Friday, December 12, 2014

PlayStation is now Sony's top priority


ony's an enormous multinational conglomerate. Some perspective on just how big it is: Sony's ranked 105 on the Fortune Global 500 (for 2014), has its hands in everything from chemical manufacturing to financial services to Hollywood films and employs over 140,000 people. Of that number, just 8,000 people make up Sony Computer Entertainment -- what's better known as the PlayStation brand. And that small group of people is now largely responsible for the near future of the mothership. In short, Sony's leaning on its PlayStation arm to buoy the whole company's financials for the next several years. No pressure!

What does that feel like from inside Sony HQ in Japan? I asked SCE Worldwide Studios head (and video game character) Shuhei "Shu" Yoshida this past weekend at the PlayStation Experience in Las Vegas.

"Of course there's pressure," Yoshida said. That's -- of course -- expected. What's not so expected is Yoshida's depiction of the last 20 years of PlayStation's life inside the behemoth that is Sony Corp. "It's great that these days when we talk to Sony HQ people, they treat us like one of their key businesses," he said. Considering the popularity of the PlayStation brand worldwide, you might think the relationship between Sony's main leadership and its subsidiary, Sony Computer Entertainment (PlayStation), would have always been so chummy. While PlayStation 4 is a recent hit for SCE, the three previous PlayStation consoles and two handhelds were no slouches. The PlayStation 2 remains one of the most popular consoles of all time, as well as one of the highest selling. It seems nuts that Sony wasn't paying attention before.
Sony's an enormous multinational conglomerate. Some perspective on just how big it is: Sony's ranked 105 on the Fortune Global 500

"It was not the case!" Yoshida said. "We were doing things on our own, and Sony HQ people didn't quite understand what we were doing. So it was quite interesting -- a huge change."

The "huge change" he referenced is the aforementioned shift in company focus: from televisions and smartphones to the array of PlayStation devices. One example he cited was PlayStation Vue, the upcoming live television service from Sony that pushes to many different devices. "We are calling it PlayStation Vue. Not Music Unlimited, or Sony something. It's PlayStation-branded, even though the service is going to multiple devices."

The tone of internal conversation is completely different now, Yoshida told me. He specifically called out the company's new Chief Financial Officer Kenichiro Yoshida as leading the charge, along with former SCE president/current Sony CEO Kaz Hirai.

I get that this sounds like fluff, but it's impossible to convey the genuine excitement Yoshida radiated while talking about his group at Sony finally getting real recognition after 20 years of work. Yoshida's been with SCE since 1998, and it's clear that he's proud of how far PlayStation's come. If nothing else, the change in tone internally is reflected in PlayStation's tone externally in the past year -- leading up to and following the launch of the PlayStation 4 -- and symbolized in the PlayStation Experience event.

What happens with Morpheus and PlayStation in the long run is anyone's guess, but at the very least the group within Sony has the full attention of its corporate overlord. All it took was 20 years.