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Interview: Sony's Jim Ryan on life at the top

For the first time since probably the PS2 era, the PlayStation business is enjoying life at the top, and this is most apparent in the way its senior executives conduct themselves.

During the Sony E3 press conference, Andrew House, President and Group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, anchored the presentation, and was jovial and relaxed, casually addressing the crowd and the thousands that watched over the internet.

Shuhei Yoshida, president of worldwide studios for Sony Computer Entertainment, cracked a big smile as the crowed erupted into rapturous cheers at his appearance, and Adam Boyes' segment on indie games was packed with gags.

Despite how relaxed its executives may seem, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe president Jim Ryan says the company is being mindful that it doesn't slip into complacency.

We spoke to Ryan at E3 about the PlayStation presentation, among other topics, and it's clear that Sony still has its feet on the ground..

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Do you think it's fair to say that this is a PlayStation division that's back on the top of it's game?

Yes I think that's a fair comment, I think one of my takeaways was that we came across as confident, without being arrogant, which maybe seven or eight years ago we might have crossed that line. But we've learned a lot of lessons from that, we're not going to make that mistake again. Without ever wishing to be complacent, because the world changes to fast these days, we do feel pretty good about PS4 right now.

Is not slipping back into that complacency something that's at the forefront of your minds?

Yes. We got back into challenger mentality and questioning everything we did, looking at the mistakes we made - they were numerous - and trying to rectify them as appropriate. Once you get into that cycle you want to keep it going because it's a healthy thing.

It feels very much like the PlayStation is somewhere third-party developers want to be.

I'm very pleased to hear you say that. Publishers and developers large or small are part of this cathartic exercise we've been going through, whether it's at the technical level of providing a system which is easier to develop for, which PS3 was not. A slightly more modular, more generic development environment. That certainly results in developers finding it easy to understand.

That, along with our rollout of dev kits and policies around that, and most important of all our stance towards the relationship with publishers and developers has been reset and brought back into a better place.

How much of the show have you managed to see and what thoughts do you have, if any, on the other press conferences and competitors?

I watched the Microsoft one, I thought it was a good show. They did exactly what they needed to and focused heavily on games. It had good pace and varied content. I would have done pretty much the same in their shoes. I missed EA, and Ubisoft was Ubisoft, the usually wacky stuff which I enjoy. I thought Ubisoft was confident, had a bit of humour, and good diversity of games shown.

It seems like a lot of games that seem to be slipping into 2015, do you think that's a fair assessment, and if so why do you think that is?

There certainly have been more than one game that has slipped out of 2014 and into 2015, that's undeniable. But I think that when you look at this year, it's exciting. We have The Last of Us coming to PS4, which was very well received last night, and the huge event that Destiny will be. Then you roll through to September and there's FIFA, before it all kicks off with Far Cry 4 and Assassin's Creed: Unity, Call of Duty: Advance Warfare, Battlefield: Hardline. There's a huge amount of games that will be out before christmas, and 2015 will be even better.

Is it fair to say the quality of the third-party line-up is taking a lot of pressure off your first-party line-up?

Yeah, I think the third-party line-up is really powerful. This year we've had InFamous: Second Son and will have LittleBigPlanet 3, DriveClub and some more InFamous, Singstar, so it's not like there's nothing from our own studios. We're very proud of that content and will publish it as best we can.

Perhaps the biggest announcement was the next-gen GTA 5 reveal. How significant is that, the announcement felt quite modest compared to how big it actually is.

We partnered with Take Two and Rockstar on the PS3 version of the game and are very pleased to continue that partnership this year.

"When you look at this year, it's exciting... There's a huge amount of games that will be out before christmas, 2015 will be even better"

What do you think is the big system seller for PS4? What's going to shift hardware for you?

I think the cumulative effect of all those games I previously listed, and there were certainly more my brain couldn't get itself around. But if I had to pick one, it'd probably be Destiny. We're partnered up with Activision on that. The intensity and depth that the two organisations are working at is something I've never seen before. Both really want to make this work in a really serious way. The game is obviously multiformat so it will be out on Xbox One and 360, as it will be on PS3. But I think, certainly in our eyes, the main prize is the PS4 version of the game. We want to make that absolutely enormous.

