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Sony's Shuhei Yoshida Reflects on Two Decades of PlayStation

Sony's worldwide game studios boss dishes on PlayStation's past and future at the Computer History Museum.

Eric Johnson

With the PlayStation 4, Sony has put forth a narrative of learning from past mistakes and re-focusing on features “for the players.” At the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., last night, Sony Worldwide Studios President Shuhei “Shu” Yoshida traced his own arc through four console generations and talked a bit about what’s ahead.

Interviewed by longtime collaborator and PS4 lead system architect Mark Cerny for the museum’s “Revolutionaries” speaker series, Yoshida said his role has changed greatly over the years. “Shu 1.0” was a business development guy, the first to join the team of 20-odd engineers developing the PlayStation under Ken Kutaragi, in 1993.

“At the time, consoles were considered a kids’ toy,” Yoshida said. “Someone in management said we should not go into the toy business, so we named it Sony Computer Entertainment.”

At first, he was only working with Japanese game publishers like Namco, Konami and Square Enix, but Yoshida recounted how Cerny showed up in Japan, insistent on obtaining a PlayStation development kit for his company at the time, the Silicon Valley-based Crystal Dynamics. The hitch was that Sony had only Japanese versions of the development contracts, but Cerny came back and signed for the kit all the same.

As Yoshida later found out, Cerny didn’t have the signing power with Crystal Dynamics to broker such a major deal.

The two worked together on the first Crash Bandicoot game alongside future Sony Computer Entertainment president and CEO Andrew House, the game’s marketing VP. “Shu 2.0” focused more and more on America and less on Japan, losing interest in the legacy developers from his home country. Even though he has since moved back to Japan, Yoshida maintained that it’s still “tough for Japanese publishers” in the console world.

“They should really focus on what they do best,” he said. “Many games try to appease Western audiences, not understanding the culture, and most of them fail.”

“Shu 3.0,” the current model, oversees all game production in the PlayStation world. However, Yoshida has increasingly become part of the console’s public face, appearing in a viral video mocking Microsoft’s initially announced (now abandoned) restrictions on sharing video game discs on Xbox One:

He described himself as “unofficial customer service” because his morning routine includes using his tablet to check Twitter for gamers with complaints or feature suggestions. Twitter is “more and more becoming part of my job,” he added, with both Sony and outside game developers asking him to tweet things on behalf of their products and games.

Yoshida doesn’t only tweet about PlayStation games, though. He owns two units of all the gaming consoles since some titles on some systems are region-locked to Japan, and has been “banned” — twice, but seemingly temporarily — from Nintendo’s Wii social community, Miiverse. First, he tried to use his Twitter handle @yosp as his Miiverse name, but was told that was against the rules. He now goes by ShuYoshida, but was reprimanded a second time when he posted “I <3 PS," referring to PlayStation.

“You’re not supposed to promote a commercial product in Miiverse,” Yoshida said.

But what’s next for PlayStation now that the PS4 is out and selling well? In a brief interview with Re/code after the “Revolutionaries” interview, Yoshida said he’s happy with Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR because it “validates” Sony’s own nascent virtual reality headset, Project Morpheus. Now, he said, it’s Sony vs. Facebook rather than Sony vs. a startup.

He also indicated that as the cloud gaming service PlayStation Now test-launches this summer, Sony will “shift to [be] service-oriented,” delivering games to new devices that couldn’t previously play them. All of which raises the question: In six or seven years, will there be a need for a PlayStation 5?

“It’s really up to the game creators,” Yoshida said. “If they still feel that we need more machine power — ‘We want to realize this and that and that, but we cannot do [it] with PS4’ — if that’s the case, there’s a good reason to have PS5, so that developers can create their vision. So, we’ll see.”

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