5 Interviews

Interview: Scott Rohde on supporting Vita, The Last Guardian and Xbox jibes

By Mike Jackson on Friday 13th Jun 2014 at 11:05 AM UTC

Unlike Microsoft, Sony's E3 press conference wasn't entire;y focused on games that will be releasing later this year.

The truth of the matter is that, thanks to the early lead it has achieved with PlayStation 4, it has been afforded the freedom to take a more measured approach, perhaps even restrained, approach to announcements.

While there certainly were some big reveals at its E3 press conference, a trailer for Uncharted 4, LittleBigPlanet 3 and From Software's Bloodborne being a few notable examples, it also felt like the platform holder was keeping more than a few cards close to its chest.

Yet again, Team Ico's The Last Guardian was no where to be seen, and the PlayStation Vita felt like it was given short shrift. Additionally, many of Sony's most exciting announcements were for 2015, leaving the impression that the remainder of 2014 may perhaps be a bit barren, compared to its competitor.

Following the event, we sat down with Scott Rohde, senior VP of product development at Sony's Worldwide Studios, and discussed some of these points.


You guys are riding a wave of positive momentum that really started with last year's E3. How does it feel?

It's exciting. And not to say that we're not cautious about it as well. I mean, we always to make sure that we don't get too caught up in all the great things that are happening. We always want to make sure that we're doing things right and trying to continue that wave. But it's a great place to be.

And you're absolutely right - last year was sort of this confluence of events from ourselves and externally; everything just couldn't have gone any better. It was so great to see how that all worked out and we're definitely enjoying the success from that still today.

It was interesting that, similarly to last year, Sony again jumped at the opportunity to make reference to a critical policy change by the competitor - that PS4's camera has been optional from the start. Is that Sony's strategy now - wait for the mistakes and jump on them?

I wouldn't call it a strategy. It's just emphasizing the fact that we had thought this through very thoroughly and we felt that that was the right plan from the beginning regardless of what our competitors did. And it was kinda fun to talk about it again, sure. It was subtle, it was brief.

There's a general concern that 2014 is lacking in major releases as many big titles commit to a 2015 release. Is this a concern for Sony?

It's not something that concerns me because, for me personally, you're talking to the games guy here. So I think at PlayStation we love to let that creative process have its day. There's always the balance between the business plan and the creative vision of a game and my opinion, and sort of my job, is always to fight to make sure that that creative vision comes though. Because if you ship a game before it's ready it doesn't do anyone any good. And we really need that creative vision to shine.

So I'm not worried about it. I mean, we saw DriveClub coming, and that's taken amazing strides in the last six months, so I think that the extra time that we spent on that game was well worth it. I played it during the setup over the weekend and it's pretty cool when you play it with the wheel. We announced LittleBigPlanet 3 as well - that's a big blockbuster to me, it's a huge franchise.

I'm excited about what's happening and what's coming in the near future as well.

Vita seems to have become the indie console, and not a place where big triple-A releases really happen much anymore. Has the rise of indie on the platform steered Sony in that direction?

It's both to me. I mean there are still games that are developed that are large. You've got Freedom Wars, you've got [Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines]; these are very interesting, what you're calling 'big style' platform games. But we're also seeing that the audience is really hungry for an endless stream of these smaller games.

If you rewind back before the Vita days, games like Hohocum or Hell Divers would come out and they'd only be on the home platforms, they wouldn't go to the PSP, for example. Now we're making a serious effort for all of those types of game to be on Vita as well and people appreciate it. That's why we introduced the cross-buy program a couple of years ago, because we also didn't want gamers to feel like, 'I wanna play it at home, I wanna play it on my Vita, but I don't really wanna pay for it two times'. We just thought that was the fairest thing. Is it necessarily the best thing for us financially? Who knows? But we know that that's what makes the most gamers happy. So bringing the games to Vita that way and then, through the team in Europe - those guys are signing so many of the great indie games that you're talking about. And I'm one of those people - I can't get enough of that style of game on my Vita.