What can you tell us about Uncharted? We got a glimpse at it, but it was more brief that some probably expected.

It is being worked on, it was announced yesterday for 2015. You were talking about developer slippage earlier on and I'd say that those guys have a great track record of hitting the dates set. It was a tease designed to leave people wanting more, and so I guess that's all we've got to say on it for now. The only thing I would say is that you can't underestimate the power of the team behind it. These are the people that worked on The Last of Us and you don't get a better track record than that, so the confidence is high.

The other interesting announcement was being able to play Far Cry 4's co-op without owning the disc. Do you know how the specifics of that will work?

You're probably asking the wrong person if you want a technical exposition on how that works, but it was something that was alluded to when we unveiled PS4 about a year ago. We're really pleased to bring the first manifestation of it.

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Are you referring to the cloud functionality?

No, this is the ability to invite a friend to try the game. It was one of a number of new PS4 features that was touched upon there. Ubisoft have really embraced this and we're really intrigued to see how it goes.

Is it something that you'll gauge the response to and then act on based on that?

Yes, it is envisaged as a platform level feature. But I think we'll see how it goes with Far Cry and take it from there.

There was a mention of Project Morpheus as well at the show. Internally, how has the division's thinking changed since you went public with it? It was received quite well at GDC.

It's something that has always been worked on behind-the-scenes as a concept. You see that Facebook is prepared to put billions of its own money where their mouth is, which says something about it there. We teased it a little at GDC and the reaction was great, developers really like it. We couldn't really do much at the show yesterday, it's the wrong forum, you can't show thousands of people virtual reality, it requires a completely different environment.

Don't misread the fact that there was basically one powerpoint slide and that was it. That's not waning of our enthusiasm for the project. The technology is coming along, it's almost scary the extent of the reality.

Are we any closer to working out the release roadmap for it?

All of that is being worked on, it was positioned at GDC as a tech initiative and, in theory, that's what it remains. But there's obviously work going on to see how it can be made into a real proposition.

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In terms of hardware you've also got PlayStation TV, which has dropped the Vita name since moving from Japan. How are you going to position that in the west and what's it for?

You're right, the Vita name has been dropped for North America and Europe. That reflects the way that we anticipate the device will be used. We feel that the name PlayStation TV best encapsulates that it will provide a number of PlayStation-type benefits that will be enjoyable on a TV.

In Japan, where the handheld formats are very strong and vibrant, it was positioned initially as an alternative form of gaming console for Vita content. In Europe, at least initially, the principal position will be to use PlayStation TV as a form of remote play for PS4. The user case is you're playing PS4 in the living room, someone else wants to use the TV, and you can go into your bedroom where your PS TV is and resume playing.

We feel for the price, to have that PS4 gaming experience on another television is going to be of considerable interest to many gamers. Down the road, when PlayStation Now comes to Europe - and it is a when, not an if - PS TV will function as a client device for the service. So you'll be able to stream content into that little box and then away you go.

Then, as a microconsole, you can enjoy PS Vita games, PSOne games, PSP games on it. As a standalone console proposition it functions perfectly well there. You can see the Vita gaming bit is a subset is one of three positionings, so the name change makes it more coherent.

It seems like PS Vita has been positioned as a companion for PS4 and there's been talk about bundling the two together. Is there anything you can tell me about that?

That's something that we have been fairly public about in saying that it's something we're looking at. Hardware manufacture is a really tedious thing, it actually has been held up by trying to get the bundle package in a way where drop tests work properly, and we're just about ready. When you develop a consumer electronics device you have to be able to drop it in a reasonable manner and it not break, and trying to find a configuration of a Vita and a PS4 that is not the size of this table has proved rather difficult, but I think we're there.

Is there any indication on what the timeframe will be?

I'm guessing it will come at some point this year. If we're close, there's no reason it shouldn't.

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