This is part of our ongoing series about games and trends of the upcoming next generation.
Sony Computer Entertainment executives like to say that they don’t really care about or react to the competition — I’ve heard it more than a few times behind the scenes. But we’ve all seen evidence to the contrary. Take this past June’s E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo game industry trade show. On stage at its own press conference, Sony announced its stance (at the time) on used games for the upcoming PlayStation 4 console to the delight of the crowd. It was clearly a shot at Microsoft’s perceived draconian policies on the Xbox One — but that’s perfectly OK. To think that Sony would do its business in a hermetically sealed bubble is just unrealistic, no matter what its representatives say publicly.
This week, the company ran an extravagant two-day press event in New York City to promote the Nov. 15 launch of the PS4. There I had a chance to interview Adam Boyes, the vice president of publisher and developer relations for Sony Computer Entertainment America. I wanted to avoid the standard, cookie-cutter set of launch-week questions — questions that Boyes admitted he had been hearing plenty of from other members of the press. So I decided to press on something Sony is traditionally uncomfortable with tackling: its competition. Not necessarily as an excuse to bring up mobile gaming, Nintendo, Microsoft, and Steam as direct competitors but to see how the PlayStation 4 fits into the modern gaming marketplace.
More than once, Boyes’ PR handler gave me a concerned look about my line of queries, but honestly, they’re not supertough or inappropriate questions, and Boyes handled them like a pro anyway.
Maybe Sony execs are comfortable with this stuff after all.
Above: Adam Boyes, SCEA’s VP of publisher and developer relations and a big fan of food metaphors.
Adam Boyes: I love that, in [PlayStation 4's] launch week, we’re talking about console death. [Laughs]
GamesBeat: What are your thoughts? How does the PlayStation 4 fit into this new age?
Boyes: Mobile has made a massive impact on the gaming industry in general. It’s broadened gaming content to more people than ever before. More people now think about a game than in the history of time. That’s great for everyone.
The way I like to often compare it: I think mobile does a great job of making snackable content: stuff that you’re going to fire up here and there … smaller, bite-sized stuff. But people will always want that big, huge experience. If we compare it to snacking, people want to sit down for that nice 12-course meal and have some appetizers and a nice wine and all. That’s the way we think about the PlayStation 4. It’s the place that delivers that big, huge, amazing, impactful content.
As all these seeds have been planted around the world with these mobile gamers, if we see an evolution of content for mobile — version one to version two to version three and getting more immense — I think that is going to grow gamers into wanting that big, huge meal-sized experience that PS4 delivers.
I do think, though, because of the amount of content, it becomes challenging to get noticed on mobile. That’s another thing we’ve focused on with PS4: bringing more discoverability to games and content.
GamesBeat: How is it different? The PlayStation Network store has a lot of digital games, including triple-A products. How are you going to solve that discoverability problem?
Boyes: The stores — any way you slice it, there’s always going to be finite shelf space. From a functionality perspective … the social elements — when you go to the What’s New tab on the PS4, you see all the stuff your friends are playing. If they’re live streaming, it’s right there. If they uploaded a video, it’s right there.
Above: Sony’s Adam Boyes plays Candy Crush Saga. We just wanted to make sure everyone saw that.
Image Credit: King
When I’m playing on a mobile phone, I don’t know what my friends are doing. I don’t really care. I’m doing my own little thing, usually secretly, because I don’t want them to know how far I am in Candy Crush Saga. [Laughs]
But [PS4] really broadens that exposure. My brother isn’t much of a hardcore gamer, right? He buys about three games a year. When he sees me playing games, he’s like, “Oh, just my brother playing another crazy game. I don’t know what it is.” Now, though, he’s going to be able to tap in when I’m streaming and watch it live and be able to go straight to the storefront and purchase it.
When I look at top 10 charts, I don’t base a purchase solely on that. I usually look at Twitter. What games are people talking about? Once I see four, five people talking about something, that’s when I buy it.
Also, I think, outside, it’s not just about the PS4. When you have the PlayStation companion app [for tablets and smartphones], you’re going to be able to look at all of these videos and content from wherever you are and purchase stuff remotely. It wakes up your PS4 and starts downloading remotely. When you’re streaming on Twitch, and people are on their PC browser, they see this game, and they have the ability to go and buy it.
Just creating all that awareness — that’s the big thing that’s been lacking. There’s been no pathway to actually engage. That’s a really important thing that we’ve focused on trying to solve.
