Tokyo Game Show: Shuhei Yoshida on PS4′s prospects in Japan, Gaikai, Vita TV and more

Image credit: Viola Kam (V’z Twinkle)

Sony’s president of worldwide studios Shuhei Yoshida gave his views on PS4′s chances in Japan, revealed further details on Gaikai, speculated on Capcom’s decision to make new Monster Hunter games exclusively for Nintendo hardware and more today during a roundtable interview we attended at Tokyo Game Show,

But first let’s talk about smartphones. At Sony’s keynote earlier in the day, Yoshida unveiled a new PlayStation app for iOS/Android phones and tablets that will allow PS4 owners to interact with the console at home and away. The app will be available for free and requires a PSN account.

Yoshida started a session on Playroom, the pack-in PS4 game that uses the PS Camera to fill your room with little robots, and then used the app to draw items that were dropped into the game for the robots to interact with. But the app can do much more, as Yoshida explained: ”You can connect to your PlayStation and your PSN profile, and you can send messages and even voice messages between smartphones and PS4, or PS4 can send out invitations for a multiplayer game that you can check on the PlayStation app. Or you can purchase a PS4 game on the PSN Store using the PS app and then your game will start downloading while you’re out.”

“And there’s also the second-screen demo that I showed using Playroom. Many big publishers are creating their own apps, like Watchdogs and Battlefield, and that’s great. But smaller developers can use the PS app to make the PS4 a server, so the PS app can connect to PS4 and load the application (onto the device) from the PS4 game so you don’t need to install any special apps onto your smartphone. So it’s open to all PS4 developers to use.”

A full transcript of the roundtable interview follows.

When you started developing PS4, did you have an idea of what functionality you wanted it to have, in terms of apps and the Vita connection and things?

The app idea actually was developed simultaneously in the industry, and people started talking about companion apps, like publishers, and Microsoft was doing Smart Glass, and we were thinking about the PlayStation app. So I think we all saw the opportunity, because everybody has a smartphone, and tablets are everywhere as well. So we wanted to provide general connectivity to the PlayStation network, and after that it’s up to the game developers. There’s a team making games where you can use your own device as a controller, for example.

Image credit: Viola Kam (V’z Twinkle)

Monster Hunter was one of the driving forces behind the success of PSP. What happened with Capcom?

Hmmm. There are different theories and rumours. But I think Capcom just announced today that Monster Hunter Frontier G is coming to PS Vita. So – Monster Hunter, on PS Vita. I’d like to see more Monster Hunter on Vita.

I worked in the States for eight years, and the time I worked there is when all the developers went multiplatform; it just makes sense from a business standpoint. So it’s kind of hard to understand in the Japanese industry that games dedicated to one platform are still being made. If I was a publisher, I’d go multiplatform, so I just don’t understand the decisions they make.

A lot of PS4′s features seem to be well targeted to a Western audience. But what about Japan, where people are moving more towards handhelds and mobile? The Wii U didn’t sell well here even though Japan is a Nintendo stronghold. What is your projection for PS4 in Japan? Do you think Japanese gamers want a new home console? 

Which of the PS4′s features do you think are targeted at the Western market?

Well, for example, at today’s keynote you guys said that you hope gamers will use their real name on their PSN account, which in Japan is difficult – connectivity things like that. But also just the fact that it’s a living-room console, which people want in the West but don’t seem to want in Japan.

Yeah, people in Japan live in teeny-tiny homes, so they’d rather go outside to gather. That’s one of the reasons that games like Monster Hunter are very popular, because people bring their own device and get together to play rather than doing a home party. But in terms of social connectivity, I don’t think it’s particularly just Western culture. Like, Facebook is now very popular. It came about two years after everywhere else, but now I get more friend requests from Japanese people.

Image credit: Viola Kam (V’z Twinkle)

It’s not just the social features that seem geared to the West but also the launch line-up – it’s a very Western launch line-up at the moment, and that perhaps delayed the release here in Japan. 

It’s definitely one major factor when we decided where to launch when. In the US and European market, at E3 last year you saw some amazing new announcements from major publishers, and everybody knew, ‘It’s made on PC and they say it’s for PS3, but I’m sure that’s made for next-gen.’ So they were ready, right? And the journalists knew and the core gamers knew that these games, if there is a next-gen console, there will be games already. So the readiness from both the publishers’ standpoint and the consumers’ standpoint and the media people, everybody was ready, and we were constantly being told that we should release a new console.

Compared to that, Japan is a totally different picture. It’s a more portable-heavy business, and the PS3 is catching up. At the SCEJ conference a couple of weeks ago, Famitsu’s data showed that 70 per cent  of home-console games were sold on PS3 for the past year. Many quality games are being released on PS3 now, so they are not exactly asking for PS4. Of course, after we announced PS4 in February, luckily publishers are showing interest and announcing new titles, but it’s a totally different picture in terms of readiness compared with Western publishers.

PS3 tried to be a total entertainment system and it left the Xbox behind, but with PS4 you seem to be trying to move away from that and more to being a games machine, while Microsoft only want to talk about is the TV and home entertainment side of Xbox One. Has there been a change of direction at Sony?

I think it could be more that the messaging is different, rather than the actual plans that we have. We know that people use PS3 for entertainment, and video-streaming services are extremely popular, like Netflix is most viewed on PS3. So we are planning to enhance these functions on PS4. But in terms of messaging, because there are so many devices that you can use to play games these days, we have to show what is the core of PlayStation. It’s not as an anything-everything device; it’s the best place to play, that’s the tagline we are using.

Image credit: Viola Kam (V’z Twinkle)

Why are indie games so important to your vision of this console? And do you believe that games like that will sell your £350 next-gen console?

Yes, we do think indie games are very important, and we do believe indie games can sell hardware. I think last year’s games like Journey and The Walking Dead sent a very clear message to the games industry and consumers when they swept the awards. Small games can make a huge impact.

When you look at games on Steam or iTunes there are lots of indie developers making fortunes, especially in Europe; and in Japan, GungHo with Puzzle & Dragons. And the quality of games in general from these small developers is just becoming better and better. Because people now know that they can make games and publish them on these digital platforms and there are enough people who are interested in the games, more and more experienced developers are becoming indie. That’s totally exciting.

Is Gaikai a long-term project? Will we see it anytime soon? 

We are planning to start serving PS3 games on cloud servers in the States next year for PS4, PS3 and PS Vita – and that means PS Vita TV as well – and expand in regions and content. And as far as content is concerned, the first games that will exist will be PS3 games. We’d like to offer a variety of games, because with video services like Netflix or Hulu, you just want to browse through different movies, watch five minutes and if you’re bored you can move on to something else – and that’s part of the fun. But we have to make sure that the game can work through the internet, so we have to go through certification for each title. So we’ll start with a certain number of titles and gradually expand the library.

Vita TV: “no plans yet for Western markets,” says Yoshida. Image credit: Viola Kam (V’z Twinkle)

Do you have any details of when it might launch in Europe? 

We don’t have specific timing to talk about.

With the PS3 and the 360 and many other consoles there has been a launch line-up and then a drought. Have you got plans for a second wave of PS4 games?

Well, by nature publishers – especially large ones – see opportunity and will always be there at the launch of any platform. Large publishers typically target that date, not two months or six months after, so it’s natural that the first peak comes at launch and then there will be a drought. However, now there are so many games developed by indie teams, and they will spend time if they need to. So these games will be continuously released through next year, that’s my expectation.

Will Vita TV get a European or North American release?

We just announced a release in Asia, but we have no plans yet for Western markets.