Something About Japan: Shuhei Yoshida on the ‘war for the living room’

Image credit: 4Gamer.net

Japanese game news site 4Gamer.net sat down with Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida this week to canvass his thoughts on the future of the game industry – and how PS4 will fit in with it.

He also detailed limitations of the Share button and explained how Sony intends to make PS4 more attractive to consumers and to developers.

To begin, Yoshida confirmed that Sony’s goal when announcing PS4 at the PlayStation Meeting in February was to establish the machine first and foremost as a console for gaming – but that the console would not budge from its place beneath the TV set.

“In terms of the ‘war for the living room’, we have no intention of abandoning that approach. After all, Sony is a company that has a long history of making audio-visual products that are designed for the living room, so this is a natural course for us. If anything it’s the other companies that have changed course by moving into this space.”

Rather than a dig at Nintendo or Microsoft, this appeared to be a reference to Apple and Valve, both of which are slowly revolutionising the way we consume digital content, and the rise of smart TV.

“Recently there has been a lot of talk about smart TV and devices that can also play games,” he said. “When we first introduced PS4, we wanted to avoid giving the message that it can also do this and can also do that. We wanted to show a focus on just the most important aspect of the console.

“We want to change for the better the way people play games and the way people make games. Yes, you can use this console for things like watching a Blu-ray or Netflix, but that is not its main purpose. The hardware is designed specifically for games. After all, new games will never be in short supply.”

Asked specifically how he would like to change the way games are made and played, Yoshida said: “I’d like to emphasise ease of use. How the controls feel, how much time you spend waiting around for it to turn on and off, things like that. It’s about giving more consideration to the user experience. On portable smartphones and tablets, you can start playing as soon as you want to and quit whenever you like. PS4 will be a home console that can do that too.”

Yoshida explained that Sony’s challenge with PS4 was less about cramming it with top-spec innards and hitherto unimagined new features but instead to make it friendlier for third-party developers to make games for.

“Even we (SCE Worldwide Studios) had a hard time developing for PS3 (at first). But third parties had real trouble developing or porting games, because (the system) was so different. Of course, the PS3 is still showing unrealised potential with new games today. It’s difficult to believe that games like The Last Of Us and Beyond: Two Souls are running on exactly the same hardware as those early games. Those developers have studied hard to make a great PS3 game. But it’s taken a long time (for developers) to reach this point. This time we’re considering how to create a better development environment for third parties from the start.”

Yoshida confirmed that inclusion of PS4’s massive 8GB RAM was a response to demand from developers who had struggled with PS3’s sparse RAM. But he also stated that specs are not the only consideration in making PS4 a system that is easy to develop for.

“There is a saying that the ease of making something goes hand in hand with the ease of doing business. So we want to make it easier to do business and to build an ecosystem.”

Yoshida admitted that it is getting harder to secure big-budget exclusives for any given console, with third-party developers mitigating the growing cost of console game production by taking their titles multiplatform to reach the widest possible audience. This in turn makes it harder for platform-holders to differentiate their console from the competition.

“In that case,” he said, “we need to make sure users consider the PS4 version to be the best and the one they want to play. That might mean that the graphics are better, the controller is more comfortable, or the point I mentioned earlier about the console being more user-friendly, like you don’t have to turn the power on and off or you can switch between your game and Netflix at will. Those things will become key.”

Yoshida explained that the origin of the Share button, which will allow PS4 owners to upload video from their game at almost any time, was rooted in this concept too.

“We were trying to think of a way to make it easier for users to upload video, and one day a member of our in-house production team just said, ‘How about a Share button?’ We called out in unison, ‘That’s it!’”

Yoshida’s own desire to make videos easy to share was a result of his addiction to Dark Souls, clips of which he would seek out on Japanese video-sharing site Niconico Douga. “I wanted to play Dark Souls all day long, but I couldn’t do that because I was too busy. So instead I would watch people playing it live on Niconico whenever I had some spare time. By doing that, you can find other ways to play the game and read comments by other users. I felt that sharing videos is a really important part of enjoying games.”

He said that the Share button will have its limitations, however, and that users will not quite have free reign to upload whatever in-game footage they like.

“There will be parts of a game that the maker does not want people to be able to see,” he said. “For example, on Vita, developers can in certain scenes disable the feature that lets users take a screenshot, and (the Share function) will have a similar mechanism. The creator may not want to make video of the final boss sharable, for instance.”

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