Monday, June 19, 2006

Interview with PSM's Chris Slate

Here's the full interview with PSM's Chris Slate, part of which ran in last Saturday's Gazette.

At the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) Sony came out with loads of information about the PlayStation 3, set to release this November. To get a better grip on Sony’s upcoming plans (and because I’m nosy) I interviewed Chris Slate, Editor in Chief of PSM: Independent PlayStation magazine.

Terry: The Playstation 3 was originally set to be released this Spring but to no one's surprise was pushed back to November. Will this help or hurt Sony?

Chris: Probably neither, in the long run. Obviously they weren't ready on many fronts to launch in the spring, so trying to push it out then would have been a disaster (no good games ready, unpolished hardware, etc.). Not launching until November will have given Xbox 360 a full year's head-start, but since Microsoft had so much trouble getting hardware out for the first six months of its head start, their lead will still be within Sony's reach come the holidays. Of course, with PS3 shortages are almost a certainty, it would take Sony a little while to catch up to 360 sales even under the best scenario for PS3.

Terry: At E3 Sony gave some specifics (price point, specs, packaging info) about the PS3 and as expected the retail price is higher than for a comparably equipped Xbox 360. How will this affect the PS3/Xbox 360 console battle?

Chris: This is massive. Sony's gambling everything on the fact that people will see the value in getting a Blu-ray movie player with the PS3, but that format hasn't even launched yet; only hardcore videophiles or game fans have even heard of it. There's sure to be a big marketing push, but in the end, what does Blu-ray offer that people can't already get with DVDs? Just a prettier picture, really, and that's only if you've got a HDTV. Even then, most people won't spot a notable difference between a $40 progressive scan DVD player running in 480p and a Blu-ray movie running in 720p. 1080p is only slightly nicer looking than that, and very few TVs can display that resolution right now. This isn't like the jump from VHS to DVD, where the difference was much clearer - it wasn't just the sharper image, it was the fact that you no longer had to rewind a movie, you could skip to different chapters, the addition of extra bonus features, a wider selection of priced-to-own material, and the fact that a single DVD disc is easier to store. Again, all Blu-ray really offers is a somewhat sharper image. Right now, my personal feeling is that both the Blu-ray and competing HD-DVD formats are stop-gap upgrades, like how laser disc came between VHS and DVD. Consumers are resistant to this type of change, when they already have invested so heavily in DVD - not that they have to get rid of their old movies (these new players will still play them), but right now they're fine and happy with DVD. If Blu-ray does take off, Sony will be proven to have made a very shrewd move, and Blu-ray alone could put PS3 at the top. If it doesn't take off though, then Sony is stuck with a game console that - in the cheapest configuration - costs half a grand. That's $200 more than Xbox 360, and likely $300 more than Nintendo's Wii.

Terry: What can Sony learn from Microsoft's Xbox 360 launch?

Chris: I would have thought that the lesson from the Xbox 360 launch would be, "Don't try a worldwide launch -- you just won't have enough units." Sony could be in an even bigger pinch because, not only are they having to get production rolling on a new game system (which is always tricky), but they're also dealing with manufacturing their new and unique Cell processor, and PS3 will be a first-generation Blu-ray player. You'd have to think that the possibility for manufacturing errors is larger than normal, so they can't just rush these things down the line. And, with 360, there was almost zero demand in Japan, but that market will go crazy over PS3. I'll be very surprised if, at best, PS3 is only as scarce as the 360 was last Holiday season.

Terry: Sony has been pretty quiet about its online plans. What do they need to do to compete with the well established Xbox Live and the 360's Xbox Live Marketplace?

Chris: They've made a really smart decision here, in that they won't charge to play games online (Xbox Live costs about $50 annually). That's important because it's very unlikely that Sony will be able to match the robust feature set of Xbox Live anytime soon -- Microsoft has too big of a head-start. I expect a very bare-bones online network at PS3's launch, with more features added every few months.

Terry: What PS3 exclusive titles are you most excited to see at launch and what do you think could be the PS3's Halo killer?

Chris: Insomniac's Resistance: Fall of Man is Sony's big first-person shooter at launch, and it looks really pretty. It plays well too, and will have a massive online multiplayer component. What stops it from being an obvious killer-app though, is that it's a pretty standard FPS. A very well-done one mind you, but when people upgrade to the next generation, they want to see something new and fresh. Sony's other big title, Incog's Warhawk, should be another solid game with robust online features. Those two will be key for PS3 during its launch window. PS3's really big guns though, as of right now, are unquestionably Konami's Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, and Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIII, both PS3 exclusives. MGS4 won't be out until late 2007, however, and the wait for FFXIII may be even longer than that.

Terry: For the average gamer, working for a gaming magazine would be just as cool as designing video games, testing games and getting a booth babe to acknowledge their existence. How do you go about getting a job like yours and how many hours a day does the average gaming scribe spend gaming?

Chris: The gaming hours depend on what your exact role is - as Editor-In-Chief, I unfortunately have to play most of my games at home. Our other editors, though, play a lot at work and after hours - they can't review a game until they've beaten it. It is a dream job, but it's not always nirvana - just imagine being forced to play your most hated game through to completion. Not that we're complaining, mind you :) As far as the best way to break into something like this, well... a degree in creative writing, journalism or something similar is a big plus, but by no means mandatory. What we really look for is a good work ethic, a deep passion for and knowledge of gaming, and writing skills good enough to communicate clearly. If I were to try to break in today, I'd start my own videogame website or blog, really dedicate myself to keeping it updated and polishing my writing skills, and then I'd use the my site as a kind of resume to seek out freelance work from other, bigger sites -- especially the big names like IGN, Gamespot, Games Radar and 1-Up. Once you get in that freelancer circle -- if you're good, easy to work with and meet your deadlines - you'll have opportunities from there to network and get a job at a magazine or a videogame company, most likely as PR. It also helps to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, or one of the few other places where a lot of game publishers and press are located.

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