Interview: Sony's Michael Denny on PS4

PlayStation's VP of Worldwide Studios on next-gen games, backwards compatibility and more

Sony revealed the PlayStation 4 at a New York press conference last week and following the unveiling we met with Sony's VP of Worldwide Studios, Michael Denny.


In our 20 minutes the exec explained the philosophies behind the next-gen PlayStation, the influence of developers on its design and Sony's plans for software at launch and beyond.

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The impression we get is that Sony has set about building PS4 with developers in mind. Do you think that's fair to say?
That's absolutely right. The starting point and focus with PlayStation 4 was that we wanted to have the best gaming system out there - the best next-gen gaming system with gamers at the heart of it. To do that we needed to bring the best games and the best content to it. Getting the game development community and world's best creators on board early was vital for us.

There was collaboration from early days and some things that weren't accurately reported before we even got here maybe took some people by surprise. Decisions to go with 8GB of high speed system memory is fantastic for the development community and to make sure we get the best game experiences we can.

DualShock 4

The meeting also suggested a much more open platform than previous Sony home consoles?
I think that's right. Again it comes back to a focus and strategy of wanting the best content, because it's aimed at gamers and that's what gamers want. We want a variety of content as well; what I was particularly pleased about last night was that we had some big-hitting, triple-A titles but we also showed a flavour of how we're still willing to be more than open - as open as we can be - to get all sorts of content on the platform.

At the meeting you listed PS4's five design pillars; simple, immediate, social, integrated and personalised. What do those philosophies specifically mean for PS4 software?
It's not particularly the software... those are the pillars we put out there in terms of what will make the experience compelling for gamers. So when you go through them, 'simple' and 'immediate' together is of course something gamers would want - things to be one button push away, background downloading and being able to play your digital content as it's downloading.

'Social' is not just about importing your social graph from social networks, but the ability to share content a lot easier. These are all tenants that will make the overall experience a much better one for gamers. In a way they're not things that you put on the box or the wrapper, but they'll help you all understand why we've chosen those as pillars because they'll help make the experience a whole lot better.

What does the move to next-gen mean for your publishing business and the resources required to make these more advance games?
It depends on the game. I think what we're seeing anyway in the industry is a polarisation between the triple-A games at the top end, which are getting more and more budget going in to them and even on current-gen have a lot of resource and effort going in to them.

Actually, I think you'll be surprised that with next-generation PlayStation 4 it's not that much of a leap up, because these games on current-gen are already pushing things to the max in terms of resources you're putting in to them. But I think it's important to remember that we did talk games like The Witness and other smaller, innovative games we want to bring to the system.

It's not one size fits all; it depends on the content, it depends on the market you're going for, the genre your games for... but I think it's important that there's always a place for those big, triple-A experiences.

Killzone Shadow Fall

The Witness is of course a timed console exclusive on PS4. Do you still see software exclusivity as crucial in persuading consumers to purchase new hardware?
Yeah, I think that's right. When you look at it from a first-party studio point of view, that's really our remit - to bring exclusive content to the platform and to help differentiate it from other platforms. Ultimately I think content and exclusive content makes a big difference to consumer choice and that will only continue.

Where do Sony's studios stand in terms of moving to PS4 development and possibly continuing to support the PS3? The company of course has a strong track record of supporting its older systems...
The first thing to say is you're right - when you look at PlayStation 3, the line-ups this year such as Beyond, The Last of Us and third-party games such as new Grand Theft Auto and Assassin's Creed games... PlayStation 3 is still getting some awesome games on it.

I think this year Vita is really starting to come in to its own as well with Media Molecule's Tearaway and a new Killzone coming to the platform as well.

Of course as a first-party studio we have the whole PlayStation ecosystem to support and concentrate on. Different teams are drawn to different platforms depending on their outlook as well. I think it's fair to say that other than the games that were announced last night, there are a lot more Worldwide Studios teams working on PlayStation 4 as well.

You also showed Destiny and Watch Dogs at the meeting, which both will be released on PS3 and PS4. Do you foresee cross-generational titles becoming a common fixture this year?
I think that's publishers' choices. I can absolutely understand why they want to do that; PlayStation 3 still has a long way to go, it's got a big install base... so why not have your best content on it? With PlayStation 4 you saw the quality of Watch Dogs, so to have games like that for the amount of gamers who will want to go to PS4 at an early stage is fantastic.

What's Sony stance on that strategy? Would you consider cross-gen releases?
I think as a first-party studio we're always going to want to get the best that we can out of any platform. Now, sometimes the best you can is when for example you look at Vita - and we've done it for a number of titles - where we've had Cross-Play.

So when there's something extra, some features we can give in terms of connectivity for example, a trade-off between platforms or something for the PlayStation ecosystem... I think that's something we'll always look at as well.


How much did the feedback from your studios influence the design of the controller? Guerrilla told us that it specifically requested the redesigned analog sticks and headphone jack...
Massively. As we said from the beginning, because we had the gamer at heart this was always going to be very development-led in terms of what we wanted as a system - and there's no more important thing than the game interface, the controller.

When you look at what we've done with DualShock 4, the starting point was what we could do to improve upon DualShock 3. As the Guerrilla guys said, the sticks are tighter, the triggers are tighter, there's less latency, rumble's improved, Sixaxis is improved...

Then you look at the extra features; the light bar, the touch pad, the share button and of course the headphone jack and speaker as well. I would say pretty much all of those are coming from features requested by developers.

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