When I last spoke with Shuhei Yoshida, Sony's global head of first-party studios, the PS4 was several months away from release and--despite a palpable sense of momentum--an uncertain future lied ahead for him. That wasn't just because the Xbox had such a strong grip on the market, but for bleaker reasons too. At the time, a racket of analysts and games executives were routinely forewarning of the death of the console altogether.
At Paris Games week, we met under markedly different circumstances. Sony's home console business is arguably more prosperous than ever, with PS4 sales still outpacing the most popular console of all time. It's an unbelievable achievement that, several years ago, you would have found no one predicting.
Those doomsayer analysts have now, of course, gone conspicuously quiet. Yoshida hasn't. He is as infectiously enthusiastic as ever when we meet to discuss a broad range of topics from games to technologies, as well as his personal highlights from Sony's Paris Games Week media briefing.
Congratulations on the press conference, which seems to have gone down well with fans. What was your personal highlight?
Ah yes, I'll pick two things. One was Dreams gameplay, which I think went well. It's just one little bit of the project--it's a huge project--but it was great to talk about how to create and share and play, and how that's all integrated, and how you can hop between dreams like you were web-browsing. It's a very flexible and open system.
The other highlight was Detroit, I have been waiting for this game to be announced.
It was a broad line-up, with new IP, original games, along with staple brands and franchises. I wonder, of all the projects Worldwide Studios is involved with, which genres and areas would you like to invest more resources in?
Well as head of Worldwide Studios I have to make sure we are covering a wide variety of initiatives, but we do not go from a top-down approach like, "this studio has to make this game, that studio has to make that game." But we have a conversation every time a [PlayStation] studio completes a project or opens up some resource, and we discuss what we are looking for in the future from a platform standpoint.
So we will have told studios that we are working on virtual reality, or we are expanding our reach to a broader audience, and discuss those platform initiatives to see if any of their ideas match. So that becomes part of the process.
Personally speaking, I tend to look more at new technology. I spend a lot of time on new IP and ideas.It's a lot of fun, and it's new. I'm in the position where developers and teams bring all this stuff to me, so I give feedback and learn ideas from everything people come to me with. With the more established franchises, I trust that they have it sorted. They know what they're doing.
There were a significant number of third-party exclusive and timed-exclusive games shown at the event too, from Street Fighter V to No Man's Sky to Call of Duty DLC. Will you continue to pursue these third-party exclusivity deals so proactively in the future?
Well yeah it's a great thing to have, and third-parties are always talking to us and Microsoft and other platform holders, and we make these deals when things fit in place. I'm not involved directly, but our third-party team is always talking to publishers, and I'm sure more things will come about all the time.
There was a distinct absence of PS Vita games shown, and following the absence at E3, I suppose that fact speaks for itself.
You mean at the press conference?
Ah yes there are some on the show floor.
Of course, but because you use your conferences to showcase your most important projects, I'm wondering if the absence at these events suggests Sony is slowing down the handheld side of the business?
Hmmn, well it's always about the choice of content. We could have used the event to talk about our new online services. Or the PS4's new system features. There are many things we're working on that we didn't have time for. I mean the conference we had was already at 90 minutes, and that is as much as people will be able to kind of stay focused. So we really wanted to prioritise on games we have on PS4 and PlayStation VR.
But still, great games are still coming out on Vita. I can't wait to play a game called Severed, by DrinkBox studios, they are one of my favourite indie developers. And there's Nuclear Throne, by Vlambeer, and Volume is a great game that I'm waiting to come out on Vita. I'm also really looking forward to Dragon Quest Heroes 2, the first one just came out on PS4 in the west but the sequel is coming out on PS4 and Vita too, so Square Enix and Japanese publishers are almost increasing their support.
In terms of first-party games, however, there won't be that same level of support.
Yes I've been pretty honest saying our focus has shifted to PS4 and PlayStation VR, it's not like we don't have any development at all. We do, but our focus is on PS4 and PlayStation VR, and we are happy to see third-parties and indies support it.
Do you want and do you foresee the PlayStation Vita business continuing in the next year and the year beyond that?
Yeah I do, I do, but we have to see. Nowadays, still people are excited and using Vita very frequently, it's a great portable gaming system. As long as there is a demand, why not.
Of course part of your focus now is PlayStation VR, and it was interesting that there were no details on release date or price. Why is this? Are you still trying to get the costs down?
Well we're still not ready for a date and price, but the hardware has been going very well. It's pretty much done, but the team in Tokyo is working hard to get the system software and the SDK done and continually improve it, to make sure that the experience is great for customers and developers.
We also want to make sure that when we launch we also have a good selection of games, so it's a bit too early to sort out a price and date.
It's good to hear you want to prioritise the quality of your launch titles, because it's not quite the same as a console launch, in that, one bad experience in VR could put customers off the whole technology.
Yeah, pretty much we agree with the Oculus people, and the HTC Vive, and Valve people, that we care so much about the future of virtual reality and we want all of us to do the right thing. When we release to the consumer, it needs to be really good.
So, every time I interview you, I always ask you about the Last Guardian. I thought I wouldn't need to ever ask you again after it was shown at E3.
You can still ask!
I wondered how it's progressing. Obviously it hasn't been shown since.
Well, development is going well, but because it's about the story, we don't want to show too much. We wanted to show that it exists, it works, it runs. It's not like we won't show anything before launch, but I think we will try to limit what we show about the game.
What the team did at The Tokyo Game Show was create a gigantic interactive Trico [the game's bird-dog-cat-hybrid creature] projected onto the wall at the Sony booth, and it followed people around. It was great, I wish we had it in Paris.
I was hoping you could clear something up for me. Sony is helping fund and publish the Shenmue 3 project, so my assumption was always that this meant it will be a console exclusive, or a timed one, or there was at least some form of business arrangement made. But I don't know what the deal is.
So it's Yu Suzuki-san's studio's project, which is an indie developer. Now there are many deals that SCEA and SCEE have made with indie developers, with regards to console exclusivity and timed exclusivity, and I do not remember exactly what we have been saying about it, but the developer has been saying it's coming to PS4 and... I think they are saying it's coming to PC? I'm not sure, I can't remember what it says on their Kickstarter.
It's a very unique, curious arrangement, isn't it?
It's true that SCEA has a deal with Yu Suzuki-san's company, to support in various ways, but it's not like we are funding it. We are helping with some financial support, but it's their project, which they have crowd-funded, and have investors to help with.
Well it's not unique in terms of making a deal with a developer that is funded primarily through Kickstarter. We have done many deals like that. What is unique is that we announced the Kickstarter on stage at E3.