LOS ANGELES — So far, so good. Scott Rohde’s job with Sony’s game division in The U.S. is to make sure that Sony stays ahead in terms of the numbers and nature of exclusives for the PlayStation 4 video game console. At the company’s press conference at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Sony got plenty of validation for its strategy. And he showed off some cool games that are coming in the fall.
I caught up with Rohde, the head of Sony’s Worldwide Studios America, to talk about Sony’s PlayStation 4 line-up, the Project Morpheus virtual reality goggles, and the need to build new intellectual properties for video games.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: What did you think of the battle of the press conferences?
Scott Rohde: As usual, I thought everyone had some great things to show. I was very happy with what we showed. We had a nice mix of great new game content — that’s always going to be the focus – but we also showed that, because we’re Sony, we’re a global hardware company. We showed some hardware innovation as well in PS Now, PS TV, and Morpheus.
GamesBeat: Do you think of PS Now has a hardware project as well as software initiative?
Rohde: Maybe it’s a technology innovation, more than just hardware? That’s what you can call it.
GamesBeat: It’s good to see it on schedule.
Rohde: Yeah, July 31.
GamesBeat: How would you describe that project? Did it go as expected? Was it just a lot of hard engineering work that had to be done?
Rohde: For a full answer to that, you’re better off talking to Gaikai directly. From my perspective, I’ve seen some very skeptical development groups say, “Can you integrate God of War Ascension and get it working in the closed beta?” That process was very smooth, very short, and the skeptical dev community was surprised by how great the end result was. They said, “Wow, there’s my game on PS Now.” It’s working well.
GamesBeat: I noticed that with PS Now and these other things on PSN, you’re starting to get creative with different models. You’re giving some things away and charging for others, like with Far Cry 4.
Rohde: Far Cry 4 is a Ubisoft initiative. That’s born out of our partnership with them. They’re trying to push that and we’re supporting them. It’s an interesting concept, for sure, being able to share the game with someone who doesn’t own it. We’ll see how that plays out.
GamesBeat: You can do that because it’s simply a digital download, right?
Rohde: Yeah. You share a key with a friend and get a trial version for a limited time, to engage in the co-op. You want them to experience it in a very social way. That’s their idea.
GamesBeat: I had a look at the eye-tracking technology in Morpheus at the Neuro Games Conference a few weeks ago.
Rohde: What did you play it with?
GamesBeat: Just with Infamous: Second Son. That’s what I was wondering, though. When you combine it with something else, what are the possibilities?
Rohde: That’s why Rick Marks and Anton Mikhailov work at this company. They’re both brilliant. Just having them experiment with everything that’s going on out there, that’s how new technology is born. With the resources of SCE in Japan and tons of hardware experience, that marriage is great. The short answer is, we have no idea where that technology is going to take us. But the fact that it exists and we’re integrating it with a current game experience, just to see how people react, that shows we’re always innovating in that technology space.
GamesBeat: Is the Last Guardian’s status the most-asked question of your life?
Rohde: Whenever someone asks that question—it’s funny how often I get asked even the “how often do you get this question?” question. It illustrates that there’s this deep love and desire for seeing that IP come to fruition. It’s interesting to me and reassuring to me. We announced that it wasn’t cancelled, a very simple announcement, and the internet blew up.
You’ve heard me say this before. At PlayStation the creative direction, the creative process, has to drive everything. Fumito Ueda has a vision he’s trying to realize. We’re letting that process evolve over time.
GamesBeat: One thing I’d say about your conference, you seem to have more games that could be franchise starters, like The Order: 1886. That looks like something you could make into The Order 2 and The Order 3.
Rohde: I was very happy to finally show the Lycans, one of the key enemies in the game that we’d always been covering in a sort of shroud of mystery. You saw the half-breed morph into this Lycan, which was a pretty fascinating transformation to watch. The Order is definitely a new IP that could turn into something more long-term.
GamesBeat: I believe you may have the biggest internal studios, still, of the platform owners.
Rohde: It’s up there. I’m not exactly sure what the comparison is. We’re one of the largest, certainly. We have 14 first-party studios, and a lot of second-party studios as well. I don’t know what they have, exactly.
GamesBeat: It seems like an advantage you could press, using them to develop new properties that are ambitious.
