Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Interview

Hey- here are the questions- rewritten in a way that I found much more acceptable and professional- from the MSNBC reporter in question. I am still planning on doing a Skype interview with him, so that should be great! I will tell you his name then.

Meantime, a big thanks goes out to him for taking the time to rewrite these in a way that- for me- changed them from biased to non biased (don't wanna get back into that debate again, you guys know my definition of biased so take it or leave it).

So here are my answers in full, just as a safe guard that they not get taken out of context. Hey- I am fucking paranoid after all these years, what do you want?!?!

Ok, here is the email exchange:


I'll start with some basic questions and we'll go from there. If you think any "devil's advocate" type question is unfair, please say so in your response while stating your reasoning. Again, I'm not fishing for answers, only trying to get an instinctive and candid response. Additionally, I'm happy to reveal any edited quotes to you before running the story -- just let me know.
1. In your opinion, has the PS3 met expectations so far? Why/why not?

I think it depends on which expectations you are asking about. I think it’s easy- and correct- to look at the PS3 and say that it has not yet enjoyed the staggering success of the Playstation 1 or Playstation 2. So if the expectations were that it would- by this point- be on the exact same sell thru trajectory as those earlier hardware modes, then I would say no, it has not met expectations. But that does not mean the PS3 can not reach and exceed those same heights, but it will need to do so via its own, unique sales story, versus simply copying the ‘gangbusters in the first 18 months’ sell thru story of the PS1 and PS2.

If you are talking about expectations of delivering fantastic, high quality, highly reviewed next-gen gameplay then I would say that yes, it has met those expectations. It has also met expectations in having a varied and quality library of titles and if you look at the titles coming out in the next 12-18 months (Killzone 2, God of War 3, MLB 09, UNCHARTED 2,etc.) then I think it’s fair to say that the Playstation 3 is poised to exceed expectations on that front.

It has met expectations in being a great media hub for the family room, allowing next-gen gaming, blu ray movies, HD download movies, internet access, and free access to online gaming. And if you look at Folding At Home, the damn thing is even helping to cure cancer! So on the ‘will the PS3 help cure cancer’ front, then I would say yes, it has met those expectations as well…

If you are talking about the online experience, I feel that when it launched, the online experience left much to be desired. It did not meet expectations at that time. In the last year, the online service has grown considerably and I feel- while it still lacks a few features that the competition has- it has easily met expectations. And Sony’s ability and willingness to constantly improve that service- and keep it free- have far exceeded expectations.

2. As a developer, what's the PS3's greatest strength?
As a designer, I think the main wow factor for this generation is downloadable content. This is not specific to the PS3 but I feel the PS3, with the PSN store, has done a very, very good job in this area. Innovative, groundbreaking titles (Flower, Pixel Junk Eden,etc.) that would have never had a shot at getting fwide distribution are now a mainstay on the Playstation 3. I think the fact that we now have the ability to distribute these kinds of games in a way that allows them to actually be profitable, well that is just amazing and groundbreaking and a game changer. Down the road, digital distribution will weaken the grip of the retail stores and make games less expensive for consumers. Full retail console games are already available on the Playstation 3 and since every Playstation 3 sold has at least a 20gig hard drive, all consumers can enjoy this new way to get full games. Between bypassing the retail channel with its infamous shelf space limitations (which keep consumers from enjoying a whole range of games that are not pure mainstream titles) and bringing players new, unique smaller experiences, I feel the PS3 is leading the charge in the downloadable content space. And as a designer, that is a very big deal.

3. What's its greatest weakness?
Right now the price is a real deal killer for lots of people. It’s clear that Sony knows this and seems to struggle between running a profitable business while also respecting the consumer’s spending abilities. And given the current economy, that has to be a tougher battle now than it’s ever been. Rumor is a PS3 price drop is days away and I hope this is the case because as a PS3 developer and a PS3 fan, I want as many people as possible to be able to enjoy this great system.

