I took notes, but a lot of ground was covered, and not all of it was probably of interest. To give you a sense of context, we were all gathered around a large table in a hotel just off of Union Square. The event was held in the early evening, and lasted for approximately two hours. While everyone was certainly civil, there were a number of tough questions passed around. Here is what I felt was most important to you folks:
Thursday evening, senior Sony representatives such as Phil Harrison (President of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios) and David Karraker (Head of SCEA's PR division) sat down with the posters from a bunch of websites, looking to ease relations between the company and their customers. Along with folks from The San Jose Mercury News, Joystiq, Kotaku, and MTV, we discussed a number of the issues raised in the comments here on Slashdot the day before yesterday
. My goal in going to the event was to make sure that your concerns were heard. Over the last several months, I've heard many complaints leveled against Sony and their products, and I was hoping to bring back some answers. To be honest, I walked away not fully satisfied. Read on for answers to some of the criticisms you, the readers, have leveled against Sony in the last several months.
I came away from the meeting with a sense of cautious optimism. To be sure, any time you put a personality to a face and media quotations you'll be more inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt. I think it's human nature to empathize with people that we've met with in person; I hope that you'll view the above with that in mind. Just the same, the folks that spoke for Sony yesterday honestly seemed like passionate businessmen with an interest in making a good product. I certainly don't think that one good press conference and a well-attended meeting can undo the public relations nightmare of the last six months, but (as I said on Wednesday) it does give me cause for hope. Assuming that the company keeps its nose clean through the European launch, it's possible the games arm of this particular megacorporation may have put its launch troubles in the rear-view mirror.
- A goodly amount of the discussion centered around Sony's newly announced Home project. The dangers of allowing uploadable content were raised, and we were assured that PSN parental controls will be fully in place within the game world. There will be a few quick button options to black out the screen (in case of offensive images) and to kill the audio (in case of offensive language). Public spaces will be moderated (and instanced, if you're curious), though they were a bit vague on just how those individuals would work economically. They're still working out the details.
- I was intrigued on Wednesday (as were a number of readers) by the possibility of indie games in the Arcade rooms they showed off. Phil Harrison responded by saying that it is something they're very interested in. Originally, all of the games were going to be done in Java but technical problems arose. The games are now done in C. If they can wrap up the tools in an easy package, they'd be very happy to release them and allow community-created games onto the service.
- Revenue for the service will be handled via object sales, advertising, and b2b elements in vendor areas. Those concerned about the 'amount of free' that you'll get as an intro Home user should know that they're hoping to offer a fair amount off the bat. 'Free' includes a basic apartment, access to the public spaces, a 'reasonable' number of avatar customization options, and a 'starter' set of furniture. Better views out your window will be purchasable, along with new apartments.
- Everyone from Sony in the room heavily resisted comparisons to Second Life, and other services. In Mr. Harrison's words "That would be heavily oversimplifying both Home and Second Life." Along the lines of hacking the service to allow Second Life-style sexual animations, the reps were fairly confident that they'd dodge that bullet. The service itself doesn't allow avatar touching, and doesn't currently have emotes that approximate those actions. They eventually hope to have 100% of online-connected users on the service. Currently, the number of online connected PS3's is somewhere around 500,000 in NA; roughly 50% of the North American consoles.
- Right now the download is around 450 megs, but that's going to probably shrink and grow over the course of development.
- The subject of Sony's arrogant public demeanor was broached, as well as the poor public relations message we've been getting in the last several months. The ThreeSpeech blog was broached, and the folks in the room actually clarified the purpose and reality behind the 'semi-official' blog. ThreeSpeech is actually a European entity, intended to be a public forum in which Sony-related matters can be discussed and information can be brought to the public's attention. The people behind ThreeSpeech are some of the most respected games journalists in the UK; it would be like if a US version of the site were staffed by the likes of CNN's Chris Morris, and man-of-many-talents Geoff Keighley. Because UK gamers know and trust the ThreeSpeech staff, there's an implicit understanding (in that country) that the message coming from the site is not 'tainted.' It was pointed out the lack of attribution to posts across the site is a barrier to acceptance, and they took that under advisement. For the most part, it seems, the bad reputation that ThreeSpeech here in the states seems to be a case of cultural misunderstanding. While I still don't like the term 'semi-official', I did feel as though the concept behind the site made a great deal more sense to me after this chat. Some of the other attendees were not as reassured.
- The element that I want to convey, which I took away from the discussion of Sony's arrogance, was that arrogance is not the feeling I get from them in person. These people are, instead, supremely confident in their products and services. Thanks to the impersonal nature of quotes and the numerous (rightly decried) public relations gaffes they've suffered, their confidence can easily be seen as arrogance by third party information consumers. This is not to say the company on the whole is not arrogant; I just want to make it clear the people I was in the same room with Thursday night did not have the attitude of inherently arrogant individuals.
- This discussion went on to include the question of the PS3's pricetag, which was a subject never fully addressed to my satisfaction. There was some talk of the PS3 as a lifestyle, and the still-important question of why Blu-ray technology is necessary. Peripherals such as the EyeToy were mentioned as 'making the PS3 disappear from the equation', which given the cost of the system seemed to be a poor choice of words. Not much of substance resulted from the Sony 'side of the table' on this subject, and that attitude left me feeling a bit frustrated. The system's cost won't be changing for some time now, and there's apparently not much to talk about on that subject. This was the one element that I went into the session hoping to deal with directly, and unfortunately came away feeling let down.
- As a final note, it was stated directly that "There is no direct evidence that Blu-Ray has been hacked." Their attitude is that the encryption is strong, and that it will be a long time before it's cracked.