It seems there's a diminishing focus on Vita of late. Is this a conscious decision within Sony to shift more of the spotlight over to PS4?

I wouldn't call it a conscious decision. I think that the Vita is still a part of the family. That's why we spent time talking about it at the conference. That's why I think there's 100-ish games in development right now for the platform. And it's fully integrated into all these other hardware announcements that we had. That's something that I think is a big advantage for PlayStation in general. It's that you saw a lot of hardware innovation talked about at the show, and the Vita plays a key role in this middle of all that hardware innovation.

Essentially, PlayStation TV is a little Vita in itself that has all this functionality. And you've got PS Now that will ultimately work on the Vita. You've got remote play with the PS4. We're really trying hard to make sure all these things are integrated across the whole PlayStation family.

Yes, although you only spoke about Vita for just a few minutes of the presentation...

Maybe we just had a lot of thing to say about the PS4, right? We had a lot of things to talk about.

Still no The Last Guardian. What's going on with that?

I was quite clear in saying that it hasn't been cancelled, and that's really all I have to say about it other than the fact that, again back to my earlier point; at PlayStation there is an emphasis on letting a creative director find his vision and making it come to life in a game. Sometimes that takes a while and we're not going to show something because there's extra pressure to show it. We're going to show it when we believe that the time is right. So the one thing I can emphatically say, like I did on Twitter; it has not been cancelled.

Yes, but it has been in development for a number of years now. At what point do the money men at Sony step in and say, 'the costs are mounting, this game is either completed soon or it's canned'?

It's an interesting question - and this a general answer, not a Last Guardian answer for you: There's a very different culture at PlayStation where, of course, we're always looking at the financial site of games, and if we think we're spending too much on any given game and it doesn't make sense anymore, then the given game will be cancelled. You've seen that over the years, it happens.

But I want to make this very clear, there's not a culture at PlayStation where somebody in a suit will stand up and say, 'Hey you crazy development guys, what are you doing? Stop spending money on Game X'. That's not how it works, it's always a collaborative decision and we try as hard as we can to let that creative director find their ultimate vision. And that typically takes someone like myself or Shuhei Yoshida to really start doubting in the long term future of a game before that type of decision is made.

"There's not a culture at PlayStation where somebody in a suit will stand up and say, 'Hey you crazy development guys... Stop spending money on Game X'"

Right, so you must still have a lot of confidence in The Last Guardian, for it to still be in development after so long...

Well we're excited about it. What I get excited about it that when I make one tiny tweak and it blows up the internet, that shows that there's a lot of hunger for that game. So that drives us to do whatever we can to see if that creative vision can ultimately come true.


Far Cry 4 promises to let you play co-op with a friend who doesn't own the game. That sounds like a new feature for PS4. Can you explain how that will work?

Sure. This is really a Ubisoft thing. So the way it's going to work is something to the degree of, if you buy Far Cry 4, I believe you'll get 10 keys that you can share with your friends. And that gives them limited access to a downloadable portion of the game that they can play with you.

[A Sony rep chimed in to add that it will be 'like a demo'].

Yes, like a demo but they can play with you, which is cool. Because as you saw, some of the features that they're selling with that game is the ability to join in and help when you're in the middle of whatever mission you're working on. So I think that naturally leads on to the desire to share it with other people and show off that functionality so they can increase the overall ownership of the game.

Can two people who have that demo version play with each other?

Now you're getting into too much detail - this is a Ubisoft thing. But I think it's exciting to talk about that sort of advancement. That's why we announced it at our conference.

Is it something that could become a feature for other games?

Again, it's a Ubisoft thing right now. We'll see how that goes, if gamers embrace is I think there's a natural answer, that everyone's going to start looking into it.

Another interesting concept is standalone DLC - as seen with Infamous: First Light. Allowing people to buy DLC either as an add-on or without owning the full game seems to be an increasing trend. Are you exploring that as the standard was to present DLC?

