Q&A: Sony’s Game Design Chief Talks PlayStation Vita

Wired: Why isn’t there going to be a UMD transfer program for North America, like there is in Japan?

Shuhei Yoshida: I’m sorry we are not doing it in the States, but there are two factors that contributed to the decision as I understand it. I’m not in a position to make that kind of business decision. The system has been introduced in Japan, where there is a much larger demand for PSP games. When you look at the release schedule of new titles there are still lots of PSP games being released in Japan and being announced for release. Lots of people who are interested in trying Vita are also interested in playing PSP games that they might purchase before Vita comes out, and will not necessarily choose the digital version.

So there is a lot more demand … to introduce a program like that. The other point is that when you look at PSP titles sold digitally in the States or Europe, games are sold for a really reasonable price. You can buy Final Fantasy Tactics for $10. That’s a great price. There are many, many games that are sold at an affordable price. Because people in Japan are not getting the digital copy for free, because it costs us money to develop and maintain the system so we are asking people to pay somewhere between $5 and $10 to receive the digital copy in addition to what they have on the UMD. When you compare that to the price of games here, PSP games in Japan are sold at a much higher price, so people see the value in spending the $5 to $10 to get the digital copy. But when the games are already sold at a lower price in the U.S. we see less value in introducing that kind of system. The combination of the new titles available, or the lack of, and the price difference, the company decided to do that.
Wired: You’re right that PSP caught on in Japan more so than in the U.S. What’s different about Vita that’s going to cause it to succeed here?

Yoshida: There are a few key factors that contributed to that. When PSP came out five or six years ago, it was a great piece of tech: big screen, beautiful 3-D graphics, it was almost as good as a PS2. At that time it was very exciting to be able to play those games on the go. But the platform didn’t provide much more than that in terms of features. So we game developers created games and the software business for a few years was great on PSP.
Many developers and publishers in Japan decided to shift focus to portables.

But after that we tried to come up with some new concepts and new ways to use PSP, and really struggled to come up with some new experience that you cannot get on the home console. During that period, the new home consoles came out, PS3, 360, with much better graphics, in HD. So it’s not hard to imagine people’s interest kind of, you know, defused. The lack of a dual analog system for PSP made the gameplay experience control much more compromised, to play the kind of games that people in the States or Europe cherish. Their action-adventure or FPS. That’s one big thing.

The other thing was piracy. Piracy was really, really killing the software business. We know our games were played by millions of people in the world but not necessarily being paid for. Our business partners know, and they’re disappointed in the number of sales of games on PSP and it’s very natural for them to make the business decision to divert resources to other business opportunities. At that time, the PS3, 360 and Wii next-generation consoles were coming and these games were bigger and require more resources than PS2 era.

We made a mistake as well — right after the PSP launch we were preparing for the PS3 launch, and that took a lot more resources. So we shifted development resource away from PSP to and that contributed to the lack of business return coming from piracy for third parties really helped reduce the number of new games. But compared to that in Japan, there are other factors which helped the portable game. Ironically, in the development in Japan, developers in Japan struggled to jump on the current-gen home consoles, the high-end graphics, shaders, multi-core architecture. The enormous resources that are required to create titles for those home consoles of today.

So many developers and publishers in Japan decided to shift focus to portables. It’s one generation older in some cases two genrations older from a core tech standpoint. It’s a very comfortable zone for them to create games. You’ve seen many great home console franchises shift focus so the latest new sequel started to come out on portables first. The popularity of co-op play, Wi-Fi, ad-hoc like Monster Hunter style games, caught on. That all contributed to the huge popularity of portable games in Japan. It’s a positive cycle, right? The publisher thinks, ‘Great, we can make these games and we can sell them and we can make money.’ So that’s where the consumers are still.

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