Interview with Sony-Exec Phil Harrison "The Playstation 3 Is a Computer"

Phil Harrison is Sony's head game designer. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, he talks about accusations that Sony copied Nintendo's new motion-sensitive controller, why Blu-ray needs no copy protection, and what Playstation 3 has to do with MySpace.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How do you respond to people who say you stole Nintendo's idea for a motion-sensitive controller?

Phil Harrison: On one level I understand why people say that. But it's a little stupid, if you don't mind me saying so. When we launched Playstation in 1994 we introduced the concept of real-time computer-generated 3-D-graphics for the first time. That was the innovation that drove the platform. When Nintendo released the N64 in 1996 and they had real-time CG 3-D-graphics, did you hear us say, "Nintendo, you've stolen our idea?" Of course not. These innovations are things that become possible because of a combination of technology, price and manufacturing capability.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But it is a bit striking that two consoles with motion-sensitive controllers are hitting the market at the same time.

Harrison: We have been working on these innovations ourselves for a long time, and clearly Nintendo has been working on similar -- although not identical -- innovations for a long time, and that's natural. That's what technology is about. However, the difference between our strategy and everybody else's is that our controller, the Playstation dual analog controller, is the de facto industry standard controller in video gaming. I reckon, including the third party controllers that have been sold that are the same shape as this, nearly 400 million have been sold worldwide. This means that we have the standard for human machine interface for gaming in this controller. What we have done is to add an additional dynamic to this controller; namely freedom of movement.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How many games utilizing this feature will actually come out in the first year?

Harrison: I expect every game to use the feature in some way. One thing we've all done when playing a game is move around the controller, whether you're playing a racing game or a football game. Now for the first time we can read both the primary input, which might be through the sticks, and learn what the player is doing through the secondary movement, and add the two together. This combination is a very significant advantage that's unique to the Playstation 3 controller.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The PS3 will play Blu-ray-discs. The movie industry, including Sony pictures, wants HDMI-interface and HDCP copy protection, which is now pushed back because Microsoft's HD-add-on-drive doesn't have the necessary interface. And now the cheaper version of the PS3 will also come without an HDMI-interface. So you're basically jeopardizing the strategy of Sony Pictures and other film studios to protect their content. Sounds like the decision may have been contentious at Sony?

Harrison: Not at all. The Blu-ray-disc-association, which manages the format of Blu-ray-discs, defines the specifications. Not Sony, not Sony Pictures. We are one member of this consortium, but not the chairman or boss. The specification of Blu-ray disc is that by 2011, HDMI has to be included in all Blu-ray-disc players. We adopt that specification in our machine that we will launch in 2006 -- five years aheaed of the specification requirement.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Don't you think your colleagues at Sony Pictures will be worried that those are five years in which people will take HD content and pirate it and do things with it they're not supposed to?

Harrison: No, because I think the fact is that the size of content is such that the only way to enjoy that content is from a disc. So it's not an issue, it's not a concern at all.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So the copy protection is the medium itself?

Harrison: Yes. Ten years from now the idea of sending 50 gigabytes online will be commonplace, but today -- no way. Not easily.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Speaking of online, Microsoft has just announced "Live Anywhere", an integrated Windows-Xbox-Mobile environment. Is that something you're worried about because you don't have the same access to the PC market as Microsoft does?

Harrison: No, it doesn't concern me and I don't think it concerns the consumer either. Once you adopt a game system as your primary entertainment device, that's what you want. We think that Playstation 3 is the place where our users will be doing their gaming, their movie watching, their Web browsing and a lot of other computer entertainment functions. That will satisfy them. Playstation 3 is a computer. We don't need the PC.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Microsoft also announced that they will design special games for the Japanese Market, admitting that they are still having great difficulties breaking through there. What are they doing wrong and what are you doing right?

Harrison: Microsoft recognizes that they cannot sell "Halo" in Japan. They recognize that they cannot sell "Project Gotham Racing" easily in Japan. They need to come up with titles that are specific to that market. And that's something we struggle with sometimes. The Japanese consumer has very specific tastes, and we have to respect the tastes of that audience.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is there a specific taste in the European market that you need to cater for as well?

Harrison: I think the European and the US markets are a little bit closer together, but there are still some differences. You've seen with the success of "Buzz" and "EyeToy" and "SingStar" we have developed a social game concept in the European market, very successfully in Germany. That has taken the Playstation brand into new areas and Playstation hardware sales into new homes that I don't think we would have seen otherwise. Obviously there are certain challenges in selling certain types of games in Germany. Which is fine, and we respect that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What specific challenges? Are you talking about age restrictions for certain games?

Harrison: We fully respect the rules and regulations of the marketplace. But there are some games that, because of the ratings system, cannot be presented so clearly to the consumer.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: As a gamer, what game would you yourself like to see on the new system?

Harrison: I love racing games. That's probably the type of games I play the most. For the future of PS3, though, I think something that brings people together -- more that just a multiplayer online game but something that brings communication and community into gaming -- is what I'm most interested in. I think we can bring that social aspect -- I'm very inspired at the moment by what's happening with things like MySpace and Second Life and those kinds of experiences -- to video games very effectively.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You also mentioned MySpace in your presentation at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Rather unusual for a console manufacturer ...

Harrison: What we are trying to do is to recognize that the power of a network is not in the operating system, but in the people that are connected to it and what they contribute to the network. That's what makes a network powerful. The reason something like MySpace is powerful is because you have the combined effect of hundreds of thousands or millions of people adding and growing the content of that network. That's what's interesting. It's a very powerful force.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: MySpace works because in many countries, nearly everybody owns a PC and nearly everybody's got Internet access. But to get into your network, you have to own a PS3. Do you think people will want to use the PS3 to create a network?

Harrison: Playstation 3 has a browser, so you can get into MySpace from your Playstation 3.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It sounds like you're planning to do even more networking than you have already.

Harrison:Yes, we do. But I can't elaborate at the moment.

Interview conducted by Christian Stöcker

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