Rohde: It’s always been in the DNA of PlayStation. It’s driven by the creative directors on these teams, not driven from a corporate standpoint. But we always allow the studios to present new IPs. We want studios to work on things that inspire them, not things they’re told to work on. That’s not the PlayStation model.
GamesBeat: Do you have any concern that a lot of these “new gen” games are falling back on the release schedule? Not just for Sony specifically, but for the industry in general.
Rohde: I wouldn’t call it a concern, so much. Consumer expectations are rising. We want to meet those expectations and meet our original creative visions. If, on any particular game, we don’t feel we’re there, we want to take the extra time to deliver what we feel is great.
I also wouldn’t say, necessarily, that it’s harder to develop on this platform. It’s easier to develop on PS4 than PS3, definitively. But the expectations are huge. We want to deliver on those.
GamesBeat: As far as how the lineup looks this year, how many exclusives have you wound up with?
Rohde: In terms of big retail exclusives this holiday, Drive Club and Little Big Planet 3 are going to be there. The Last of Us Remastered in July. We have tons of digital exclusives.
GamesBeat: The 25 free-to-play games went by really fast.
Rohde: Did you go to the booth today? One that I want you to try if you go back is Guns Up.
GamesBeat: Oh, I did see that.
Rohde: It’s a very cool game. What I love about that particular game is that it doesn’t need much explanation. You pick it up and after a couple of seconds you fully understand what you’re supposed to do. I’m excited about what that game can do. It’ll be on all the platforms as well.
GamesBeat: Did that bubble up from your indie effort?
Rohde: That particular game is a long story. We have a relationship with a group, Valkyrie Entertainment, up in Seattle. They’re more well-known as an art outsource house. They’ve worked on a number of different games, some for us and some for other big companies. They did some work on Infamous: Second Son, for example.
The founder of that company had a pet project that he’d wanted to do forever. He’d been pitching it for a very long time. That project was a two-year-long love story before we even started having any association with it, officially. He pitched it to a bunch of publishers, even at last year’s GDC. Everyone loved it, but he ultimately decided that he’d rather do it with PlayStation. He brought some new guys on board. One young engineer working on it is really, really sharp. They’ve turned it into something very fun. That’s what you saw on the show floor. I’m really excited about it.
GamesBeat: I get the sense that this would be easy to turn into a touchscreen game as well.
Rohde: That’s why it’ll be coming to Vita. It’s very simple. It’s a real trick, though, because you can say that about a lot of games, that they would work well on touch. But that game also works well with the PlayStation controller. It’s easier said than done, to have a UI that can do both.
GamesBeat: That seems like an interesting wild card for you. You could get some pretty good quality games out of this big soup of indie projects.
Rohde: Absolutely. You never know. We have great relationships with indies out there. We love working with them. They love working with PlayStation. We embrace that, totally. The guys you know, like Adam and Nick Suttner and Shahid over in Europe, they’re out there with arms open wide, embracing every indie at every show they can go to. There’s a genuine love for the games. That could spill into free-to-play. It’s already a big part of PlayStation on all three platforms. I expect that to continue. It’s fun for all of us.
The most amazing example of that from the show last night is No Man’s Sky. I am completely blown away by that game. To go from Joe Danger to that is an amazing transformation. That’s a team of four guys making that game. I hope you were blown away too. You just look at it and you’re mesmerized. It seems like it goes on forever.
GamesBeat: From something like that, can you elevate it, get more muscle behind it?
Rohde: Who knows where that goes? We certainly wouldn’t look to elevate it from—we want every indie to let their game evolve the way they want it to evolve. It’s not as if we would say, “Wow, that game looked great at the show. Let’s throw in a bunch more engineers and make it bigger.” That’s not the way we do things. But it’s a partnership. If it makes sense to get behind it in an interesting promotional way, we would always consider that.
GamesBeat: Some of the games looked very creative. I wonder if you’re maybe intentionally looking for another thatgamecompany.
Rohde: That’s a good segue into Entwined. We don’t specifically seek out the next thatgamecompany, but I personally – and I know Shu does as well – love the story of incubated teams. Specifically, with Entwined, they were students a year ago. Now they’re on stage launching their first game. I love that story.
We support the program at CMU, the video game program. Most of the core of that team came from the first graduating class in that program. When you couple that with some industry veterans in art direction and production and give them a place to work—we let them come up with several game ideas. With them, collectively, we helped choose what we would go forward with. That ultimately became Entwined.
