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PlayStation (Games) Sony

Phil Harrison Answers Your Questions 185

Posted by Zonk
from the ulp-tough-room dept.
Right around this time last month, we asked for your questions to pass on to President of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios Phil Harrison. With the launch of the PlayStation 3 console in Europe, Mr. Harrison has had kind of a full month. He still found us the time to answer your questions, and today we have them to read. Below are his very thorough responses to the questions you posed, ranging in subject from the European delay to the public perception of SCEA. Make sure to give them a look, and many thanks again to Mr. Harrison for his time.
1.) 'Ask 1996-Phil' by The-Bus
According to your Wikipedia bio, you joined SCEA in 1996. If you could go back in time and give professional advice to your 1996 self, what would you say? If you were to give professional advice to people interested in entering the industry today, what would it be?

Phil Harrison: Wikipedia is great, but as you probably know, my bio was not written by me, so I'd not trust it completely...I actually joined Sony's game division in 1992 just before SCE was formed. I joined the nascent Computer Entertainment Project to help bring PlayStation to the European developer community, while simultaneously kick-starting our in-house development team in London. I moved to the US in 1996. To answer your time travel question, the professional advice I'd give myself is to "think bigger". When we launched PlayStation we really had no idea we'd be talking about an industry that would more than triple in size and reach a 3rd of US homes so quickly. If I'd had the chance to revisit my 1996 self I would have encouraged him to be more ambitious, bigger scale, more aggressive in changing the way games were made and also to have invested more heavily in creating online experiences - however experimental, however unsuccessful.

As for professional advice to how to get into the industry, the way I came in to the business was a rocky road which, frankly, has got even harder since I made it my full-time career in 1987. The entrepreneurial, freelancer approach is very difficult without a portfolio of work or very good contacts. My advice to anyone thinking about joining this industry is first and foremost get as much formal education as you possibly can. If you are interested in a programming or technical career, a degree in a computer science-related area is vital, as is a very high level of mathematics. Specialize as late as you can in your educational path. For an artist or designer, the need for a degree is less vital if you have a clearly demonstrable talent, but that puts the emphasis on a brilliant, and differentiated, portfolio of work. Even so, I would encourage anyone to get a well-regarded degree-level education as a minimum before even considering applying for a position. Animators and 3D modellers should take advantage of systems at school to start building a portfolio of work. Putting up your own website is a great way of pointing potential employers at your work - even if it's a selection of 10 second clips or a gallery of rendered stills. But please make them different and unusual. Finally, when you come to an interview make sure you are prepared! Research the company you are applying to, play their games, be prepared to comment on industry trends and issues and know as much as you can about the area you are interested in working in. Go to GDC if you possibly can, make friends through the various online communities and societies dedicated to game developers and start building up an industry "buddy list". It will come in very useful.

Both really great questions, by the way.

2.) 'Philosophy of gaming...' by 7Prime
What is your personal philosophy regarding the future of videogames as a genre? For example, where do you see games, in terms of social and cultural identification, 20 years from now, and how do you think the nature of the PS3 plays into the culmination of this overall vision?

Phil Harrison: Another very good question - and hard to answer properly in the space available. My personal philosophy is to make the entertainment experience of videogames available to everyone. I want to see the audience of people who play videogames, of any type, on any device, include practically anyone on the planet. Whether it be an immersive action game that appeals primarily to young adults, or a casual game that is enjoyed by the entire family, I hope that videogames and electronic forms of interactive entertainment continue to expand to new audiences, all the time. Linked to that, I want to see videogames given more credibility as a mainstream form of entertainment through appropriate cultural commentary and criticism. If you read a newspaper in pretty much any country in the world, you will read intelligent discourse on the cultural impact of film, music, literature, theatre, television, radio, art and fashion every day - although it's unusual to read anything about videogames apart from occasional reviews. There are, of course, exceptions - and it is thankfully changing, but we've still a long way to go as category or a genre before we can be considered culturally and socially significant. This is changing - and anyone who plays games will see the influence game graphic design has today on general graphic design in a multitude of ways - from websites and posters to TV commercials. What I hope is that 20 years from now the distinctions will be completely overcome and videogames as a passtime will be given the same cultural and social currency as a book, a film, a TV show or a piece of architecture. After all, the popular culture creators of 20 years from now will all, largely, have grown up playing, or at least being intimately aware of, videogames. The writers and commentators on those same popular culture creators will all have had the same experience playing videogames growing up - at which point the circle is complete. I don't think there is a culmination to this overall vision - it will be a constant process. Each successive platform brings new technology to the experience of games and helps expand the audience still further. I hope PS3 will be seen 20 years from now as a crucial influence in the growth of our industry.

