â€œYou could argue that itâ€™s a storm in a teacup - a very vocal minority of passionate gamers,â€ says Sony Computer Entertainment chief executive Andrew House, speaking to Yahoo! News in Los Angeles this week. â€œThis huge outpouring of feeling around the concept of ownership of content. But I have to say I donâ€™t see it that way.â€
British-born House was speaking in the wake of Sonyâ€™s press conference at the E3 game show, where Sony revealed that, unlike rival Microsoft, it would not use a digital rights management system to allow publishers to control the resale of used games.
Loud cheers erupted as House and his colleagues announced the feature - House describes it as a â€œvisceral momentâ€.
â€œI think we saw a lightning rod for feeling that has been bubbling up - that doesnâ€™t just apply to games, but to entertainment overall,â€ says House. â€œI think thereâ€™s an increasing nervousness about what ownership of content means, in the absence of physical goods. When that nervousness was starting to migrate into control over physical goods that consumers have purchased, that was a bridge too far.â€
Sony put out a video after the launch, with a company representative saying, "This is how you share your games on PS4â€ before handing a disc to another person. The digital rights management system on Xbox One is much more complex - and caused fury on gaming websites since news of it leaked out.
â€œI want to be very clear about where we have been on this issue,â€ says House. â€œI think thereâ€™s a danger that we could be seen to have reacted and capitalised on a situation. When we first announced PS4 in February, people were saying, â€œOh, Sonyâ€™s being coyâ€ - almost with some implicit suspicion. It struck us as very odd. We had no intention of changing our position - it hasnâ€™t changed from what itâ€™s been for the last fifteen years. We believe that if you buy it, you own it, youâ€™re able to do with it what you want.â€
House says that the company took a decision to use cheaper, PC-esque components to bring down the price of PlayStation 4. PS4 is priced at Â£350 - Â£80 less than its rival. House says that the company learned lessons from the launch of PlayStation 3.
â€œPrice point is important at the start of a new platformâ€™s lifecycle,â€ says House. â€œ Weâ€™ve been at both ends of the spectrum, and I know which weâ€™d rather be on. PlayStation 3 was absolute bleeding edge silicon technology, built in house from the ground up. It had really significant business implications for us.â€
House says that the company chose to focus on core gamers because, â€œThey are extremely influential - they are passionate consumers of other forms of entertainment beyond games. They are opinion formers. Other people go to them for advice on technology purchases.â€
Sony, though, aims to offer a more balanced diet than the shoot â€˜em ups and racing titles favoured by many hardcore gamers.
â€œI am very vocal on the topic of indie games,â€ says House. â€œThe industry has an increasing reliance on high-end, high-production-values games - the equivalent of Hollywood blockbuster game franchises. A creative entertainment industry absolutely needs a counterbalance to that, the equivalent of arthouse cinema - the creative, the different, the new. Our goal is to have PlayStation be the best place to foster that.â€
â€œThis is not new,â€ says House, who has been with Sony for more than two decades. â€œItâ€™s what we did in 1995 - we developed the PlayStation, with disc based media, so that smaller game companies could bring new innovative games to market. You werenâ€™t tied into cartridge model, so you could have creative risk-taking, and Parappa the Rapper and all those games were fruits of that. Now weâ€™re going back to that.â€
House also hopes that PlayStation 4 might change the way people play online.
â€œIn this generation, online play has been dominated by competitive online play,â€ he says. â€œIs that all it could be? Couldnâ€™t connecting players be about other forms of activity - or be a bit more altruistic? â€œhat if you were able to assist a friend over the network? Youâ€™d change fundamentally how people view games."
"I appreciate that this is a bit fluffy and â€œniceâ€ but I think itâ€™s a good goal to have. Networks and gameplay could be a bit more than headshots and trash talk - although, of course, thatâ€™s all very well for those that enjoy it... my son included."