Think about what a normal indie would go through. They’re in their bedroom all by themselves. Their only access to real dev experience is meeting people at conventions or what they see on the web. But here, sitting inside the San Mateo studio, you see the latest builds of Infamous: Second Son coming in. They see Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus, or Helldivers. All the other games that are managed out of that studio. They see the ups and downs of those dev processes. It’s such a learning experience for them. I’m in there once a week providing feedback. Connie’s there once a day. Mark Cerny could walk by and see their game. Shu’s in there every couple of months.
I love watching that growth process. The fact that we were able to keep a game under wraps and launch it while it was debuted during the press conference yesterday, it just adds to the thrill for those kids. I’ll stop calling them kids someday, but I don’t know when.
GamesBeat: How do you feel about console and core gaming’s role in this larger game industry now? Some researchers are predicting that mobile will be $50 billion of a $100 billion game industry in 2017, the largest segment of games.
Rohde: Core gaming is always going to have its market. Every year, different people bring up mobile or whatever the enemy of choice is. I don’t look at mobile as an enemy. I look at it as something that can be complementary to what we do. You’re seeing a lot of games, both first- and third-party, embracing mobile and adding companion apps or stand-alone games that are based on console IP, that ultimately might have a tie back to the console. We’re experimenting with that ourselves in several different ways. You’ll see more of that in the near future from some of our long-standing IP.
If anything, the success of the launch of PS4 and our competitor’s platform has shown that there’s always a healthy market for core gaming. We expect that to remain healthy. We’ll embrace mobile along the way. It’s part of the whole gaming ecosystem.
GamesBeat: Does that investment in mobile come from within the studios?
Rohde: Yeah. It’s not as if there’s this major investment in big studios. It’s just where we think it makes sense to create something that may happen within a second game team, or a second-party group that has more experience in mobile. It’s a case-by-case basis on every game.
GamesBeat: You had some more television things, or video things. Is there some coordination there?
Rohde: Absolutely. Let’s take Powers. It’s exciting to me to see that all of Sony’s expertise in the movie and TV segment will now be recognized as part of what PlayStation can offer. Powers will be the first example of that. The fact that we’re tying Powers into PlayStation Plus to reward all the loyal gamers just shows how we tie it all together.
The point that Andy was making was that we’re choosing, for the initial run of this, an IP that will resonate with the general gaming community. Obviously a show about superheroism and detectives, it all makes sense, right? But giving that away for free to everyone who has a PlayStation Plus subscription ties it all back into gaming.
The other thing we mentioned was a Ratchet & Clank movie. That’s through a different external partnership. We decided to work with Insomniac to create a game based on the first Ratchet & Clank game, so that the movie and the game can coexist and benefit from each other when they launch in the first half of next year.
GamesBeat: Everybody noticed that there didn’t seem to be anything exclusive about Grand Theft Auto on PS4. There will be some meaningful PlayStation content, I guess? When everyone cheered, I think they all thought that meant it was exclusive to PS4.
Rohde: Or they just love Trevor.
GamesBeat: That was something people would like clarified. Some of these exclusives sometimes are big or small. With Destiny, some people may have a similar question, what will be unique about how it appears on PlayStation.
Rohde: Adam clarified a bit of that on stage. We’re going to have exclusive content. We’ll also have early access to the alpha, and the upcoming beta as well. As far as GTA, we did announce you can transfer your progress from either PS3 or 360 over to your PS4. But I don’t think we announced that it’s coming first to us or anything like that.
GamesBeat: You did have a variety of content. Do you have to pay close attention to staggering things, spacing them out?
Rohde: Absolutely. We try to space other things as well. If we have three or four smaller digital-only games as well, we try to space those out a bit and make sure we have more of a steady flow.
GamesBeat: Interpreting Uncharted 4, that small segment, was interesting.
Rohde: It’s a mystery, an intentional shroud of mystery.
GamesBeat: “A Thief’s End” — is he actually dead, or is he quitting his job?
Rohde: There are always some subtleties in the names of their games. It could mean a lot of things. That’s the brilliance of the title. You get to ponder that until we give you another little taste. It’s definitely fun. You have to do that, whether it’s film or games, especially when there’s such a heavily anticipated IP like that. Even internally, everyone’s as excited about it as you are outside.
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