Sony's PlayStation CEO wants a seamless transition to its next-generation console

Sony promises its upcoming console, often referred to by fans as the PS5, will share saved games, have backward compatibility and more.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
8 min read
Jim Ryan, president and CEO of Sony's PlayStation division

Jim Ryan was named president and CEO of Sony's PlayStation division in February.


Typically, the launch of a new video game console is a major transition, when old games and your progress in them are left behind in favor of the latest and greatest.

Sony wants to put an end to that. In his first interview since becoming Sony's PlayStation CEO in April, Jim Ryan offered some details about his company's successor to its popular PlayStation 4 console, expected next year.

Among them, Ryan said his company plans to offer "cross-generational play," effectively offering players the ability to play a game on their PS4, switch to a new console and continue, and then switch back. Effectively, it won't matter to Sony's servers which device they're playing on. As a result, they'll have all the same friends while they do that.

"Whether it's backwards compatibility or the possibility of cross-generational play, we'll be able to transition that community to next-gen," he said. "It won't be a binary choice about whether you have to be ether on PlayStation 4 or next-gen to continue your friendship."

Watch this: PlayStation State of Play event reveals new console and VR games

Ryan is a 25-year Sony veteran. He began his career at the company's European division in 1994 -- right as the original PlayStation was launching -- and in 2011 was appointed the president of Sony's PlayStation business across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania. He was made the deputy president of Sony's PlayStation business last year before being promoted to CEO in February.

He and Shawn Layden, who heads Sony's 13 development studios making games like the highly anticipated survival adventure game The Last of Us Part 2, will be helping launch the company's next-generation PlayStation with a slate of new games and features to compete against Microsoft's next Xbox, Nintendo's Switch, Google's Stadia streaming service and more.

Ryan said the company counts an active user base of 94 million players, 36 million of whom subscribe to the company's $10 per month PlayStation Plus online game playing service. Sony's sold nearly 100 million PlayStation 4 consoles.

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"The community has never been bigger and it's never been more engaged," he said. "A lot of people we brought in, in 2013, are still with us. And the amount of time and money they invest in the platform is very humbling."

Sony's also been slowly releasing details about its PS4 successor, colloquially called the PS5 (though Sony declined to confirm that name). Among the new features, Sony said its next console will load games significantly faster, still sport an optical disc drive and offer immersive surround sound audio.

In his conversation with CNET, Ryan said an SSD storage drive Sony custom-designed for the console will be offered as part of the default version. He also added that the device will offer ultra-high definition 4K visuals at 120Hz, which is twice the screen refresh rate of most TVs .

Ryan declined to discuss the company's plans for the PSVR, other than to say the company's pleased with its success so far.

He declined to say when we'll learn more, but said Sony plans to discuss the new PlayStation as development versions of the device are sent to outside game companies. "We wanted to make sure that the PlayStation fans had clear and unambiguous information from us instead of garbled nonsense third and fourth hand -- some of it true, some of it perhaps certain times less true," he said. "This is just the start of the unveil process."

Below are edited excerpts from our conversation with Ryan before the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) video game conference, which kicks off in Los Angeles next week. Sony said it won't be attending the show this year.

Q: I'm assuming a new PSVR is coming, but can you offer any details?
Ryan: We have nothing to say about any potential next-gen VR product at this stage. We continue to believe that VR has the potential to be a really meaningful part of the future of interactive entertainment.

The current generation of VR has exceeded our expectations. When you step back and look at it -- and this is the way I like to look at it -- one in 20 of the people who found the money to go out and buy a PlayStation 4, and all the games and peripherals that they enjoyed with that, have also found the money to then go buy the PlayStation VR and all the games and peripherals that go on top of that. And I feel good about that.

The PlayStation 4 has become one of the biggest-selling consoles in history. How do you match that with your next-gen console?
This transition is probably gonna be more interesting than any other we've seen in the past. We obviously have one recently announced new entrant into the gaming space [Google] and the possibility of more to come.

So the landscape is changing fast. If we simply kinda lean back on the world that we've known for the past 25 years, we're at grave risk of having events around us overtake us. So we have to show an open-mindedness and a desire to do things to an extent that we haven't had to in the past.

One manifestation of that is the memorandum of understanding signed with Microsoft . Which is a kind of wide ranging MOU that covers a number of areas of collaboration between Sony and Microsoft. One of the main ones is cloud gaming.

