Q: It’s the 20th anniversary of PlayStation launching in New Zealand and Australia. What was the feeling within your team on the eve of the launch of the first PlayStation all those years ago?
Michael Ephraim: 20 years is a long time ago! I remember outside of Sony there were comments from people like, ‘What does Sony know about gaming?’ It was a duopoly back then with Sega and Nintendo. I’m not saying they said it, but analysts and other people. When we opened up the first PlayStation we got and played Ridge Racer and Battle Arena Toshinden, we went, ‘Wow this is pretty special!’ But no-one would have expected… We weren’t going, ‘This is going to be the biggest thing ever’. The success surprised us. We were constantly amazing by how big it was getting, and realised that we a major impact on taking gaming out of the bedroom and into the lounge room.
Q: You’ve been with Sony for all of its console launches. How did the launch of the PS4 compared with those of prior generations?
Michael Ephraim: They all have been different, you know? Look at what Sony Entertainment R&D have been doing over 20 years. When we opened the box on PlayStation 1 and put in Ridge Racer, we were blown away, ‘cos it was 2D side-scrolling games up to that point. And the advent of using CD as a medium opened up what gaming could be: it plays music CDs, and then PlayStation 2 with DVD playback and opening it up even further for gaming. PlayStation 3 though really was the big game-changer: it was a digital device, it was connected, it received firmware upgrades, kept evolving. It’s been a long journey. The people at Sony are very visionary, and they can anticipate things are gonna happen.
Q: What kinds of experiences are you expecting the PlayStation 4 to deliver in the VR space?
Michael Ephraim: Based on the reaction of consumers and media… I would say to them, I’m going to hype this thing up, but I’m sure after you try it, your reaction will be even better. It’s very early days, but the response on the experience has been absolutely fantastic. [Note: there was continual screaming coming from the VR section of the PlayStation event as we conducted this interview.] I think it’s very early days to say where it will end up, where it will go, but at Paris Games Week we exposed it bit more to our third party partners, Tekken 7 was announced and will have VR compatibility, Gran Turismo…
For gaming, it’s the biggest change in innovation I’ve seen in 20 years. You’re not sitting in front of a screen watching a game, you’re in the game. And time will tell – it’s very exciting. For me, it all goes to visualising where this thing will be in its second and third year. It’s evolving very quickly. I’m not a creative genius – it’s the game developers and publishers that will take the technology and come up with things that we can’t even imagine. When people are demoing it, I wanna be there, because the reaction from people is amazing and I never get bored of it. The reaction from people is almost childlike amazement. So at this point it looks like people are really getting blown away by PlayStation VR as a truly immersive experience. So if that translates into sales, that would be the thing. When you look at the future with PlayStation VR, we’re really proud and grateful for this kind of product to be able to take the market.
Q: Do you have a ballpark figure for what people might be paying for it?
Michael Ephraim: We will announce price and date sometime early next year. It is slated for a 2016 launch. At the moment, we don’t have any information.
Q: With new and untested hardware like this, it seems there’s always the chicken/egg scenario wherein you don’t have a user base to sell to developers or a killer app to sell to users. How do you tackle that?
Michael Ephraim: Well, there were already some games announced at E3 that I think could be killer apps: Rigs, which is the futuristic combat mech stadium game, and then announcements from Paris Games Week – Tekken 7, GT, Until Dawn. I can’t remember all the games, but there are a lot of games going to be available, so I would hope that wouldn’t be a problem. [Note: since this interview, a ton of games have been announced for PS VR.]
Q: Things we often see asked for on PS4 are custom folders and friend alerts. Any idea when these things might appear?
Michael Ephraim: I am not aware of that at the moment, but with the firmware upgrades they’ve been really delivering... The thing is, the guys at PlayStation that do all this geeky stuff, they’re really listening to what the consumer wants. So I’m sure if there are enough people clamouring for something, it will eventually come. I have no insight into that.
Q: Do you see a role for Move outside of PlayStation VR?
Michael Ephraim: If you look at the innovations with EyeToy, Buzz, Singstar and Move, and with Move now making a comeback with VR, I’m sure there will other innovative accessories that come with it. So whether Move has another role to play, I’m not aware of anything at this point.
◆ You can read our 20th anniversary tribute to the PlayStation 1 here.