3.) 'Choices' by mothlos and drinkypoo
Now that you have a few months with PS3s in the hands of consumers and plenty of reviews to pour over, is there anything that you would have done differently in designing the machine? Given the problems that seem to have come with Blu-Ray, does it still look like including the drive in the system was worth it? And if so, was it worth it for the PS3, for the Blu-Ray format, or for both?

Phil Harrison: First of all, I would not take credit for designing the machine. As Chairman and CEO - and head of the architecture lab in SCEI Tokyo, Ken Kutaragi is responsible for the hardware design strategy for SCE. I think that PlayStation 3 is a masterpience of design and technology - it packs a huge amount of performance into an amazingly small (and quiet) box. Now it may not yet be apparent what all that technology is actually for - something that gives us plenty to focus on for the next few years - the overall design of the machine is very good. The Cell processor is wildly powerful and developers are now beginning to understand what that means for game design. The choice of putting a hard disk drive in every machine was the absolute right decision technically, but is a tough choice financially. There is no denying we had some start-up challenges with Blu-ray at the beginning but that is the price you pay for leading edge technology. Thankfully, those challenges are behind us and I stand firmly by the decision to include BD-ROM as the physical media format. Next generation game design demands the capacity of Blu-ray. Once we'd adopted BD as a game format, there was little incremental cost to support BD as a movie format. Given that the majority of BD movies are now using dual layer (50GB) discs, we're seeing the importance of the higher BD capacity much earlier in the life of the format compared to DVD. First and foremost, I believe it was the right decision for PlayStation 3 to use BD for games - and the fact that is helps kick-start BD as the next generation movie format is a bonus for all of us, players and game-makers.

4.) 'Homebrew Gaming' by Anonymous Coward, maynard, and flitty
If someone manages to get homebrew games running on the PS3, will there be firmware updates to stop this kind of development, to protect your software developers, or is homebrew something you are planning on and even encouraging? Is there a chance that the policy of restricting access to PS3 graphics hardware (via the hypervisor) could be revised to encourage us homebrew developers? How does this strategy differ from your strategy with PSP homebrew? Has Sony considered offering kernel patches and an RSX optimized OpenGL library for PS3/Linux?

Phil Harrison: Now, let me first say that Homebrew is sometimes a misused term and so for the purposes of this answer I will exclude pirates and hackers with illegal intentions from the definition.

I fully support the notion of game development at home using powerful tools available to anyone. We were one of the first companies to recognize this in 1996 with Net Yaroze on PS1. It's a vital, crucial aspect of the future growth of our industry and links well to the subtext of my earlier answers. When I started making games on the Commodore 64 in the 1980's, the way I learned to make games was by re-writing games that appeared in magazines. Really the best bit about a C64 was when you turned it on it said "Ready?" with a flashing cursor - inviting you to experiment. You'd spend hours typing in the code, line-by-line, and then countless hours debugging it to make it work and then you'd realise the game was rubbish after all that effort! The next step was to re-write aspects of the game to change the graphics, the sound, the control system or the speed of the gameplay until you'd created something completely new. I might share this with a few friends but not for commercial gain at that time. But the process itself was invaluable in helping me learn to program, to design graphics, animations or sounds and was really the way I opened doors to get into the industry. Now, those industry doors are largely closed by the nature of the video game systems themselves being closed. So, if we can make certain aspects of PS3 open to the independent game development community, we will do our industry a service by providing opportunities for the next generation of creative and technical talent. Now having said all that, we still have to protect the investment and intellectual property rights of the industry so we will always seek the best ways to secure and protect our devices from piracy and unauthorized hacking that damages the business.

