WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank, and occupation!
I'm Eric Lempel, and I'm the director of PlayStation Network operations and strategic planning.
WP: The PSN and downloadable content have been around quite a while for the PS3, but bringing it to the PSP is still new. What kind of undertaking was it to convert PSP games into a downloadable format, since the PSPgo doesn't have a UMD slot?
EL: It's actually a pretty big undertaking. As you know, the PSP itself has been around for a number of years, but the team and I sent through the process of converting over a bunch of PSP UMD titles to digital so that we could have as much as possible available for the PSPgo and the regular PSP. We already had a number of digitized PSP UMD titles on the Network, but we wanted as many as possible for the PSPgo launch.
WP: What does it take to digitize a title? From a layperson's standpoint, you make the hardware and you make the software, so why can't you just click on Save As?
EL: It's kind of a long process. It's a little more involved than that. There's a lot of testing that comes into play. We have to make sure that it works right. It's got to go through a very long pipeline to actually get up on the store and priced and working correctly. It's a pretty involved process. At the same time, aside from just the technical process, we have to make sure that all of this stuff is approved to be distributed digitally. When the PSP first came out and everything was on disc, a lot of those rights weren't secured, so some of the challenges that we've had was to make sure that we got the rights to titles in the digital format.
WP: You're saying that even though a publisher may be able to sell a game on a disc, it may not have the rights to do it as a digital download?
EL: Exactly. There are a lot of different complicated things that go into legal agreements and publisher agreements, and we work with a wide variety of third-party publishers, and all of those agreements are different because essentially, they handled their own agreements with their own developers, and in some cases, we just legally can't get the rights to put something on the Network digitally.
WP: What about downloading direct to PSP? In the past, the PSP has been side-loaded, meaning you download it to your PS3 and then load it on your PSP. Are we going to avoid the PS3 middle step in the future?
EL: Actually, that's not the case. With all the PSPs that exist today, from the PSP 1000 to the PSP 3000, and of course PSPgo, we launched the PlayStation Store for the PSP in 2007. This year, we introduced the video store as well, so now you can access the store natively on the PSP and download directly to the device. If you can't get a Wi-Fi hotspot, you can also download to your PC, tether the device, and side-load. You don't necessarily need a PS3 to get content onto a PSP.
WP: Sweet! You talked about the video store. One of the things that we know is that the new PSP firmware has hooks for talking about game rentals. Is that something that we're going to see on PSN in the future?
EL: It's something that we've considered and thought about, but it's not something that we're currently rolling out.
WP: In theory, what would be involved with something like that? Is it a rights issue again, or is it more involved?
EL: It would essentially be another business, so we'd have to set up the user experience, the rights issues, the usage rights, so there's a lot that would have to go into that.
WP: From a software interface, the XrossMediaBar and the whole UI that has evolved into the PlayStation Network actually started out on the PS2-based PSX. How did the XMB interface affect the design of the PSN interface and how you present the information to the player?
EL: The XrossMediaBar is actually an Emmy Award-winning UI, and we do a ton of testing on everything we roll out, and we found that users really like the XMB. It's easy to find things, it's easy to understand once you play around with it for a couple of minutes, so it was a logical step for us to bring it over to the PSP and then the PS3.
WP: Back to the PlayStation Store, what defines a mini versus a full game?
EL: The idea behind minis was to get a lot of new developers on to PSP. The first step was reducing the price of the hardware development tools, and we did that at E3, and we brought the price down significantly so that smaller and new developers could easily get into PSP and start developing. The other part is making it easy for them to submit content to our pipeline, so we've adjusted that criteria and made it a little easier. As long as they fit within the minis criteria, they can get a piece of content up on the PSP.
WP: Speaking of independent developers, Microsoft has the Xbox 360 and Live Arcade, and it also has XNA, which allows independent developers to create content for the 360, and it's been really popular. Sony actually kicked that off back in the PlayStation 1 days with the Net Yaroze. Now that you've got minis on PSN, are there any plans to open up something like Microsoft's XNA? It would be an independent version of the mini, where Joe Shmoe has a great idea and wants to get it on PSN.
EL: It's not something we're doing today. We've always looked at our models in the past and we've evolved them, so it could be something we look at in the future, but right now, you have to be a professional developer to some degree to use the tools and get the content on PSN.
WP: Is there anything about PSN or the PSPgo that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
EL: Well, the great thing is that we launched a couple of new services with PSPgo. You mentioned minis. We'll also have a digital comic service later this year, and we have another application called SensMe. It's a new way to manage and use your music on the PSP, so typical with the other PSP models, we're going to continue to evolve the unit through firmware updates and add a whole bunch of new features and improve on features that already exist.
WP: Last but not least, what PSP mini has been taking all of your free time lately?
EL: I've actually been playing Fieldrunners quite a bit. It's a great game. I've been enjoying that, and for the first time on the PSP, I tried out Tetris. I've always loved Tetris, and it's great to have that on the PSP.
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