game?

Shuhei Yoshida: From a first-party standpoint, yes.

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How do you think your line-up compares to Microsoft's line-up this Christmas?

Shuhei Yoshida: I wouldn't do so! [laughs] People wouldn't just look at the first party line-up when they're making a purchase decision. We have great third party titles coming this year - Call of Duty, Assassin's, Battlefront, Destiny just came out and Metal Gear just came out. There's no shortage of huge titles available to players on PlayStation 4. And people who are coming new to PlayStation 4 can pick up titles like Bloodborne and Until Dawn. I'm very proud of the games we are releasing. We're not releasing new triple-A titles this Christmas like you say, and like some critics say. But we're releasing smaller, creative games this year, like Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, or we're working on The Tomorrow Children, and many small but interesting titles. That can be complementary when looking at the line-up of PS4 games. We've got lots of great big titles announced for the next year. We're focussed on delivering these titles. People make purchasing decisions for the long-term. Consoles, once they've purchased it, they expect to use it for 5-6 years. Having exclusive, unique titles coming in the near future, starting with Uncharted 4, must play a role from a first-party standpoint, to help people make those decisions.

Uncharted 4 looks really exciting, everyone's looking forward to it. Every week, though, there's some leak, or rumour, or confirmation of Last of Us 2. It's a weird situation. What's going on with that? It's something people want to make.

Shuhei Yoshida: You should ask that question to Arne [Meyer, community strategist] in the Naughty Dog session! I asked him that question last night over dinner. We haven't confirmed The Last of Us 2, but ever since the launch of the first game, people like Neil are talking about some ideas for a potential sequel, some experiments that they want to do. It's just talks around development. We have no confirmed information for the sequel. But, like many people, we wish to see what it's going to be like, how the story's going to develop, what life these characters have after what happened in The Last of Us.

When it comes to Uncharted 4, that changed direction a little as Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann came in to take charge. Was that your decision?

Shuhei Yoshida: That was a Naughty Dog management decision, led by Evan and Christophe. I wasn't totally involved in the situation, but they felt that everybody has to... Because it was such a big endeavour, they felt that the leadership change was necessary.

You had Until Dawn come out recently. It seemed to come out at quite a quiet time. How did it go down?

Shuhei Yoshida: We're super happy with the reactions from people, especially people who are streaming or posting videos on YouTube. It's super fun to watch other people play, even after you've finished the game, because other people make different choices. We can say it's a sleeper hit. Once it's recognised, originating with consumers, the marketing department can continue to support the title through Christmas with some creative ideas. I'm very happy with how the game was received. People have asked me why it wasn't marketed as much as other titles. It's a decision made by marketing departments in each region. Because of the focus on this Christmas time-frame, to really support the big third-party titles like Destiny and these titles, they didn't see the need to push Until Dawn that much from the platform marketing standpoint. I think everybody was caught by surprise by the positive reaction. That's a really great thing for the future of the interactive drama genre. We're a big fan of this genre. These games can talk to a broader audience. You don't have to be good at playing games. You can even just watch your friend play the game. We believe this interactive drama genre can help expand the audience for console games.

Speaking of interactive drama.... Are we going to hear from our friends at Quantic Dream? We're all off to Paris soon.

Shuhei Yoshida: Well, they're based in Paris, so... They're great developers, and we're excited to continue to work with them, so....

Well, it wouldn't be far for them to walk to get on the stage. Moving on to another game that's had big support this year, DriveClub. What's the future of that series, and Evolution?

Shuhei Yoshida: DriveClub has sustained its momentum. They needed to spend time to really rewrite the server-side of the game. We weren't expecting this many people would buy a PlayStation 4, and have PlayStation Plus membership. Because the title was originally titled for the launch of the system, the number of potential people to download for free for the PS Plus version would be much smaller than two years after the launch. We realised the daunting task of supporting potentially millions and millions of people to download and play. The team needed to go back to the drawing board and re-engineer the server-side.

While they were doing this, they kept releasing new content and people continued to play the game and enjoy it. I'm really happy with how things went forward.

Does the series have a future beyond this game?

Shuhei Yoshida: The driving genre's a very difficult market right now. The team, we need to find a great angle for the racing to continue, to come up with a new racing game, if we're to look at another racing title. Creative ideas come when things are tough, so that lightbulb moment, I'm looking forward to.

It's interesting when you say that the success took you by surprise. What were your expectations, and why do you think it did so well?

Shuhei Yoshida: Less than we did. We had a specific target - 5 million units - against what we did, 7 million I think, and it just kept going. We had more modest projections before the launch.

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Is it still exceeding your expectations?

Shuhei Yoshida: It's still the fastest-selling PlayStation platform, ever, still.