The easy answer is that gamers are loving that. You've seen it with a few other franchises - you had Blood Dragon, Call of Juarez did it, we did it with Festival of Blood for Infamous 2 - people loved it, and we're going to keep doing it as long as people love it.

When the PS4 was announced, a cloud feature that let you remotely take control of a friend's PS4 and help them in a game was promised. What's the latest development with that?

I don't think that we're discussing the latest on that right now.

[The sony rep added: "It's still a feature that's planned, but at this time there's not a update in terms of timing for it].

Project Morpheus is already looking great. How close is that to being a consumer product?

We're also not talking about a release date for that, but you have to try it.

How critical is Morpheus to the future of PS4?

I think it's really important for us to explore in this space. Obviously it's not something that anyone would ever need to use their PS4. But if you also want to experience the revolution that's happening in this whole space between Oculus and Morpheus I think there's a lot of excitement building right now. So I'm not sure how to answer the question, because obviously it's not required. But I think it will be a very well integrated part of the PlayStation's future. And who knows when you're asking this question in five years, who knows what we'll be talking it about? It could be totally transformed in that period of time.

Despite having a great show, the list of first-party titles coming seems a little short. We still haven't seen what Sony Santa Monica is working on, and Naughty Dog has another unrevealed game in the works. What's holding those back from a public reveal?

Well, we showed you a nice Naughty Dog trailer with Uncharted 4. So you can tell what Naughty Dog's been working on. We wanted to get The Last of Us remastered version out, we announced a date. And there's a good reason for us to do that - there's quite a large number of people who own PS4s that didn't own PS3s. A lot of people who maybe owned our competitors platforms and wanted to make the jump. We have real data that shows that. It's a shockingly large number. So we wanted to make that game available to them.

"A lot of people who owned our competitors platforms wanted to make the jump to PS4. We have real data that shows that. It's a shockingly large number."

You saw some of the early work on what they're doing with Uncharted 4. I am as excited as ever about what Naughty Dog is doing now and in the future. Santa Monica - same thing. As you can image, in my role I'm at those studios all the time. I was just there a couple of weeks ago reviewing their latest work on some of the games that you've seen and some that you haven't, and I'm very excited about it.

These are projects that we'd have expected to have seen already. Are they taking longer than expected - is there anything holding them back?

Nothing is holding them back. Again, I've just reviewed latest progress and it's great. I'm excited about what's coming from those studios. In a perfect world there would be no PR restrictions and I could talk about everything.

I know you're hitting on the internal team specifically. I know what they're working on, I'm very excited about it and some day you'll hear about it.


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You say you have stats for people who have PS4 that didn't own the PS3, or migrated from Xbox 360. Can you elaborate on that? Are you seeing a trend of Xbox-to-PlayStation migration?

Everyone in this industry always tracks that kind of stuff. I can give you some more detail. It's always fascinating to look at all this data. So, two of the things I can talk about - because they're true, and this comes from [industry tracking firm Nielsen Ratings]: 17 per cent of PS4 owners did not own a last-gen console. That in itself is a pretty shocking number.

31 per cent of PS4 owners did not own a PS3, but they did own either a 360 or Wii. Now, those are some pretty amazing numbers. And that's why, again, I think we're doing things like bringing the Last of Us to PS4, because there's a huge percentage of those people who never got to play it and that's a shame.

Speaking of The Last of Us on PS4, it was clear why PS2 games would get PS3 remakes due to the transition from SD to HD resolution. Now we have PS4, do last-gen remakes make as much sense? Is this something you'll keep doing?

We'll do it where it makes sense. That's the simple answer. And with the data that gave you, and because The Last of Us is a relatively recent release, and because it was so incredibly popular and well received, it absolutely made sense for that title.

It's not as if we're going into our back catalogue and doing every single thing. It's just a case-by-case decision. And we're in the transition period between PS3 and PS4. Over time that will obviously die down. You're seeing it from everyone - you're seeing GTA V, you're seeing all these big titles come over because it makes sense.