Having been a producer for games himself, Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios (SIE WWS), had once famously been unimpressed by an early build of God of War. The game went on to sell over 3.1 million copies over 3 days and later claiming Game of the Year 2018 at the Game Awards 2018. Shuhei Yoshida, speaking at the Tokyo Games Show 2019, explained the variety of problems the build had: frame rate problems, AI, animation, the list could go on. “The team knew what they had to work on,” he explains. “It was a really scary moment for me to look at the status, considering the time left for launch.”
An ideal situation for a big title, according to Yoshida, is to start out with a small core team first to work out the basics of design, game mechanics. Only then will the manpower come in for the asset creation. He says Santa Monica Studio had originally a project in pre-production that got cancelled as God of War was being planned, so the latter team started off with an influx of manpower instead. He says this was challenging, with all the parts being made and the creative team having to juggle implementing the aspects.
SIE has acquired several studios already to date, having studios like Santa Monica, Naughty Dog, Sucker Punch, and Insomniac Studios being some of the more recent ones. The company doesn’t actively go looking for studios, preferring instead to first have a history of working with any particular studio. He wants publisher and developer to have a strong relationship, along with having a successful IP. Acquisitions are mostly a formalization, he says. “It’s not like we look at great games and developers and go, ‘I want this company’. That is not how we approach.”
As it is, there are many of SIE’s first party games that have been great successes in this generation. Yoshida admits there are both successes and lesser ones, and says it’s an ongoing process. The teams will have a concept and prototype, more so for a new IP. A new IP needs to bring something new, as well-worn concepts he considers as the team not aiming high enough. Then, they’ll have to develop that prototype further to ensure the concept can be envisioned into a proper game.
Yoshida believes the last 6 months of development is especially crucial “The game can look complete, in an alpha or beta state, but the body is only just building up,” he says. He mentions marketing and PR wanting to announce release dates, to build up the excitement. This may create conflict sometimes where games have had to be delayed to ensure a proper level of polish. Every development does have a target window, but if more time is needed, then it will be given.
Battle royale games like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds are certainly incredibly popular, but Yoshida doesn’t believe in making these games for the sake of it. He believes that a variety of games is needed, since as it is, making games is already difficult, much less great games. Making a team to create a game in a genre they’re not used to is not something he wants to do. Games will continue to evolve and players with them, and he wants to aim to try for something that isn’t necessarily popular yet.
You might have heard about rumours regarding a Legend of Dragoon remake. It isn’t in the works now from what we know, and Yoshida himself hasn’t heard of it. It segues into Yoshida talking about how hard making remakes and remasters can be. While a remaster can be as simple as graphical improvements and button assignments, remakes are of course, a whole different beast, as we can see with Final Fantasy VII Remake. “We could do a quick remaster, but people can see it (if it’s a quick job), and everyone will be disappointed.” The Legend of Dragoon was previously on four discs as well, so it would be a fairly difficult task.
When it comes to censorship, Yoshida simply says the company works to adhere to the global standard. “It’s easier to see things on the internet these days, where everyone can check another country’s games on places like YouTube,” he muses. As such, they need to be more conscious of how the content gets seen.
Yoshida considers Journey to be his favourite game, out of the massive library of first party games SIE has. He says he was touched by this small team, and how a 3 hour game beat out triple A games in getting a game of the year award. He’s very impressed by the power of the medium, to be involved in the game. He relays a story of how Journey helped a girl move on from the loss of her father, and how it helped her return to her own life.
Moving into game markets, Yoshida says western games are increasingly getting popular in Japan, like Detroit: Become Human, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Horizon: Zero Dawn. He explains it’s mostly in the younger generation of Japanese, whereas the older gamers still tend to prefer Japanese-made games. Still, the Japanese are still more willing to try foreign-made games nowadays. For developing game industries like that of Southeast Asia, as long as they keep trying, he believes they will only get stronger over time.
Yoshida mentions he often gets asked about a Legend of Dragoon remaster. He does think he’d like to do a remaster of a game he was most involved in, so it would be interesting.
Piracy will likely remain a concern for a long time yet. Yoshida thinks there’s a convenience factor involved, giving an example with people paying for Spotify subscriptions for music. As income level goes up, then people will be able to be afford the products, so it’s simply just a matter of ease of access and people’s mindset.
That’s about all the insight we got from Shuhei Yoshida. The game industry is an ever changing one. What do you think?