Things seem to be going really well.

Shuhei Yoshida: Well, it depends on how you look at things. Typically - it's ironic in a sense, when a platform's doing really well, studio side kind of struggles. It probably has some relationship to these two things. When a platform's doing well, third-parties support it more. So from a pure software standpoint, there'll be more competition. When the platform's not doing so well, our games become more prominent, and we get larger market share within the same platform. Because we continue to support the PS3, in the launch year of the PS4 we had The Last of Us and Gran Turismo 6 and Beyond and so on, many games, we were still working hard. We're just head-down, focussed on delivering the games for the near future. We're happy with how it's going, and we're excited about welcoming PlayStation VR. From a delivering games standpoint, we have work to do. People constantly ask us for the big exclusive triple-A games.

You've got another hardware release next year, with PlayStation VR, which will be like launching a new console.

Shuhei Yoshida: It's like launching a new platform, and it's a huge effort, and it's super-exciting.

How do you think it'll go down? VR seems like quite a niche, for really dedicated people. Do you think everyone with a PS4 will get into VR, or do you think it will be just for a dedicated few?

Shuhei Yoshida: As far as VR, for the future, is concerned, I have no question that in a few years everyone will be using some VR tech as a part of their lives. Even outside entertainment systems. It's a new tech, it's a new media. How well PlayStation VR will do in that trajectory is a big question. We believe we have a unique position in this effort. I always say we're not just competing with the other companies like Oculus or Valve. We are almost collaborating to make this thing happen, and get people to try and get excited and talk about it to other people. Because we're focussed on delivering the VR experience on the game console as opposed to PC or mobile, and that's their focus, we're covering all the bases together.

In that, it's just how well we deliver the system, how easy it is to use, how comfortable, how exciting the contents are, the price point is right for the consumer - all these things, it's our effort, so I hope PlayStation VR will do extremely well. As a developer, I'm super-excited about the potential of using VR tech. I feel like, working on PlayStation VR, is like when we were working on the original PlayStation 20 years ago, when we were very excited to use 3D real-time graphics for the games. After 20 years, we're still making even bigger, better 3D games, so I see a long-term great future for VR entertainment for the coming 20 years.

I thought it was interesting it was called PlayStation VR, which ties it down to the gaming side, whereas Oculus and Valve seem potentially broader. Was that a deliberate move, to make it more of a gaming-focussed device?

Shuhei Yoshida: As PlayStation, we're always gaming focussed. But you know that lots of people use PlayStation for non-games, like consuming entertainment, streaming... So we believe the same for PlayStation VR. The people who know PlayStation as a great entertainment system, a gaming system, and enjoying video contents as well. In the same way, because it's such a new thing, VR, most people, for the first time really try the modern VR, so instead of putting some exotic names for that, we believe that it's better to associate with PlayStation brand that people know as a fun product.

You've got some great properties that would be a great fit for VR too. I'm thinking something like Gran Turismo. Would that make sense?

Shuhei Yoshida: Many trial tests we've been doing, some genres just work fine. One of those genres is racing games. So when Gran Turismo comes out on PS4, I'd like to see it support PlayStation VR, yeah.

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You're celebrating 20 years of PlayStation in the UK this week. Where do you see PlayStation in 20 years?

Shuhei Yoshida: That's almost impossible to answer! Because, like Michael Pachter saying console is dead, or this is the last console generation, I feel we've been fighting against obsolescence. Even when PS4 is doing well, you might look at the sales, the fast pace of PS4 sales, we may be just selling to the same people faster, right! That's a sad view of things, but it could be the case. We have to continue to work hard to really bring back people who used to play console games before PS2 era, or find new people to provide great experiences, that people who never had their own consoles might find useful for their lives. For that, actually, PlayStation VR has broader applications than the games, and demos we've been doing, the very first demo we provided was The Deep. It has no gameplay at all. Anyone can enjoy it. Of course there's a challenge of pricing and whatnot, but in the future we position PlayStation VR not as a peripheral to VR, but as a virtual reality system that makes use of PS4. We're hoping in the future that people might pick up PlayStation VR and PS4 not only for the games, but for other entertainment usage.

You said in your talk on-stage that people have been saying that consoles are dying even since the time of the original PS1.

Shuhei Yoshida: Every time there's a new threat, like PC was before, now it's mobile, look at the Japanese market which has the heaviest impact. When you look at the video game market in Japan, it's going like crazy because of mobile is huge. What mobile is doing is making more people play games. Lots of people who play games on mobile because it's free and it's there. There maybe some other people who might find playing games itself is a fun thing, and those people might be converted to play games on console. The real issue is, we look at things positively in terms of fast sales of PS4. We continue to try to push to reach an even broader audience.

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