Shawn Layden: "I'd welcome the return of 12-15 hour gameplay"

Former Sony WW Studios president imagines a world post-coronavirus, foresees growth in VR after lockdown, and has some advice for PS5 and XSX.

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Former chairman of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios Shawn Layden just had one of this year's Gamelab Live 2020 talks together with GamesBeat's Dean Takahashi. The talk, which finished a moment ago, was called "Where do we go from here?" and effectively focused on the new generation of games and gamers the world will see not just because of the new consoles, but even more importantly after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Layden, who was present at Gamelab 2018 in his former position and left Sony at the end of last year, thinks that "gaming as an industry need to come out of this in a different way", referring to both working conditions and the ways games are created in terms of costs and ideas.

"I had the privilege of being chairman of Worldwide studios for five years", he said, and that included "13 very different studios, different cultures", where each "wanted to achieve something different". In total, more than 2,600 people now having to deal with "the remote work challenge", which makes Layden think that "the world of 2019 is now gone, there's no getting back to that" as both companies and employees face the implications of extended work from home. On that, looking at the bigger picture, the century shift might actually not have happened in the early 2000s: "I think the 20th century ended with the virus", and now it's time for everyone to assess "how do we work smarter rather than longer."

Shawn Layden: "I'd welcome the return of 12-15 hour gameplay"
White-bearded Shawn Layden at Gamelab Live 2020.

Layden also talked about the evolution of story-driven games and narrative in general, and was happy that Sony's Future of Gaming reveal showed "how many great stories are coming to PS5". In the PSX days, the main goal was to "bring the arcade home" but gradually with PS2, PS3, and PS4, according to the ex-Sony man, gaming has evolved to become "more than the three-minute coin-op experience". The turning point for storytelling in games for him was, even though "in Japan, they were kind of in the RPG aisle", "in London Studio when they came out with The Getaway", which meant hiring "real scriptwriters, or actors doing motion capture" for the first time. "We're not just about racing, and fighting, and RPGs"

The conversation also touched upon the rising costs of videogames, as "price never changes, but they cost 10 times" to create nowadays, and "those two [factors] could collide". According to Layden, the industry needs to "sit back and go: what are we building, what's the best way to tell our story" in terms of costs, as "next-gen is also about evaluating what can we continue to put into games, and at what cost". In this regard, other than showing himself "extremely proud and happy for the team" about The Last of Us: Part II, Layden would "welcome the return to the 12-15 hour gameplay" as a viable model for interesting single-player games, "just like a well-edited piece of literature or movie" as it "could get us tighter, more compelling gameplay".

At any rate, the new generation "won't be less expensive" with "higher specs and 4K, HDR assets". And keeping in mind both PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X release later this year, the veteran exec's advice for Sony and Microsoft is that "it is important to keep in mind that a gaming console is a gaming console (...) hardware needs to come out and speak to that and say: 'we've done our homework'", because "if game companies stray away from that they will lose their way".

Layden didn't want to publicly share anything on his sudden departure from Sony or about the alleged internal power struggle that could have potentially caused it. Instead, he defines his current position as "my current job is I went sabbatical (laughs)" to "recharge and refresh", though the quarantine meant a "strange extension" to that. So, "Where do we go from here?", as the talk was called...

"There are still new things to discover in that intersection between tech and entertainment", Layden mentioned, other than giving recent examples such as the esports rise or transmedia projects such as Netflix's Bandersnatch. However, there's one field Layden seems especially interested in, as "the audience for VR is probably bigger after lockdown" and the former chairman foresees "an evolution across VR platforms", where "everything is new, only limited by the imagination of creators". And while he's "looking at all sectors", "people are expending more of their time in a tech-enhanced format".

Shawn Layden: "I'd welcome the return of 12-15 hour gameplay"
Shawn Layden during his Sony times.

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