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PS3blog visits Sony’s 3rooms, part 2- Interviews

So after the presentation in part 1 we finally got to the part the audience had eagerly being awaiting… A Q and A session with Phil Harrison.

Enter Phil Harrison

Click the link for more information!

First thing worth noting is that Phil truly is a giant of a man, over a foot taller than myself. It can be fairly intimidating, but he seemed like a nice enough guy and was genuinely interested in answering the questions we forwarded.

Annoyingly our time with Phil had been restricted to 15 minutes between the whole group of bloggers. As a result, many questions did not get asked; that said the guys at threespeech hope to supply Phil with some of the issues that were not addressed and I also managed to get some useful information from one of Sony’s PR officers. So keep an eye out for some more answers appearing in the future.

As it was, I decided in the end to ask Phil the “industry personality” style question, rather than one central to the PS3, knowing I would have the opportunity to get bits on those out of the PR people scattered around. Here’s what went down.

PS3blog: Hi, I wanted to know what recent non-PlayStation titles have impressed you?

Phil Harrison: Hmmmm… I hate these kind of questions! (audience laughs). Hmmm… I suppose the one that has impressed me most, recently, has been Nintendogs on the DS. I was really amazed by how this game attracted many non-gamers to it. We’re not just talking little girls here either, we’re looking at quite a widespread audience and that’s what is most interesting.

Phil mulls over a question

PS3blog: So what is Sony doing with regards to this new approach to gaming?

Phil Harrison: Well we’ve been moving in a direction like this too with titles like Buzz, which we’ve sold nearly 2m copies of, and Singstar, which has sold 6m copies, both of which we see as developing the market and is something we intend to keep looking at as the PS3 develops.

I managed to ask a question he really did not like! That said he did give a pretty reasonable answer and it is interesting to see that developers are really sitting up and taking notice of how Nintendo’s approach with the DS has changed and rides with a fundamental shift in the nature of the gaming industry. It is clear that Phil was very impressed by how Nintendogs had grabbed a different audience. Anyway, here are some of the other questions covered by other bloggers:

What are your thoughts on the future of PS3 homebrew applications?
Firstly Phil differentiated between positive and negative homebrew. Positive homebrew was the creation of new applications which gamers could use to give themselves their own content. Negative is when homebrew is used to do things which the hardware should not allow, for instance piracy. It’s clear that he was referring to the PSP homebrew as a negative application.

Phil saw Sony as having a strong heritage here starting with netyaroze on the PSOne which is where many of Sony’s designers started learning their craft. PS3 Linux takes this to the “Nth” degree and has the potential to deliver real results and some excellent new ideas from across the gaming community. When questioned though as to whether Linux would ever be allowed to access the RSX chip, Phil made it pretty clear that this was currently not an idea that Sony was interested in. Reading between the lines I can guarantee this is because RSX access by a PS3 Linux OS would give birth to easy and widespread PS3 piracy; locking the chip is most definitely a safety feature. Having said that, Phil explained that Linux’s detailed and evolving graphical libraries should allow users to gets a lot out of the system for home developed content.

What does Phil Harrison see as the future for the system?
Phil had a very optimistic outlook in regards to this question. He said that due to PS3’s open standard support that the PS3 should be an easily expandable device. He particularly drew out the USB and Bluetooth support, reminding the audience that it only takes some a software download to get USB devices working. Of course it is down to Sony to provide the software in most cases though, hopefully something that should be found in downloadable updates if the user base demands it. This was impossible on the PS2 with its rigid OS and poor connectivity, but the PSP shows the first steps of this plan and the PS3 will really run with it.

How does Sony intend to catch up with the competition on the online side?
As you may expect Sony have their own approach to how their console is going online. Whilst parts of the service are derisions of things Microsoft has done with XBL, there are other signs that Sony has its own plans to move things its own way. One of the most interesting things is that the network functionality is clearly, and always has been at the soul of the PS3, with Phil commenting that if he had the option “every PS3 sold would have to connect to the internet.” Obviously this is something that isn’t at all achievable, but it spoke volumes that the PS3 is a network based device. It does not appear that gaming is the be all and end all main focus of PS3 online, Sony is seeking to cover all your bases. Phil also briefly mentioned the availability of specialised, game relevant downloadable content, particularly citing Singstar’s forthcoming Singstore, as shop built into the actual game, but based on the PlayStation Store.

What is going on with GTHD?
I don’t think Phil quite got the point of this question, or he evaded it. I think the question was more about micropayments of which Phil would only really say that the strategy had “evolved” and that Kaz had more details on the final plans for GT5. He reiterated that come Christmas Eve Japanese users will be able to download GTHD for free from the PlayStation Store. He also said that there was no reason why it should not be available as a freebie download from day one in Europe.

Can we expect PlayStation Store Cards for Europe and what downloadables should we expect for launch?
Previously Sony has commented that there will be no PlayStation Store cards for Europe, but somewhat annoyingly Phil managed to avoid this part of the question, instead only giving a vague comment that he cannot confirm the schedule for downloadable titles. 😕 Hopefully Sony will go on to give further comment at some point in the near future.

