Following our growing list of Ask Daily Reaction pieces, Adam Boyes, the VP of Publisher & Developer Relations at Sony Computer Entertainment America LLC asks the Daily Reaction crew of Sebastian Moss and Dan Oravasaari two very important questions.
If you had control to do anything you wanted, had full control over Sony platforms, what would you want to do?
Dan: Before we start I just wanted to say thank you to Adam Boyes for not only taking the time to give us a question, but for also theoretically giving us control over Sony’s platforms.
Well the first thing that I think that would need to be addressed is the social aspect of the Vita as a whole, especially when comparing it to the 3DS. The notable issue becomes readily apparent at any major gaming convention, as everyone is usually carrying their Nintendo handheld instead of a Vita. Putting sales figures aside for why there might be more 3DSes in the wild, the main reason so many people carry the handheld is because of Streetpass. That’s a feature that allows people to simply pass by other people with the Spotpass feature and interact with a version of their Mii avatar in various games.
The PS Vita has Near, a similar feature that looks for nearby Vitas, but not only is the feature convoluted, it doesn’t do much to bring people together. So, the first thing I would do is completely restructure Near into a much more useful and interactive experience that would do something like use PSN names for characters in a simple F2P RPG that gamers could earn trophies by being leveled up by other people – making trophy hunters and RPG fans want to use Near.
Past that, it has become more and more difficult to find things that really need to be fixed on the PlayStation platform, especially since the PS4 seems to be making great strides to fix some many of the shortcomings on the PS3. One thing, while almost trivial to some, would be switching to a better format than Fat32 for external HDDs, which is really becoming an issue for HD content due to its file size restrictions.
Moving on, I think one of the biggest issues Sony has had over the years has never really been the hardware, but simply getting the general consumer to understand what Sony has to offer. The way marketing has been handled over the years, to put it mildly, has been lacking. Most commercials do a great job of saying, ‘we are Sony, we are great,’ but every commercial ever does that, gamers want to know why. So with that, there needs to be a move away from commercials that are just built to get people talking, PlayStation doesn’t need the buzz, it needs the justification. This all comes down to a few simple things – games and the ability to connect with your friends on a level that no other system can.
The PS4 is looking to improve on every aspect of the Sony social ecosystem, but if no one knows about it, and what games are exclusive to it, no one will care. Microsoft is attaching their brand to homestays like Call of Duty and Halo, which works tremendously well in the US because people want to play with their friends – nothing is a better sales pitch than your friend picking up a specific console.
Initially, what needs to be done is that Sony needs to release commercials, or at the very least statements, thanking fans and supporters for being the most pre-ordered console on Amazon and selling out of stock within days – all to put the power of the brand into consumers’ minds before the system even hits stores. Mixing all of this with footage of Killzone: Shadow Fall, inFamous: Second Son and Knack, while emphasizing the free PS+ games would show incredible value per dollar – something most consumers should be able to understand.
Seb: I have the power! Thanks again, Adam, I can feel the energy coursing through my veins as I take control. Let’s start fixing things.
Yup, Dan is absolutely correct about marketing. While some big improvements have been made, a lot of work is still needed. For PS4, of course, it’s currently getting ready to fly off of shelves and sell out, but that doesn’t mean that marketing is wasted. Hype is an incredibly important commodity, and one that can be quickly lost.
A clear example of where hype has been lost is of course the Vita, which needs defibrillation right now. Price cuts can only go so far (although the memory cards still need to come down in price, and the 64GB needs to come over), what the Vita needs to be is interesting. Yes, we can argue night and day about whether the Vita has a great lineup, but that’s not the point – most consumers think it doesn’t have any support, or they don’t know what it is. Take advantage of the internet’s love for all things PlayStation right now, and channel that to the Vita. Advertise it. Now.
And for the love of god, ‘we’ need to announce some new AAA Vita games that aren’t ports! I like indies as much as the next guy, but I bought a powerful gaming handheld for games that push it to the limit. I don’t want to hear “every SCE studio is working on PS4 games” – what does that tell people about priorities? Even Sony Bend is working on a PS4 title, when you’d hope that they’d at least be fully focused on the Vita. Now that Adam has given me control over SCE, my first move is to get at least some internal studios behind their ‘other’ platform.
Luckily, there’s the PS Vita TV that could give new life to the Vita (although I still think they should drop the Vita name from it). The big problem, other than marketing, is that there’s a lot of competition on the horizon, including the fact that when the 360 gets an inevitable price cut it will be nearly the same, if not the same, price as the PSVTV + controller and memory. The PSVitaTV needs to be out soon, and Sony needs to market it to people who aren’t core gamers. A future version that supported other forms of memory storage, such as an external HDD or flash USB would also be far more useful.
To improve both the Vita and Vita TV, we at Sony need to bring on Bluepoint Games (if they want it) and grow the size of the studio to not only port more games, but also help out developers to rework some touch-based titles to work with the TV. Bluepoint is an invaluable studio that helps make the Vita relevant by doing a lot of the work other developers don’t want to. Sony’s casual studios should also turn their eyes to the Vita TV – SingStar on a $99 internet enabled console? Golden.