GamesBeat: So discoverability on the PS4 will come from the community, from your group of friends. How do you prevent a rich-get-richer type of situation? For example, when Grand Theft Auto V came out, when Call of Duty: Ghosts came out, those sorts of big games start dominating my friends list. How do smaller games like Contrast not get overwhelmed by the triple-A titles?
Boyes: I think it all depends on who your friends are. [Laughs] I have a bunch of people that I know are kind of the cutting-edge people, the people who are always checking out the new stuff. Over time, I start to understand that I always love whatever content that person loves. I think we’re going to get a lot of it from that.
On the platform side, we’re trying to do as much as we can to make sure you see a vibrant array of content. It’s not just, “Here’s the only game you’re going to see.” You’re going to see different updates from different games, which is really important.
Above: Can an artsy indie game like Contrast stand out with the PS4′s new social-sharing features? Or will those feeds be dominated by the Call of Dutys and Grand Theft Autos?
Image Credit: Sony
GamesBeat: Let’s move on to the Wii U. With the PlayStation Move motion controller, the PlayStation Camera, it seems the PlayStation platform has gone more mainstream and family friendly lately. Is Nintendo a competitor there? Can you do some things right in the market that they’re not doing well?
Boyes: I have huge respect for a lot of their first-party [intellectual properties]. What we’re focused on is not only making sure that we deliver amazing gourmet content but also providing all the tools for [developers] to bring a broad range of content.
[Indie adventure game] Octodad is a perfect example. I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old at home. I try to bring as many things home as possible to play with them. With Octodad, they sat there for 20 minutes, and they were more engaged. I’ve played a lot of Nintendo games with them, and they’re like, “Cool, dad, whatever” within 10 minutes. But with just one of the scenes in Octodad — you have to deliver milk to a little girl from the fridge, that’s it – they were just mesmerized.
I think the way in which you create a console, to deliver as much broad content as possible, that helps a lot.
I just love that these guys — the Octodad team, Young Horses in Chicago. We sent them a PS4 development kit very early on. Within four weeks they sent us back [an early demo of the game]. To me, that said that we’ve really made it super easy to develop for our console, whereas in the past you never could have done that. If you look back six years, it was never possible for a team to be that agile. That’s what has informed a lot of the policies that we’re trying to make and improve.
GamesBeat: What are your thoughts on what Steam is doing, especially in the living-room space?
Boyes: I have a ton of respect for them. They’ve done a good job of creating a great platform. What they’re doing is interesting, with the controller and stuff like that. Again, I think that if you want to have the best VIP experience in your living room, I still think PlayStation is the place to do that because of the breadth of content and things like that. Steam still plays a very important role in the ecosystem within many people’s gaming experiences, though, whether it’s the den or the bedroom. I play a lot of stuff on Steam. I’m a big fan.
Above: The Steam controller.
Image Credit: Valve
GamesBeat: Do you think a Steam console could live side by side with the PlayStation 4?
Boyes: I just don’t think that they’re in the hardware game. They’re trying to create services. What we’re doing is trying to make that whole entire living room experience, and then you start extending it with PS Vita and Remote Play and what we’re doing in Japan with PS Vita TV. We’re creating more ubiquitous ways to get the content.
Once [cloud gaming service] Gaikai comes online, you’ll see a lot more of the stuff we’re doing there. All of a sudden it becomes a lot clearer that we’re trying to build out that content to as many screens as humanly possible. That’s where creating that ubiquity to that gourmet content, being both a hardware company primarily and then also with software … it’s just a different slant that we’re taking.
GamesBeat: How about Xbox One?
Boyes: We’ve been focused from day one on gamers and the best video game content for games. I think [Microsoft has] been focused on a broader reach. PS4 put gamers first from the start. We learned our lesson on PS3, when we went a bit broader. Now we’re back to the basics of making the best console with the highest performance humanly possible.
GamesBeat: Reading between the lines, you’re obviously referring to when Microsoft first revealed the Xbox One. It talked a lot about the TV side of things — its integration with cable. Does Sony not see that as a priority?
Boyes: No, we’ve talked about it. At E3, we talked about the stuff we’re doing with Sony Pictures. We’ve recently announced all the great video services we’re going to have online. So that’s absolutely part of it.
But primarily the focus is to have amazing game content. That’s why we put so much focus on putting in the GDDR5 [graphics memory], putting in a great GPU [graphics processing unit], being able to push as many pixels as possible — to deliver all that. I think we’ve built a really great ecosystem [with second-screen functionality with the PS Vita and companion apps, and with social sharing] that continues to extend that core gaming experience. We’re going to have other stuff here and there that complements smaller, bite-sized content, but that’s really our focus, and we’ve been doing a pretty good job so far.