Will you be able to download music from, lets say, Sony’s Connect store?
Phil answers this one quite simply. Yes. There is no reason why you would not be able to download files from other, non-Sony, sites and save them to your PS3 either. The PS3 is not just restricted to Sony’s media content, although that does help.

Will Sony look to support VGA cables?
To quote Phil directly “Now this is going to seem like an anti-Xbox360 comment…” at which point he was interrupted by an audience member who let out a “Yeah!” followed by the audience laughing. Phil went on to say that HDMI would be the focal point of PS3’s video output, with it standing as a next generation standard of connection (the implication being that VGA would not be properly supported as an older standard).

I also don’t exactly recall how the question developed, but another interesting point Phil raised is how Sony intends to grow the market. There were more reasons to own a PS2 than a PSOne and there will be more reasons to own a PS3 than a PS2. Phil can see anybody owning a PS3 due to its breadth of features. Will this tactic work? Well we’ll have to see. I’m wary of the “jack of all trades aster of none” mantra, but I think the evolving nature of the machine’s firmware and software should just about allow the PS3 to eventually perform what any user would expect of it.

Anyway, there ends the chat with Harrison section… well kind of. Just as he was leaving a few more people sneaked in some questions and grabbed some quick answers as Phil hung around for a couple more minutes. The only one I picked up on was the one that people had been debating should have been the last question asked in the actual Q and A… “When will Europe get the PS3?” Phil’s response was a diplomatic but disappointing “Sony is still aiming for a March 2007 European launch.” So I headed downstairs to try the hardware and chat to any other reps…

People play the PS3

I ended up speaking to one of Sony’s senior PR bods who had risen through the ranks from his days at Psygnosis. He was your typical scouser (Liverpudlian) and for those of you don’t get what that means- funny and quick witted. By the end of our conversation he was giving me some great answers, a really decent guy. Anyway, in brief, here is what I got, some of this is paraphrased, but I literally am going on what he said.

Do you have a European launch date, system availability and price information?
The company is targeting March, before the end of its financial year. If anything we should be looking at early March for the system, although we have to let retailers know a firm date before you guys. There’s nothing to lose by launching over here even with limited numbers, whereas waiting could cause more issues.

The UK will see the 20GB model, right?
Hmmmmm… Yes, but maybe not in huge quantities. The consumer demand seems to be for the 60GB model and we don’t want to make the same mistakes Microsoft did at the 360 launch where customers got stuck with a less popular model and needed to upgrade later on. As for the price the £425 figure is definitely an upper limit. If anything it will be below that.

How many launch games will we see?
Between 20 and 30. Do not necessarily expect all of the American sports titles to come across though.

Will the user ID sign up go live for Europe?
Yes, we are still working on that. We have had quite a few issues to contend with but it should go live sooner than you think.

Will in-game multi-tasking become possible? Can you listen to your music whilst playing a game, or bring up the web-browser?
Yes. A future firmware update will allow you to do that. This will also allow background downloading.

Will you release a USB wi-fi connector for the 20GB model?
Sony isn’t really looking to release its own accessories right now, especially since you probably find other accessories for the open system which will be cheaper from other suppliers. We cannot compete with that. That said, it really is just a case of the USB adapter’s software being supported which is something that can be sorted out via firmware.
-When asked as to whether a USB TV adaptor would be possible he said it would, but that Sony would need to provide the software if it was implemented.-

Will we see price parity on PlayStation Store offerings worldwide?
Save for currency conversions (I’m taking that to mean that if the US price for something is xyz then it should be no more than 50p more/less in the UK) we intend to offer a very close pricing structure the world over. If the prices were massively different between the US, Japan and Europe you guys would find out relatively easy and we would have no real explanation for this not having to package or ship the games.

When will the new Eyetoy be out?
I’m yet to see it, but look towards March when Eye of Judgement should be out. I think the one at TGS may have been a prototype, but do not hold me to that.

Do you mind talking to me about Sony and your PR situation with PS3?
Firstly, do not expect any big, celebratory launches with the PS3 in Europe. We don’t have much to celebrate… “Hey, it’s our console and it’s late!” doesn’t really sound too good. We didn’t make that big a deal out of our US or Japanese launches either, apart from getting the console out of the door we knew that things were lacking, particularly with supply.

Secondly we know and accept that E3 2006 was an absolute disaster for the company and the PlayStation line. Since then we’ve always been on the backfoot and in regular cases we’ve actually conspired to make things harder through things that have been said. We need to change our approach to become a more open and honest company. I’d say that before we were definitely quite arrogant back then.

The rep also mentioned that he too had seen some snippets of Killzone PS3, but said that information would be released when the game was in a suitable state to demonstrate publicly. He stated that whilst he had only seen a few videos, the game was approaching the lofty standards set by the E3 2005 video.

And that’s that! I’d just like to thank Phil and the PR team for their time. I got some really insightful and truly interesting comments. Thanks again guys!

In part 3, due on Thursday, I’ll offer my impression of the hardware and sum up the event.