Next up is PlayStation Mobile. Does anyone remember that? If they do, they don’t work at Sony. There’s no point reiterating the fact that it’s been a massive failure so far, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead just yet. Small developers won’t support it en masse unless it’s already a success, so Sony needs to support it itself. I’ll be realistic – we can’t have Sony WWS stretched too thin, with PS4, PS3 and Vita – but PSM isn’t exactly the most expensive platform to support. Sony Santa Monica has a habit of bringing in a small studio like thatgamecompany or Giant Sparrow to work from their building and use their expertise, so seeing that done with even smaller teams would be great.
Also, after talking to a lot of people who work on huge 70+ teams, it’s clear that many developers end up feeling that they don’t have as much individual input on AAA games, and that they have to work for years on the same title. What some studios do to keep their creatives feeling fresh is game jams – tiny titles developed in a matter of hours, such as thatgamecompany’s Gravediggers. PSM should become a more experimental platform that takes some of Sony’s biggest IPs and just plays about with them in unique and exciting ways. PSM could be a great platform for very low cost titles that are totally out there.
Now let’s move onto the big guy, the PS4. Like Dan said, so much has been already fixed, and we’ve already told Mark Cerny some things we want changed, so I’ll focus more on studios. I wish Adam had brought me on earlier to stop the closure of some great teams like Zipper and Studio Liverpool, but sadly that’s too late. However, H-Hour looks incredibly promising, so I think we should send some representatives down there and talk about making it either an official Socom title, or at least backing it and helping development.
Another thing that we need to decide at Sony is how important sales really are. Sony says they don’t just make generic games and like to take risks, which has led to successes like Heavy Rain, but here’s the thing about risks – they don’t always pay off. Unfortunately, when they don’t pay off, Sony sometimes shuts down the dev or cuts ties with them – Eat.Sleep.Play, LightBox, SuperBot etc. Here at Sony we need to either embrace risks, and support developers when things go wrong, or stop doing them. I understand that developers that don’t perform well shouldn’t be kept, but if Sony greenlights a game that doesn’t have much chance of being a success from the get-go, they shouldn’t act so surprised when it inevitably fails.
Finally, I’ll expand my suggestions to all of Sony. Now Adam, I know you only gave me control of SCE, but this involves them, and I’m sure Kaz will listen to my reasoning. With Gaikai coming, at least to the US, next year, a rumored cable-killing service coming at the end of this year, and services like PlayStation Plus, Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited already out, more needs to be done to unify all the services under one umbrella – and don’t call it Qriocity. If there’s an option to get all of the above at a reasonable price, it would be one hell of a competitive service that only a company with the diverse range of entertainment mediums like Sony could pull off.
Ok, I could go on, and on, and on. But I’ll wrap up here for your sanity. SCE is in great shape with all the buzz behind the PS4, but we can’t rest on their laurels.
[As part of the games media], if you could ask any question, what would you want to ask? And how can we help you get that access?
Dan: I want to ask, how do we, as a site, or namely me as representative of PSLS, develop a better professional relationship with developers and publishers while still being able to maintain journalistic integrity?
We have seen first hand the issues that can arise from other publishers that didn’t like how we handled our review scores, and if you have ever read our Daily Reaction articles, you will know we don’t seek to play favorites. But, with games journalism the way it seems to be treated, and the way those publishers think of it – how can a publication be honest to the readers without ruining relationships within the industry?
When you represent a publication, your name becomes attached to every word that gets published, whether you have control over who says what or not. I have had publishers, admittedly not Sony, stop talking to me after getting ‘snotty’ about an off-hand remark that someone else made, even though I didn’t agree with it – but, the publishers that have games that I have honestly loved, treat me amazingly well. This type of dual-faced nature of some parts of the industry becomes a breeding ground for media outlets to treat everything as amazing, simply to build up a name with publishers, at the expense of their readers.
Seb: Agreed, it’s a shame that some publishers take it as a personal affront that some games journalists try to do their job, and luckily Sony hasn’t ever been one of those publishers. So on that front – don’t change.
One problem Sony, and pretty much every publisher, does have, however, is overbearing PR control in interviews. I can understand the worry that an interviewee may say something silly, or let something slip, but PR people take it too far – if you let them have control over an interview, there’s times where every shred of personality, opinion or individuality is taken out. There’s no use in that kind of interview, and I’m not just saying that because I want a special interview – readers have no connection to something that sounds like a press release, they’d rather have something with some personality.
Have you ever read a bunch of interviews and realized that the same thing is being said again and again? Often that’s because the interviewees are coached to say buzzwords, and then the interview is filtered through a PR person.
So, uh, I guess my question is, how do I make sure PR people don’t get upset when I don’t let that happen? Can publishers/PR people learn which websites do take quotes out of context, and stop giving them interviews and being surprised when that happens? Can publishers/PR people learn which websites don’t take quotes out of context and give them actual interviews?
This is all about access, and access is controlled by PR people. The way to improve that access can’t realistically be to remove PR people, I understand that, but at least decrease the control they try to exert over interviews and the like.
What would you do if you had control over Sony’s platforms? Who would you like to see next on Ask DR? Isn’t Adam Boyes awesome? We told you he was, now let us know in the comments below, email us at [email protected] and tweet us at Seb and Dan.