5.) 'Retaining PS3 Exclusives' by Sciros
With a number of previously-PS3-exclusive titles having gone multiplatform, are there any efforts to prevent this from occurring in the future, or is it of little concern to SCE?

Phil Harrison: We have the widest selection of meaningful exclusives on PlayStation 3 - by virtue of our own investments in our development studios and strategic support of independent developers and publishers. I really don't believe gamers mind who makes the game, so long as the games they buy on their system are the best games they can get anywhere - and that their system investment is secure in the knowledge that there are plenty more coming in future. Within SCE Worldwide Studios we have the largest platform-dedicated development resource in the industry - with more people, and more teams, dedicated to making games exclusively for PlayStation 3. So my main "concern" is to make sure those games are absolutely the best they can be.

6.) 'Rumble' by SuperCharlie
How long will we have to wait until we see a first party controller with rumble?

Phil Harrison: As we've only recently resolved our legal differences with Immersion, it's a little early to answer this. However, you can play games on PS3 that support devices that have force-feedback already, most notably driving games through steering wheels. 7.) '20 GB PS3' by !ramirez Why is Best Buy discontinuing sales of the 20 GB PS3?

Phil Harrison: I can't comment on any specific retailer's stocking decisions, but I think that retailers know their customers very well and make their product selections based on anticipated demand. In Europe, we've only sold the 60GB version based on retailer demand and over 800,000 units have already been sold in just over 2 weeks.

8.) 'Europe?' by Ant P. and Zonk
Given that the hardware sold in Europe has less robust backwards compatibility than in the US and Japan, and the high price the console sells at because of the VAT, do you feel that you've in any way alienated the European gamer? Can you give us some insight into why the EU launch of the system has been so long delayed?

Phil Harrison: It was an unfortunate and unavoidable problem caused by the slower-than-anticipated ramp up of the production on the Blue Laser Diode, a key part of the BD drive technology. Although this is now well behind us, we could not predict the production volume with any degree of certainty to launch globally in all markets at the same time back in November 2006. However, we have more than recovered from this situation with what is objectively a very well-executed launch in Europe with a great selection of games on disc and network. Gamers have responded really positively and purchased over 800,000 units already making it the most successful launch in the history of the video games industry in Europe. I accept that is not entirely satisfactory compensation for having to wait, but we were able to reward European gamers with a free copy of Casino Royale on BD when they registered for the PlayStation Network.

9.) 'Public Image' by Gothic_Walrus
People on the internet and in the tech media in general have been raking the PS3 and Sony over the coals, with a noticeable backlash directed towards Sony's PR department. Debacles like Jack Tretton's 'you can't find the PS3 in stores' comment, and 'All You Want For Christmas is a PSP', has left some gamers with the impression that Sony thinks poorly of them. You in particular have taken a lot of fire as one of the main figures connected to the PlayStation 3, and the consensus seems to be that Sony has a lot of work to do to win over the gaming public. I'd like to ask you, then, how is Sony going to go about changing this mindset? Are there any plans for this you'd be able to share with us?

Phil Harrison: I really don't know how to answer that question entirely to your satisfaction, but allow me to try: I don't deny that we've made some mistakes and have been rightly flamed for some of them. We learn, we cringe slightly at the memory of some of them from time to time but we move on. And hopefully we're not stupid enough to repeat them! But I also have to point out that millions of people around the world have bought PS3s and are loving the experience - and frankly they become our advocates and evangelists far more effectively than I could ever be. If we continue to deliver great software, services and experiences to our gamers they'll become even more comfortable in recommending PS3 to their friends and family - that's what builds a loyal fanbase. We absolutely have a lot of work to do but I'm convinced we have the right strategy - and recent announcements like Home and Little Big Planet have resonated very positively with our audiences around the world, including some commentators who had been previously critical of us.