4. What's keeping consumers from buying a PS3 like they did the PS2?

Price and competition. The price is the main thing, but again, it seems Sony is working to bring the price down. Competition this time around is fierce. And that is great for gamers but with Xbox battling hard for the hardcore gamer and Nintendo being the king of the casual space, the Playstation 3 is seeing its once dominant stance challenged on both sides. With Playstation 2, there was only one competitor: the Gamecube. Dreamcast had come and gone- for the most part- by the time PS2 was really making some noise. And while the Gamecube had some amazing games and a loyal, passionate fanbase, it was never a serious threat to the Playstation 2’s market share. But times have changed, the competition is much, much tougher now. And the economy is in the toilet. So while it’s always tough to be the most expensive system on the block, it’s especially hard now. But I think this generation is proving that three consoles can survive and thrive. A lot of people like to pile onto the PS3 for being last in the current NPD numbers but they forget that comparing sell thru numbers for these consoles is not an apples to apples comparison. The PS3 is $399 compared to a $199 Xbox 360! And still, with that $200 price difference and in this economy, Sony has managed to sell THRU over 20 million Playstation 3’s! That’s pretty impressive but you never hear that side of the story in the press.

5. How might Sony have averted a $500-600 launch price, provided you feel it was a hindrance?
My guess- and I’ve said this before- is that removing the Blu Ray would have allowed them to drop the price. I still think they should have done this. And I am not privy to any of the behind the scenes reasoning behind how the hardware took shape (that was well above my pay grade when I was at Sony) BUT I’ve seen stuff on the net that suggests that winning the format wars (Blu Ray vs. HD-DVD) was a mandate sent down from on high and so who knows how much choice the games division had in this issue. I think putting Blu Ray in the PS3 helped win the format war for Sony and so for that, I assume, Sony is very happy. But I think it did hurt the system’s success so far- in terms of sales- because it forced the price to be much higher than most gamers are willing to pay, even for a great system like the PS3. I think Sony was very smart to insist on a hard drive in every box, so I would not have changed that at all.

6. Do you feel Blu-ray is as valuable to the PS3 as DVD was to the PS2? Why/why not?
As valuable? No. The difference between VHS and DVD was spectacular: from the tactile improvements that came from ditching VHS and going to DVD (going from a clunky 8 track looking thing to a sleek, cool, future feeling disc) to the lack of visual degradation over time to the bonus features packed on the disc to the massive visual quality jump. Everyone could see the difference and the value of tossing out that VHS player and joining the future. But now, the difference from DVD to Blu Ray- while clearly impressive- is not as spectacular. And so the upgrade is not seen- from my view- as being a necessity. Going from DVD to BLU RAY feels more like a nice bonus if you can afford the player and the HDMI cable and the flat screen 1080p television to go with it. But unless you are a videophille or an obsessed movie fan, it doesn’t feel like a, “I GOTTA HAVE THAT!” purchase. And because of that, the Blu Ray player- I feel- is seen as a very cool feature of the PS3 but not as cool as the DVD player functionality of the PS2.

7. What specifically would you like Sony to do moving forward so Eat Sleep Play can sell more games?
Lower the price, please! Oh, and more television ads like Killzone 2, that show off the amazing graphics of the system. All this money, time, and love spent on the graphics and the fact that we have a box that- I feel- is capable of rendering the best real time graphics of all three consoles and we have so few commercials that show off the actual gameplay and visuals. So I’d like to see more of that.

8. Do you think PS3 feature cutting shows any lack of original vision on Sony's part, or that the console is innocently adapting to meet the needs of the market? It seems like it could go either ways, but given the console's struggles, I tend to think it could be more of the former. Thoughts?

Well again, you need to explain why you think the console is struggling. I am not saying it is the super duper amazing success that the Wii is. Clearly, it is not. But to say it is struggling when it’s $200 dollars more than the competition and has still sold 20 million units in this rough economy and has an amazing library of games and one of its exclusive games just won the BEST GAME OF THE YEAR award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences…I dunno. I am not trying to spin you here at all. But 'struggling' is an odd word. I don’t know if it’s really the word you are looking for and if it is, perhaps you can elaborate?

