Sony's Eric Lempel on Digital Downloads, PS3 Home Integration

What sort of digital content's coming for PSP owners in 2009? For PlayStation 3 owners? Will Sony offer additional direct-download Blu-ray titles through its PlayStation Store? What about PlayStation Home integration? Will we ever see Home avatars crossover to the XMB interface? I tracked down Sony Director of Network Operations Eric Lempel to get answers to those question and others in the following two part interview. Part one is here. This is part two.

Game On: Let's hit the PSP Go. Today I can plug any model PlayStation Portable into the PS3 and download games or trigger PS3-related game features. Does that change at all with the PSP Go?

Eric Lempel: No, it works pretty much the same way the other models interact with the PS3. The nice thing is, the Go really revolves around the network. It's all about getting content to it from the network. So it's kind of that PlayStation Network centric device that we've been hoping for and waiting for and consumers have been asking for.

GO: What can PSP owners expect to be pulling down yet this year via that network?

EL: Tthe first thing you can look forward to is a lot more content. You might have noticed in recent weeks that we've started bringing out a lot more of the UMDs in digital format so you can buy them from the PlayStation Store and download them. And then you've got the PS One classics, the emulated titles. These are titles some fans haven't played in years, sometimes 13 or 14 years, and we're bringing out as many of those as we can get the rights to. We recently released Final Fantasy VII, as I'm sure you're aware, and it's just unreal how well a 12-year-old game is doing.

I think a lot of people are just coming to gaming and may have never played some of these games. Others might have played them and wish they still could, but don't have the discs anymore. I mean, you can't buy those discs new anywhere, so it's great to get some of those titles back on the network.

The other thing you'll see aside from classics is new original games for the PSP through the network. Aside from all the great UMD content, and there's a lot of that still to come, there are tons of new, entirely original PlayStation Network titles made exclusively for the PSP coming out this year.

So first and foremost I'd say it's content, a massive amount of content through the network on the PSP. And then the next thing is just us improving existing services and adding new features and services. We made a couple of small announcements at E3 about some things we're adding for the PSP and there'll be a lot more to come.

GO: If you take a low-resolution PS One game that by my measure looks pretty awful due to blurry interpolation on a high-definition LCD TV, and you run the same game on the lower-resolution PSP, it actually looks decent. Is that a driving factor in rolling out the back catalogue?

EL: Yeah, definitely.

GO: Okay, let's cover the other digital distribution prong, the PS3. You don't offer any PS3 games directly download at the moment, right?

EL: We've offered a few, actually. We did three different games to kind of test the waters and try it out. Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, SOCOM Confrontation, Burnout by EA is also available over the network, and Warhawk. So actually four of them. Three from our worldwide studios group, one from a third party.

GO: Plans to expand that catalogue in 2009 or do you hold the line?

EL: We'll probably hold the line on the Blu-ray disc side, just because there's a lot of stuff that quite honestly is too big to deliver over the network right now. We can technically do it, but it might be a bit long for the consumer. On the other side, there'll be a lot of great original content coming to the PlayStation Network through the PlayStation Store for the PS3. In recent weeks, we've had a lot more support from our third-party partners and there's a ton more coming. I was checking the release schedule for the rest of the year, and it's really looking good. Lots of great content from both our worldwide studios groups and third parties. Tons of stuff in fact.

GO: What about PlayStation 2 backward compatibility, the oft, beaten, and flogged question. Is it possible to offer a software downloadable, flash-updatable solution to existing PS3 owners?

EL: It's something I couldn't answer right now without talking to some of the engineers.

GO: Eric Lempel's vision for the rest of 2009? Where do you want to be by the end of the year with the PlayStation Network?

EL: I'd encourage people to really explore the value of PlayStation Network. There's a ton of stuff under the hood. It's not just online gaming, and it's not just the store. There's a lot of other stuff that gets overlooked. Just to rattle through the list, users who have a PS3 have free access to the PlayStation Network, they've got Wi-Fi built in so it's easy to get connected. Once you're connected, you've got access to a ton more stuff.

So just to go through the list, you've got the PlayStation Store, where you can demo a ton of PlayStation Network as well as Blu-ray games. Of course you can buy a ton of great content, some of the content we've discussed, but you know, there's add-ons for games, there are completely new and original games, there are classic versions of games that have been updated, there's free trailers, there are themes, wallpapers, music. I mean, there's a ton of stuff available on just the game side, and a lot of that I think gets overlooked here and there. And I also would say that the games we put out on PlayStation Network are not these tiny bite-sized games. They're quite deep, immersive experiences, made exclusively for the PS3. You know, high-definition, great games. Great content that's actually high quality.

GO: Stuff like Flower?

EL: Yeah, something like Flower. Stuff that's unique. Stuff that if we just stuck to Blu-ray games, they probably wouldn't put it out Blu-ray because it wouldn't justify a $60 price point, and so it's really suited to the network. That's what I like about the network personally, that we can have these developers who we really couldn't work with in the past because we didn't have the right model or distribution method, but now we can. We can bring these guys in and let them go a little wild.

Moving over to the other side of the store you've got the video section, where we're constantly adding new partners. At E3 we made a significant announcement, adding a bunch of additional partners, and we've got all of the major networks, all of the major studios, for rental and for sell-through. We even have some high-definition movies that you can buy as well as rent, so again, lots of great entertainment, lots of great content on the store side.

And then we've got PlayStation Home. I'm sure you've seen the press lately. We've been adding a ton of great content there, really tying in a lot of the games that have been released recently into Home, giving people new experiences and such. That won't slow up. The Home team has a very aggressive roadmap for the rest of the year. They'll be adding a lot of great content and new features.

GO: Speaking of Home, right now if I want to access it, I have to stop what I'm doing, cursor over to Home, leave behind the XMB, go through this big launch process, and then presto, there I am, but now I'm cordoned off from the rest of the operating system. Has Sony every thought about combining the two somehow, to speed up access, or better integrate the experiences?

EL: I think we're already starting to focus on integrating Home into the regular gaming experience. But I think in a way you've answered your own question. I mean, we're giving gamers a choice. If you want to quickly jump into something and you know what you want to do, you can do that on the XMB.

But Home is really about an online gaming community. It's about going into that space, taking the time to wander around and explore. We do give you the option, you know, some of the integration pieces. You can launch games from Home if you like. So if you run into people, you start talking about a game, and you want to play that game, you can launch into it straight from Home. So we have it both ways. Home isn't a navigation system, it's a community, a very big, robust community. It was a massive undertaking by us, and it's doing quite well. We've got seven million users worldwide who've tried it, and a lot of them are using it on a regular basis. The average user spends about 30 minutes a session, which means they're wandering around actually doing things and enjoying their time enough to stay.

So it's not about navigating the same content you get on the XMB, it's about doing something different with other people. I don't think it'd be smart of us if we made Home the interface, because if you want to jump in and start a game, you're right, you don't want to walk to it. You probably don't want to wander around past a whole bunch of people who might want to talk to you, just to get to it.

GO: How about this then. You mention XMB-like features being added to PlayStation Home, launching games and such. How about the inverse of that, say bringing PlayStation Home features over to the XMB? The one I hear talked about most is avatars. Being able to carry your identity with you back out of Home and into the XMB.

EL: It's definitely something we're looking at. We launched Home late last year. It's technically still a beta. We wanted to see how it would do and it's doing quite well, and now people have become attached to their Home personas. Given that avatars are something they want carried across, it's definitely something we're working on.

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