10.) 'Price drop?' by RyanFenton
I understand the strategy of never announcing price drops until they're imminent, but the PS3 is not even on many people's radar at the moment, because of the staggering price. Sony's CEO Howard Stringer has even stated that the price might be too high. Are you even considering price drops on the PS3 hardware?

Phil Harrison: Probably no surprise to hear that we've no plans to drop the price but it's also no surprise to anyone reading this that core to our business plan is growing the installed base of hardware. But price is only one part of the motivation to purchase a system. We need to maintain the high desire for the product through great software, services and support combined with great awareness. I want to make sure we're focused on the best possible gamer and user experience and that will bring PS3 onto more people's radar - to use your expression - much more effectively than simply dropping the price.

Phil Harrison
SCE Worldwide Studios
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Phil Harrison Answers Your Questions

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  • by DarkJC (810888) on Friday April 20, 2007 @05:34PM (#18817613)
    I'm a North American launch owner. Admittedly my initial reason for buying the console was MGS4. I'm a total fanboy for that series, so there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be getting a PS3.

    That said, I have no buyers remorse. I really do love it. I think the reason you don't see a huge amount of PS3 supporters here is not only because there still aren't a ton of systems out there, but because being Slashdot most likely they'll get flamed to hell or called retards for spending $600 on a game console etc etc.

    To give you an idea of how I use it, I currently have Resistance, Virtua Fighter 5, and Motorstorm. Resistance was a blast, and while I have no idea how it stands up to Gears (and it's definitely not a Halo killer) it still was great fun, especially with the imaginative weapons Insomniac loves putting in all their games. VF5 is great, lack of online play slightly disappointing but to be expected due to the nature of the fighting engine. Motorstorm I think was the title that most shocked me. I had been looking forward to it for quite a while after the demo but near release the reviews game out and it got relatively mediocre reviews, mainly because of the lack of game modes. So..I held back on my purchase for quite a while but ever since picking it up I'm glad I did. Not only are the graphics amazing, but the gameplay never ceases to be just downright fun, even with the lack of modes like single race and time trial.

    I'd also like to mention my thoughts on the PSN. Having very briefly used XBox Live I don't feel I'm qualified to give a comparison between the two, but my experience has overall been very nice. My only complaint is that Resistance didn't integrate it's buddy list with the PSN, something that my other online title, Motorstorm, does very nicely. However, both games are lag free, and Resistance has awesome matchmaking, clan support, and all that jazz built in. I always hear people with XBL touting those features and I just thought I'd point out that we too are enjoying them. As for the Playstation Store, they could use some fatter download pipes, but other than that it's decent. I definitely think the XBLA interface is much nicer though. The PS Store is basically a webpage, and can be sluggish.

    I did get Casino Royale to check out Blu-ray, and I was quite impressed. Not impressed enough to go and rebuy old DVDs though, however new purchases will probably be in Blu-ray if available. The picture quality is quite awesome, I just wish my receiver was newer so I could take advantage of the uncompressed LPCM 5.1 audio over HDMI. Oh, and I also convert a bunch of shows I download into a PS3 suitable format and transfer them over to watch them on the big screen.

    Overall it's a pretty great experience. I always had plans to get an XBox360 sometime down the line, but what I'm getting now from the PS3 will tide me over until there are a bunch of titles that interest me on the 360 (and maybe a price drop). With Heavenly Sword looking like it's shaping up to be a great game, Lair looking promising (although I'm not completely convinced yet) and some blockbuster hits coming at the end of this year I'm pretty excited. Honestly, I hope this doesn't sound too much like some PR zombie taking advantage of the situation, because I'm not. It's the first time I've really got into about how much I enjoy the experience in hopes of shedding some light on the parts of the PS3 that aren't that bad (namely everything but the price ;)

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