But I’ll answer the heart of what I feel the question is, which is: why has Sony made a lot of changes to the system from its original launch? Well my answers are:

a- Many of the changes spring- I think- from a desire to get the cost down so more consumers can enjoy the system. It must be an educated guess as to which features are worth cutting if it means the system gets cheaper and/or profitable sooner. Cutting backwards compatibility, for example, was a shame, but I don’t think the majority of gamers cared. Some did, yes. And they were vocal, but they were- from my view- a vocal minority. From my own experience, not being able to play my old games on my new PS3- while disappointing- is not that big of a deal. To me, I am much happier my online gaming is free, or that Sony is spending money on things like HOME (also free) and spending cash on making newer games.

b- a desire to improve the Playstation 3 experience at every opportunity. Every console manufacturer is adding and removing and adjusting aspects of the original vision in order to improve their product for the customer. Microsoft just improved their online service- which they still charge for- after several years. Nintendo is always adding channels to its online service and selling new peripherals to improve the Wii experience. Sony it seems is doing the same, by adding back in features- when they could- that consumers demanded (rumble), making the online service even better, and continuing to find ways to make the box cheaper. To me, this is just business as usual for all the consoles.

As to moving away from the original vision issue, I mean, what it sounds like you are really saying is: A company should have a 100% bull’s-eye accuracy on the products they launch in terms of assuming what the consumer wants and they can never being wrong. And if they are wrong, they should not change to improve the consumer experience because it makes them look like the original vision was flawed. I mean, that’s nuts. Apple changes the ipod every year, you don’t consider that a lack of vision do you?


Ok, that's it. Later ya'll! By the way: to be clear...these are my opinions. I don't work for Sony and am not speaking on thier behalf. I'm just a guy with an opinion on the situation and that's what these are: my opinions. Thanks!


Behind the Scenes!

Went to Disneyland last week with my oldest daughter. We had a blast!

One of the best parts-for me-was when the Winnie the Pooh ride broke down while we were on it. Instead of making us sit there for 5 minutes while they ironed out the kinks, the Disney folks walked into the ride, got everyone out of their honey combed shaped vehicles, and lead us- on foot- out of the ride and back to the exit!

Now I'm a theme park nut. I love rides and I am especially a fan of the 'dark rides' (what they call the story based ride thru attractions like Winnie the Pooh,Pirates of the Caribbean,Haunted Mansion,etc). So you can image (I'm assuming) what a thrill it was for me to be able to stroll thru the path normally limited only to the ride vehicles. It was so cool to get up close and personal with the props and to touch and examine the animatronic characters in the Winnie ride! Sure, Pirates of the Caribbean woulda been a better, cooler ride to breakdown in, but this was a still a thrill!

My daughter is only 5 and I tried to explain to her what a big deal this was but it was clear that she was not that amazed. What she doesn't realize is just how rare this is! At least I think it's rare. The only other time anything like this has happened to me was in MR. TOAD'S WILD RIDE back when I was around 10 years old. And in that case, the lights just came on for a few minutes while we sat in our stalled cars while the Disney folks tinkered with this or that (they never explained what the problem was to us). Then the lights went back down and we finished the ride. No fuss, no muss. But it was still cool.

But THIS? This was totally different! We were WALKING thru the damn ride! To me, that is just the coolest thing in the world! Here are some picks I snapped on the way out (and the Disney folks didn't even seem to cool is that?)...

Here's the Ride Guide coming around with these little step stools to help the guests out of our was very organized, very 'not a big deal' which means that this either happens a lot more often that I am aware of OR Disney is just that good and that prepared for EVERYTHING that could happen in their parks...

Walking thru the ride- while crazy cool- also felt very made me wonder why there are not any walk thru dark rides like this...I guess crowd speed and crowd control gets tough/impossible in those sorts of cases. But the experience of walking thru the ride and getting right up to the displays was very, very cool and it made me think a walk thru dark ride would go over great (lots of stuff to touch and interact with and hidden things to find and discover,etc).There is something like that at LEGOLAND (the ADVENTURE CLUB or something like that that you get to walk thru) but it's real low rent compared to the amazing dark rides at Disneyland.

Check out all the blacklite! I feel like I'm at Spencer's Gifts at the mall! Where's the +18 section and DIO posters!?!? :)

Here is one of the mythic Hidden Mickeys that the ride guide showed us as we walked thru. I thought there were only like 50 Hidden Mickeys in the whole park, but it seems there may be around 500 or more! They really are everywhere if you know where to look!

Ok, later ya'll!