The world's changing very fast and in a very interesting way.

We have a cloud gaming service right now, and we've added on it for a number of years. I think maybe we've been a bit guilty of not talking about it enough. Now we're in 19 countries, we have 170 publishers on board, 780 games in the States. We've actually achieved a lot, and probably a lot more than people realize. And our intent is to build on those learnings and really look to try to take PlayStation Now to the next level later this year and then in the years to come.

When you talk about having the events of the world overtake you, are you talking about a console-less world? What's in your mind when you say that?
Who knows what the world looks like in five years' time? When you've got these big, very large companies coming into your space, I think simply viewing the world in the terms you viewed it in the past 25 years, with the competition you've had over the past 25 years, is probably not a very sensible approach to take.

We, through our actions and recent announcements, believe that there is a great market for next generation console. But it's not binary. It's not like, in three weeks' time or three years' time, the console world stops, and a console-less world -- however that may look -- will suddenly take over.

Any transition will be steady and gradual. I've built PlayStation businesses all around the world. I can tell you about the infrastructure in some of the parts of the world where we have very, very large businesses, and they will not be conducive to, you know, an entirely streaming model for years and years and years.

When we get to the console-less world, I'm going to be playing with brands, right? I'll decide I'm in the PlayStation brand world, and that's how I'll play my games. And it'll be roughly the same games, with the exception of exclusives, that I can get in the Xbox world or the Stadia world. Is that far off from the way you see it?
It's a little bit of a simplification but you're not far off. It goes back to these three points, our enduring strengths -- exclusive games, the brand and the community we have, who we're very humbled by the trust of the level of engagement they have with us.

As long as we treat them properly and with the love and respect they deserve -- and that probably sounds trite coming from a businessman, but we actually believe in this stuff -- that will serve us very well.

Is this the last console? Everyone always talks about it, and there's this sense that it is, but I'm curious what you think.
What I think is: I actually don't know. I've been around a while, and I sat there in 2012 and listened to all sorts of smart people tell me about mobile and that the PlayStation 4 was going to be the most terrible failure ever.

The logic was actually hard to fault. But we believed in that product then, we believe in this next generation product now. Who knows how it might evolve? Hybrid models between console and some sort of cloud model? Possibly that. I just don't know. And if I did know, I wouldn't tell you.

That's fair too. So a lot of people have been building live-service games these days. I know you guys have been building Dreams. I'm curious what you think of where the market is right now. There's obviously criticism that's coming at games like EA's Anthem and Bethesda's Fallout 76 .  So I'm curious what you think of this genre of games?
It's like any category of game or any category of entertainment. There are good examples and less good examples. When they're done right, and you look at the engagement statistics for FIFA, for example, the engagement is simply unbelievable.

If you're going to do this you have to do it really well. It's a form of entertainment that has to be built incrementally, you can't sort of plunge in and build one of these live service games and get it right from day one. It's got to be evolved and iterated and it's not easy. It's really not easy.

Do you think this type of games will be the future of how entertainment will work? Obviously you guys put a lot of work behind the full story experiences too. But what do you see when you look into your crystal ball?
We've never had greater success with our own narrative-driven, story-based games than we're having right now. We feel good about that, and it's certainly not a genre of gaming we'll ever walk away from.

Service games, when done well, will continue to be popular and grow in popularity. But only as the overall gaming ecosystem grows, and more people are playing more and more games longer and longer.

One topic about E3 I often hear is how marketing of a game is done. Looking at Sony, I'll never forget #PuddleGate with your Spider-Man game and how the accusations you'd downgraded the quality of your game were wrong. I was looking back and looked at The Last of Us and I was amazed at how similar the scenes you were showing off years before were nearly the same to what came out. And that's not something that's happened with every company, right? Even if everyone has the intention of showing off what they expect to release, obviously not everyone delivers that. So how do you make sure what you're showing off years in advance is so close to being what you're selling them later?
We always approach this issue with a high degree of integrity. And what we show is typically not years in advance -- typically it's months, or perhaps many months in some cases -- but it's real gameplay that has already been developed and we have a very high degree of confidence will appear in the final game.

This is conjecture, but it could be that our narrative-driven games lend themselves to the ability to have fidelity between the early vision and the final product more readily than something massively online in its nature.