The big interview: Sony's Shuhei Yoshida on PS4
"It's more about services than the system."
"I'm not directly managing third-party relations," says Shuhei Yoshida, when I ask him a question that pretty much has nothing to do with the area of Sony Computer Entertainment for which he is responsible.
"But it's my understanding that..." He answers my question anyway.
This is why journalists love interviewing Yoshida.
Don't get me wrong, because there's nothing mean or evil about evading a poorly aimed inquiry, and interviews are a dance and it takes two to tango. But in the fast-moving world of internet journalism it's hard not to feel a certain amount of appreciation towards a guy who clearly wants to answer you, even if he has to be slightly cagey and show his working a little while doing so in order that you understand the full extent of his meaning and context.
I've interviewed Don Mattrick, Peter Moore, Andrew House and plenty of other bigwigs over the years, but Yoshida - or @yosp as he's known to the many people who ask him questions on Twitter and also get proper answers - is the only one who won't take every chance to spin or guide you back to the message.
So he's a good guy to talk to on the evening PS4 is announced.
Some of the things I asked him about - like used games and the European launch timing - I've already written about, but I've also included them in the full transcript below.
Yoshida is fun. He isn't mean. If his answers seem curt, it's only because they're in text, which misses out his smiles and chuckles throughout our exchange. If you read this and think, "Ooh, this is getting heated," it isn't. I wanted him to answer the damn questions, and he mostly did, so it wasn't confrontational.
He also began our discussion by asking when our podcast was coming back and telling me things about it, which just goes to show how engaged he is (and it's coming soon, seriously).
I wouldn't normally clarify any of this, but when you answer the questions you get explicit benefit of the doubt.
Anyway: PlayStation 4.
Eurogamer: Do you think that what you showed today was conservative? Visionary? What?
Shuhei Yoshida: Well that's my question! What do you think?
Eurogamer: No no, I'm asking you the question!
Shuhei Yoshida: [Laughs] So Mark [Cerny] and David [Perry] spent lots of time talking about our approach, philosophy and principles behind PS4 design, so I hope it was not boring to you. We really wanted to explain what are the things we wanted to achieve with PS4. You may notice that we - Sony and PlayStation - love hardware so we tend to choose high-end specifications, and this time around as your Digital Foundry guy, Richard, who is amazing --
Eurogamer: -- Yeah he kind of already told everyone what you're doing. Sorry about that.
Shuhei Yoshida: Haha! So we are proud of the hardware capability of PS4. However, the focus was more about what Mark talked about - the five principles. The Simple, Immediate, Social, Integrated, Personalised. And none of this is hardware, right? It's all system software capabilities and services - like the Gaikai cloud gaming. So that was the biggest focus, because we are game developers but we are game users as well. Like every time we talk about PS3 we talk about the next firmware update or all those things - and we don't like them either.
Eurogamer: So you want to clear a lot of that out of the way.
Shuhei Yoshida: Yeah, yeah. It's a huge focus. Number one: it has to be very simple to use. And number two: it has to be immediate. It's not easy to do. If it was easy we would have done it already. So unless we refocus our effort to these things, the system will never be easy to use or immediate.
Eurogamer: So does that mean we're not going to see firmware updates in the way that we've seen them in the past?
Shuhei Yoshida: I hope not. So the work is still going on...
Eurogamer: So it's not 100 per cent decided, but it might change.
Shuhei Yoshida: It's about the implementation phase. It's all about how it gets implemented. So we have to wait for the final product, but our goal is always like that. So there will always be firmware updates, but what we want to achieve is --
Eurogamer: -- Put them in the background?
Shuhei Yoshida: Yes! So it's already been done. Like the PS Plus service actually does it, where it's downloaded but it doesn't install. So it's kind of half-baked. We wanted to make it so people don't have to wait for anything. If you have one hour of your time, you want to spend one hour playing games, and that's our goal.
We wanted to make it so people don't have to wait for anything. If you have one hour of your time, you want to spend one hour playing games, and that's our goal
Eurogamer: Does the console always need to be connected to the internet?
Shuhei Yoshida: You can play offline, but you may want to keep it connected. The system has the low-power mode - I don't know the official term - that the main system is shut down but the subsystem is awake. Downloading or updating or you can wake it up using either the tablet, smartphone or PS Vita.
Eurogamer: Are all of those things optional? For people who have broadband data limits, for example? They can customise everything?
Shuhei Yoshida: Oh yes, yes, you can go offline totally. Social is big for us, but we understand there are some people who are anti-social! So if you don't want to connect to anyone else, you can do that.
Eurogamer: One of the questions my readers really want an answer to is whether you're going to block the use of second-hand or 'used' games, because it's a huge concern for them.
Shuhei Yoshida: Do you want us to do that?
Eurogamer: No. I think if you buy something on a disc you have a kind of moral contract with the person you've bought it from that you retain some of that value and you can pass it on. Do you agree?
Shuhei Yoshida: Yes. That's the general expectation by consumers. They purchase physical form, they want to use it everywhere, right? So that's my expectation.
Eurogamer: So if someone buys a PlayStation 4 game, you're not going to stop them reselling it?
