Phil Harrison has opened on the troubled launch of the PS3, what Sony got wrong, and eventually, what they got right.
Speaking as part of the Edge Game Changers series, Harrison offered a stark assessment of the self-inflected wounds Sony gave itself at the start of the PS3 generation: "Honestly, I don't think Sony was concerned enough about Microsoft as a competitor. In the office in Tokyo, it was as if Microsoft didn't exist, whereas in the US and Europe, clearly they were going to be a vigorous competitor. But in Japan, nobody cared about the original Xbox and nobody cared about Xbox 360 either. And so there was a slightly distorted view of how important and vigorous a competitor Xbox was going to be."
Harrison is more reflective on another issue the PS3 faced, in its huge price tag. He says: "Kaz Hirai had the unfortunate job of announcing [PS3's] price point [$499/$599] at E3, and I think the collective gasp from the audience nearly propelled him off the stage. It was an unprecedented price but it reflected, I think, two important things. One was the extraordinary cost of building the machine – it needed a higher price. And also at the time, although this got changed, there were some components, particularly relating to the Blu-ray player, which were so difficult to make and so scarce that if we had priced it more aggressively, we couldn't have kept up with demand."
If those two issues combined for an underwhelming launch, then developers also struggled to get the most out of the machine. Harrison had a first-hand experience of this, explaining: "We definitely made it very difficult for most developers and publishers to get the most out of the machine at the time. By this point I'm running Worldwide Studios, so I'm almost exclusively focused internally on building games and technology with our own studios and acquiring studios and starting studios, so I was less involved in the support externally of developers and publishers at that time, but we recognized that there was a mismatch between the tools and technology that we were building for ourselves and the kind of technology that developers had at their fingertips externally."
If the early years of the consoles were a struggle for Sony, the company managed to turn the consoles fortunes around with the introduction of the PS3 Slim. Harrison expands: "[Turning PS3 around] was a combination of exclusive content and getting the manufacturing and challenges of the supply chain resolved on the machine itself, to produce a slimmed-down version at a much cheaper price. It also involved the investments that we had made a lot earlier in World Wide Studios starting to bear fruit. And, although I had nothing to do with it – I observed it from a distance – Sony also got themselves sorted out when it came to online, becoming more credible in the area of online technologies and services around PlayStation Network, and they really started to catch up with Microsoft in that regard."
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