Back at the Game Developer’s Conference, GameDaily got the chance to sit down with Scott Steinberg, the Vice President of Product Marketing over at Sony Computer Entertainment America, in order to talk about numerous subjects, such as how Blu-ray has toppled HD-DVD, what is happening in terms of the PlayStation 3’s current worldwide standing and its future, reaching out to the market Nintendo seems to have cleverly tapped into, Grand Theft Auto IV details and much more.
First up, when it was revealed that Microsoft would be favouring the HD-DVD format, whilst Sony was going to back the Blu-ray DVD format instead, many believed a bitter fight would ensue. However, Toshiba very recently decided to bow out of the race, leaving Blu-ray to rule to roost. Clearly this proved to be a major blow to the Xbox 360, whilst on the flip side was a considerable bonus for the PlayStation 3. Steinberg was quick off the mark to reveal how he believed the news was indeed huge and significant to the competition. As he states,
“…once the standard battles subside as they have, I think the opportunities for us at retail increase; instead of trying to support two systems and platforms retail now focuses on Blu-ray, both as a video game platform and as a consumer electronics device. The movie studios now get behind Blu-ray and start promoting their movies on Blu-ray and that becomes part of their lingua franca, their manner by which they market. It just winds up escalating the installed base growth.”
He drills the point home by commenting on how there will have been many PlayStation 2 owners that have been sitting on the fence for quite a while now, but will now have the incentive to upgrade without fear of buying into a “dead format”. This now gives Sony a lot of momentum to cease all the talk about standards and instead focus on the games more.
Sony PlayStation 3’s Home - the way forward?
Game Daily went on to quiz Steinberg about when the PlayStation Network is set to receive an overhaul, with Sony responding positively to user feedback and demands in general from consumers. Straight away his response was that 2008 is set to be an important year for two main reasons. The first one being the software line-up, which “we’re ecstatic about” since “we’ve got an incredibly diverse lineup”. Elsewhere there is Home to look forward to, with the closed beta testing already underway right now and full functionality being rolled out later in the year. He stresses that “2008 is going to be the year where both on the service side as well as on a Blu-ray side, you’re going to see everything that we’ve got.”
Moving on from this, when pushed into a corner about consumer confusion over the various SKUs that have been released onto the market so far, the answer was quite blunt, “It hasn’t hurt Apple.” Elaborating slightly, he continued by revealing how surprisingly the 80GB SKU has sold considerably more than expected, despite the extra $100 price-tag attached, thus going against what many critics believed would happen. He was unable to clearly answer about further changes to the units on offer, since Sony is constantly looking at the marketplace to see whether or not the marketplace can support the two-tier approach, taking on advice from retailer partners and coming to the best final business decision. The same goes for packing-in the DualShock 3, rather than the now somewhat defunct Sixaxis-sans-rumble - the answer is simply that he does not know what will happen. However, “peripherals are going to get a much better focus from us – 2008 in addition to being the year of the software and the network will be the year of the peripheral for us.” There are plenty of games in the pipeline that will make use of the DualShock 3, so his only major worry is whether there will be enough volume to meet the obvious increased demand.
As for whether or not the PlayStation 2, which is still remarkably strong given that it is now in its eighth year on the market, can become Sony’s answer to the Wii, attracting some of the casual userbase that Nintendo has tapped into, Steinberg said:
“I can say that the PS2 continues to break records. 41 million+ in the back pocket. I would say that the kind of games that we’re building out and the peripherals for PS2 are in line with where the eighth year of a 10-year life cycle is. I think the price point alone and the causal games like Guitar Hero, Singstar and Buzz! are enough to get that casual consumer over. I think a Wii Remote style would feel a bit less innovative on the PS2, so I don’t think we have any plans to go there. I think it’s interesting to think of what different controller configurations could do for the PS3 and possibly for the PS2, but as a Wii Remote knock off, I don’t think we’re in the business of creating knock offs. I don’t think we need too; we’re over 41 million installed base. I think those folks and households who still do not have a PS2 are pretty small, and I think those folks are buying a PS2 because it’s a DVD player as well as a game machine, so they get the utility. They don’t want to have two machines. They’re new into the game business, so it’s really about a $129 price point, not the $250 that the Wii offers and it’s a catalogue of games. We’ve got thousands of products to choose from. Those are the tipping point forces that are getting the new PS2s sold through and I think adding some gimmicks aren’t in the near future plans.”
As for the PlayStation 3 becoming more accessible to the mass market, Steinberg very defensively states how Sony is managing to sell a considerable amount of units through the likes of Target and Circuit City in the US and the company’s top ten accounts include mass merchants. Yet Game Daily redefine’s its point by talking about how Peter Molyneux of Lionhead has recently discussed how he is attempting to streamline the control system of Fable 2 on the Xbox 360 so much that it does not use all of the buttons on the system’s controller in an effort to attract more gamers. Steinberg is non-plussed by this, though, believing that Blu-ray is the key to getting the PlayStation 3 into the average user’s home, just as the fact that the PlayStation 2 had DVD support was a major reason for its success. Also, the fact that the PlayStation 3 controller set-up is barely different to that of the DualShock 2 means a ‘memory map’ is in place “that will not have to be relearned, so I think from a qualitative perspective that enables easy upgrade for the 41+ million”.
Passing over that clearly sensitive topic, the subject of Mass Effect from EA-owned Bioware coming to PlayStation 3 was broached, to which Steinberg said he could not comment on it directly, but “can say with a lot of authority that games are getting bigger and bigger and it’s more of a struggle for third-party companies to design for DVDs; they just don’t have the capacity for the big blockbuster games that we’re leading as far as first party on the PS3 and you’re going to start to see more from third-party companies, Metal Gear Solid 4 as an example, that tips the scale on gig size and you’ll see games 30, 40, 50 gigs shipping in 2008.” Unless, of course, people are still willing to tolerate the annoyance of having to disc swap constantly.
Grand Theft Auto IV (Rockstar, PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360)
As for how Microsoft was able to not only lure Rockstar and Take-Two Interactive into bringing what was predominantly viewed by many as a franchise that favoured Sony platforms to the Xbox 360, but also secure exclusive episodic content for its home console, Steinberg replied:
“The short answer on the episodic content is that they spent the GNP of several small Latin American countries to get that, and if you’ve ever played San Andreas…there’s a lot of game to Grand Theft Auto and there’s going to be a lot of game to Grand Theft Auto IV to the point where I think most people will have that Grand Theft Auto experience on the PS3, day and date, same core game shipping on the 360. Perhaps they’ll be shipping some episodic content in the fall, but there is a whole lot of product shipping on the PS3 in April and I personally don’t think there’s going to be a huge percentage of folks who jump into downloadable content for another price when they’re still playing through the core product. So while I do think having that brand on their system was a move for them which they felt they needed to make because they cut a big check for it, I think PlayStation fans know the Grand Theft Auto experience on the PS2 is how they grew up playing Grand Theft Auto, and when you combine GTA IV with MGS 4 and Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, all the exclusive content that we’ve got going forward, I think that goes from tipping point to shoving point for consumers who are on the fence, wondering what platform should I buy. I think the clear exclusive message that we have is that the PS3 is where, not only do you get Grand Theft Auto, but you’ll get MGS, you’ll get Gran Turismo and these are also brands that have moved hardware units. It’s the elite of the elite products that actually enable hardware to be sold with software and we’ll have three of them.”
Be sure to read more over at the original article, and stick around on Playstatic for further updates…