Shuhei Yoshida Aaaah. [Asks PR adviser.] So what was our official answer to our internal question? [Consults adviser.] So, used games can play on PS4. How is that?
Eurogamer: That's great. So in past generations, you had the PS2 with third-party exclusives, amazing marketing and the DVD player that helped it to be successful. With the PS3 the exclusive games were harder because it cost too much and the marketing was harder because at that point everyone else was making cool-looking electronic devices too, but you still had Blu-ray to give you an advantage. Does PlayStation 4 have a unique selling point?
Shuhei Yoshida: Unique from what?
Eurogamer: Well, look at the PlayStation Vita. It has a lot of functionality you can't find in other devices, but at the same time it's struggled to find an audience so far.
Shuhei Yoshida: Yup.
Eurogamer: So having unique functions alone isn't enough and it needs to have a clear purpose.
Shuhei Yoshida: Yup, that's never enough.
Eurogamer: So what is the unique function in PlayStation 4 and what is going to make loads of people buy one?
Shuhei Yoshida: So if we say that for PS4 you don't have to wait for anything to play, and you can use many different devices to play and communicate with other people, and you can instantly try many of the games on the store, isn't it unique?
So, used games can play on PS4. How is that?
Eurogamer: Do you think it will be unique by the time it comes out? Do you think Microsoft will copy you or PC manufacturers will copy you? Or that they have already had these ideas?
Shuhei Yoshida: I have no idea. But that's what we want to achieve. Maybe not day-one for all the things we talked about, but we will continue to evolve our services. It's more about services than the system.
Eurogamer: Which things will definitely be there day-one and which things might take a little longer?
Shuhei Yoshida: Some of the things Dave [Perry] talked about, like cloud gaming, he talked more about visions like "Everything Everywhere", which is the ultimate goal, but we have to start from somewhere.
Eurogamer: So the Gaikai trials on the store and background downloading based on algorithms that compute what you want and what you're doing - those things will definitely be there from day one?
Shuhei Yoshida: Well, we are still in development so we need to wait for the final system to be able to talk about it.
Eurogamer: When will you know the answer? Will you know it at E3?
Shuhei Yoshida I hope so! I hope by E3 most of the things are already in final form.
Eurogamer: Will you have to announce the date, price and launch games at E3?
Shuhei Yoshida Yep, that's possible. We don't decide these things until much closer, so we have no plan or no date set for announcing these things.
I hope by E3 most of the things are already in final form
Eurogamer: There's been a lot of rumours on the internet and one that's been quite persistent is that it won't be a global launch but will appear in America and Japan first and Europe next year. Do you know if there will be a split or will it be aligned or is it too early to say?
Shuhei Yoshida: It's too early to say. For one thing the system has to be complete and we have to understand the manufacturing pace of it. Then we have to kind of look at the demand predictions and we have to decide whether we can go global or like [the rumour]. So it takes more time for us to know that.
Eurogamer: But it's a possibility?
Shuhei Yoshida: Yes.
Eurogamer: Yes that Europe would be last or...?
Shuhei Yoshida: People in Europe always complain that they're last even when sometimes --
Eurogamer: -- We always are last!
Shuhei Yoshida: -- Even when sometimes some things are exclusive to European consumers.
Eurogamer: Oh but we want the console first! It matters the most!
Shuhei Yoshida: For us, Europe is an enormously important market. That's no question. So I hope European consumers can play PS4 as soon as it's available somewhere, but I'm not making promises.
Eurogamer: Fair enough. Price is obviously something you can't talk about either. I just wanted to remind you that it was £425 in the UK on day one, which is about 70,000 Euros at current exchange rates, or $600.
Shuhei Yoshida: Yep. It was five-ninety-nine.
Eurogamer: Is that too much to ask for a console now?
Shuhei Yoshida: Ah, I don't know. Well, I know the answer but I'm not answering the answer! Five-nintey-nine was a shock, right? That was a #playstationmemory moment! I didn't tweet that, but...
For us, Europe is an enormously important market. That's no question. So I hope European consumers can play PS4 as soon as it's available somewhere, but I'm not making promises
Eurogamer: Ha! You're usually very good on Twitter, and usually very open with people whereas a lot of execs are very closed, so I wanted to ask you whether you're aware of Kazification and what you make of it?
Shuhei Yoshida: Kazification, yeah!
Eurogamer: Do you know what Kaz Hirai himself makes of Kazification?
Shuhei Yoshida: Yeah, so I was talking with Stephen [Totilo] from Kotaku and they have a mashup of them, so he tweeted me and told me to send it to Kaz, so I sent it to Kaz and Kaz didn't reply. So I don't know if it was Kaz's assistant who saw it and didn't forward it to Kaz, but I'm sure when he sees them he'll just laugh.
Eurogamer: You don't have a private mailing list where you send each other funny pictures?
Shuhei Yoshida: [Laughs] No, of course, unfortunately. He's a busy guy.
Eurogamer: Yes, I imagine he's very busy at this point... Are you going to change the way that you do PSN so there's a subscription multiplayer service like Xbox Live? Because that's the rumour today.
