Sony talks PlayStation 3, PSP success in 2009

Sony's John Kohler answers burning questions about the PlayStation 3. Can the most expensive console survive in an uncertain economy?

GamePro: The PlayStation 3 is entering its third year. What feature or accomplishment are you proudest of with the PS3?

John Kohler: Game development. When we first launched the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360 had already been out for a year. And there was a lot of talk that the PS3 would be too difficult for many developers. [We heard] that the "ramp-up" cost for a developer - the time spent learning the PS3's hardware and software - would be too great. But today, we're in such a good position from a gaming perspective. Our first-party group has put out games like Resistance 2, a massive-scale game, and Little Big Planet, which created a new genre of gaming. We also had SOCOM, and then third-party games like Metal Gear Solid 4...we've had a nice run-up in game development for the PS3. It's shown that developing for the PS3 isn't as difficult as many had thought. And more great games are coming to the PS3, and are leveraging the Blu-ray advantage that the PS3 has over the Xbox 360.

Obviously, the economy isn't in great shape at the moment. What's your take on moving an expensive console like the PS3 into a 2008 holiday season that's been overshadowed by the economic troubles?

It's definitely different in terms of the economy. I've been [at Sony] for 10 years now, so I saw the last recession in 1999 or 2000. We were just coming into the PlayStation 2's lifecycle at that time. We're seeing similar things this time, but we're very bullish on PS3 sales. We've seen a very strong run-up in the last few weeks on the PS3 and PSP hardware. Games are selling very well...we're forecasting big things this holiday. We're very aware of the economic situation, and we monitor that hourly to make sure our sales analysis is on point. But everything we're seeing points to a really good holiday season for Sony. I think we're going to have a good run of it [this holiday].

Two of the biggest PS3 games this fall are LittleBigPlanet and Resistance 2. Are you seeing renewed interest for the PS3 based on those two games? Are those games performing as well as you'd hoped?

[Early on,] the big question that we kept hearing from our focus groups was, "where are the games?" But developers quickly ramped up and learned how to build games for the PlayStation 3. And that's come to fruition now, with games like LittleBigPlanet and Resistance 2. Consumers are saying "thank you," and we're seeing it in software sales: both LittleBigPlanet and Resistance 2 in particular are doing excellent. From a hardware perspective, those two games accent the PS3 very well. A game like Resistance 2 really accents our Blu-ray gaming theme, which is of extreme importance to us -- Blu-ray differentiates us from competitive consoles. Insomniac Games has stated very publicly that they could never have been able to create that game on competitive consoles because they just wouldn't have the creative canvas.

LittleBigPlanet is selling well, but it didn't match the kind of explosive first-week numbers of something like a Gears of War 2. But given LittleBigPlanet's very accessible play style, do you think the game will gradually rack up big sales over time? Will it have legs?

Yes, absolutely. LittleBigPlanet will be an "evergreen" game for the PS3, so to speak. It's also the start of a nice franchise, and maybe down the line we'll look at new iterations. We first saw the game about three years ago at an internal meeting, and we were all just blown away -- it's a tremendous model for development creativity. But to your point about sales, we're certainly seeing explosive sales [of LittleBigPlanet]. LittleBigPlanet also opens up the PS3 to other portions of the demographic - not just twenty-something males, but younger gamers, females, and maybe even some older gamers. I think we'll see a great holiday season for the game.

The topic of Home just won't die. October had been named as a potential launch period, but that month came and went without a release. Where is Home?

The launch of Home is fairly imminent, and we expect big things for it. It starts to place the PS3 in a social community [context]. Free online gaming, easily finding other players, Trophies... all those things come together to make Home special. It's going to happen very, very soon. It's "imminent."

Microsoft launched their New Xbox Experience for the Xbox 360, which fuses some elements of the PS3's Xross Media Bar and the Wii's Channels. It's certainly a big improvement for the Xbox 360 -- is Sony open to make similar changes to the PS3's interface?

We're certainly always open to consumer feedback. We look at the PlayStation brand as a consumer-demanded brand -- if consumers pound on our door loudly enough, we'll make sure they're listened to. That's been evident in the firmware updates [for the PS3 and PSP], which came out because of consumer feedback. But we haven't had many navigation complaints about the XMB interface, so the XMB will be a part of PlayStation products moving forward. That doesn't mean we're closed off to changing certain parts of it -- there are areas in which we can certainly improve, and we look to do so in the future. But grand-scale changes [to XMB] are probably not realistic, because it's something that's been so well-received.

The most recent Xbox 360 update added Netflix streaming support. Any word on possible Netflix integration on the PS3? Is Sony talking to Netflix?

We've concentrated most of our efforts on our download service, both rentals and downloads of movies and TV shows. Our efforts will continue to be there, because our customers want to own the content....I was in a focus group in New York recently, and the topic of Netflix came up with a group of Xbox 360 owners. [Most of] those people weren't aware of the Netflix agreement. Those that knew wanted to know the difference between Netflix streaming on the PC versus the Xbox 360. They discovered that it's obviously the same, and those people wanted to know what the "specialness" of that would be. The moderator mentioned that you could watch [the Netflix streams] in your living room. But many of the participants said, "but I could watch that on my laptop, too."

[In regards to the Netflix streaming on NXE,] there are certainly some positives for the Xbox 360. But there's also some confusion. It goes further into the argument of "owning the content" [versus renting or accessing it].

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