Shuhei Yoshida: We are still working on service plans or features so we are not ready to talk about that yet.
Eurogamer: One of the things that's noticeable when you look at the last generation is that you and Microsoft both made a big song and dance about how technologically you were going to beat each other... and then you kind of didn't. Now we're starting to see some superior PS3 games, but for the majority of the time it was flat. If we have another generation where the games look very similar, will that damage your prospects? Do you need to beat them technologically?
Shuhei Yoshida: For some people it's important. Like people who read Digital Foundry. It's really important which has higher frame-rates or is using better anti-aliasing or something like that, and for those people it's very important when the games come out on multi-platform. But it's just one part - it's also about what additional features or connectivity a game has...
Eurogamer: On that note, you didn't compete that much for third-party exclusive games last time, but Microsoft definitely went after third-party exclusive DLC. Will you pursue that more aggressively this time?
Shuhei Yoshida: I'm not directly managing third-party relations, but it's my understanding that it was too expensive already in PS3 days to ask for exclusive titles, so what we could ask for reasonably from third-party publishers is to create either something [in] content or some features that are exclusive to our platform, and if our system had something very unique it's easier to ask for, but if it's not much different then it's harder to ask for.
Eurogamer: But it does seem like Microsoft really is asking, regardless of whether they're doing anything different. They're still going to Rockstar and Call of Duty and saying, help us out, give us 30 days of exclusivity or a year, and it seems perceptually - maybe not at a business level, I don't know - but perceptually as though it's given them an edge.
Shuhei Yoshida: So I don't know how the third-party relations guys are talking internally, but how I look at it is that I know these guys are really hard-working to visit developers and ask what it is they want us to do for them. I think we are a very much developer-focused company now compared to past efforts, and I hope it can have a lasting effect in developers, especially the independent and small developers. These people are less business-driven. They want to make games they want to make and sometimes they choose partners based on how they feel and the chemistry, so I think our guys are very focused to reach out and talk to these people.
We are a very much developer-focused company now compared to past efforts, and I hope it can have a lasting effect in developers, especially the independent and small developers
Eurogamer: In terms of the stuff you really do have responsibility for, like the first-party titles, there was talk tonight of some games appearing on both PS4 and PS3 from some companies. Will we see that with PS3 titles that have already been announced, like Beyond and The Last Guardian?
Shuhei Yoshida: [Laughs] That's an interesting question! So we announced four titles from Worldwide Studios but we have more games in development for PS4 --
Eurogamer: -- How many?
Shuhei Yoshida: -- Aaaah, well, virtually all the studios are working on it. But as we go toward the launch, like E3, or Gamescom... I don't know about the Eurogamer Expo...
Eurogamer: Well we'd love to see you there.
Shuhei Yoshida: Haha. Well we'll use these occasions to reveal more titles that we are working on. But would you like to see these games on PS3?
Eurogamer: Well I think if you can't play big PS3 games on PS4 [which is what David Perry said] --
Shuhei Yoshida: -- Right.
Eurogamer: And Beyond is a big PS3 game loads of people want to play, and The Last Guardian is something I really want to play - I want to play them on the new console. Because once that new console comes out, I'm going to move the PS3 to a different part of the room, you know what I mean?
Shuhei Yoshida: [Pause]
Eurogamer: So is it something you've talked about?
Shuhei Yoshida: Yes, so, we've been making some of our PS2 games available upgraded and published on PS3, and in some cases like God of War or Shadow of the Colossus, some people say this is the better version of the original game, so something like that, we find it very satisfying from a development standpoint, and those who create original titles are thrilled to see more people playing their games, because of the update. So I think for some games it will make sense for us to look at, but we are not talking about any more about our titles other than the four titles.
Eurogamer: [At this point I'm hassled to wrap things up, so I asked for one more question.] Recently a lot of small or medium sized developers have moved away from home consoles to Steam or iOS or Android. What are you doing to bring them back? Is the self-publishing thing an example of that?
Shuhei Yoshida: Yes, that's a big part - a digital platform. There are many things we can do better to make it much more developer-friendly, instead of publishing on PlayStation Network, so it's more our focus - how we can make it easier for small developers to work with us to bring the content to PlayStation 4.
Eurogamer: Have you defined how the self-publishing process will work? Do you need a developer kit to develop for PS4 if it's based on PC architecture?
Shuhei Yoshida: So we are doing something like that with PlayStation Mobile and it's purely software development.
Eurogamer: So it will be possible to develop for PS4 even if you don't have a developer kit as well?
Shuhei Yoshida: Aaah, so we have to see... It depends on how we define the layer. The way we are approaching PS4 now is allowing developers to go really deep onto the metal, so Richard [Leadbetter of Digital Foundry] will know how that availability to the deeper hardware makes the console games way better than some PC or mobile approach. But if we do that, it will definitely require hardware to develop games.
Eurogamer: And finally, for Richard, were those games today running in 720p or 1080p?
Shuhei Yoshida: I think he can tell!
Eurogamer: He can tell, but he asked me to ask.
Shuhei Yoshida: I think these games were running at 1080p, but I'm no tech person.
Eurogamer: I'll ask him. He'll find out!