So, I spotted over on N'Gai Croal's blog that he has a new interview with Sony's Phil Harrison up, and it's interesting to me because Harrison specifically calls out a piece I wrote for Gamasutra reporting on his GDC Europe Q&A in 2005 as being somewhat misleading. So... I will investigate!
Part 1: The Allegation
Harrison particularly says: "You put something on your blog about how comments from videogame executives can come back to haunt them. Of all the things I've said--and there are plenty of things should come back to haunt me--what you quoted was not one of them. The quote in question actually came from the GDC Europe interview that I did onstage with [Game Developers Conference director] Jamil Moledina a couple of years back. He was asking my view on Microsoft's two SKU strategy."
"The point that I made, which was not clearly reported in the Gamasutra piece [that Level Up cited], was that Microsoft had introduced two SKUs, they were effectively two different products: one with a hard drive and one without. And that while I wasn't going to talk about our particular SKU strategy at that time, whatever strategy we would adopt would not confuse developers and publishers, because the underlying platform would be with the hard drive in every machine. So I stand by what I said."
Part 2: The Gamasutra Story
So, what did I originally report in that GDCE 2005 piece for Gamasutra? Here's a direct citation from my article: "When discussing whether he would ever consider multiple launch bundles of the PlayStation 3, as the Xbox 360 has now confirmed, Harrison was relatively caustic, commenting: "Are there two versions of the Xbox that people want to buy? Consumers don't know which one to buy, developers don't know which one to make games for, and retailers don't know which one to stock. We wouldn't take that strategy.""
Part 3: The GamesIndustry.biz Story
Just in case I was wildly off-base, I decided to compare this to other reports at the time, and came up with this GamesIndustry.biz report from Ellie Gibson, which quotes Harrison in the following way:
"Speaking at the European Game Developers' Conference in London today, when asked if Sony might follow in the Redwood [uhm, surely Redmond?] giant's footsteps [and release two SKUs] the VP of studios replied: "Unlikely." "Are there two versions of the Xbox 360 that people want to buy, is my question," he continued. "I don't know." "This is my personal view, not my corporate view, but when I look at those formats, I think it just confuses the audience. They don't know which one to buy, developers don't know which one to create for, and retailers don't know which one to stock." "So I think we wouldn't take that strategy. We wouldn't create confusion," he concluded."
Part 4: Context And Fact
Now, it looks like the two set of quotes differ slightly in terms of bridging words - which isn't great, and I'm obviously not sure who is completely accurate, but I guess is what can happen in the heat of the quoting moment. But you can clearly see the two primary reports have identical information in them. And I certainly stand by the way that I reported Harrison's comments, besides some bridging '...'-s that are missing.
Now, having said that, a lot of this is about context. It is certainly true that Harrison could have then gone on to explain how Sony might still make multiple SKUs. And GamesIndustry.biz does cite the Sony VP's immediate follow-on comments, as follows:
"Harrison did go on to suggest that consumers will have a variety of options to choose from in the longer term. "There have been various versions and variants of PlayStations in the past - some run through the hardware and some through the software, and that's worked pretty well for us, offering different value propositions to the consumer... Exactly what we do with the launch? Too early to tell.""
OK, well does that put things in a different light? Perhaps marginally, though it is vague, and it really does _not_ get his point across well. In fact, the GamesIndustry.biz piece is headlined: "GDCE: Sony "unlikely" to offer two versions of PS3, says Harrison." So Ellie also apparently got the wrong impression from Phil. And more importantly, most of the times that this quote is brought up as anti-PS3 fodder, the GamesIndustry.biz article (which includes that alleged greater context) is cited - for example, on PC Vs. Console, or on the ever-scabrous Ram Raider.
So, Phil's defense, it seems, is that he knew that the company was considering two SKUs with differing hard drives at that time, but in his own words, "whatever strategy we would adopt would not confuse developers and publishers, because the underlying platform would be with the hard drive in every machine." But if you can't explain that bit, you can't come out so strongly against multiple Xbox 360 SKUs, because you can't explicitly explain how your multiple PlayStation 3 SKUs will be different.
Part 5: On Selective Quoting
But selective quoting is a massive issue in the media today, and I'm not saying that the journalist doesn't have to keep a very careful eye on this. Oddly enough, I had a long discussion with Epic's Mark Rein about this after his remarks at GDCE 2006, specifically the sarcastic: "Sony says the next generation starts when they say so - bullshit!" This was picked up by all manner of people as being a bombastic declamation when, as he rightly points out, and Gamasutra attempted to communicate in its first-person version of the speech, it was a humorous quip with an edge of typically Rein-esque sarcasm. But he said it - and things you say can be presented in isolation and used against you.
Perhaps the greatest example of this is the controversy over Pope Benedict XVI's speech touching on Islam, in which Benedict cited the expression of the views of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos by quoting: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Benedict did not claim to think this - only cited it in relation to what the Vatican claims was a "clear and radical rejection of the religious motivation for violence, from whatever side it may come". I would argue that the quote is significantly (but not entirely) less potent as a cited historical document, but highly charged when presented in isolation, without the formal University of Regensburg lecture background.
Part 6: The Messy Truth
Now, you'll notice that I'm not claiming that Phil Harrison is God's agent on Earth at this point. But I am claiming that Harrison's comments were more unclear than perhaps he remembers, and in order not to be selectively quoted (slightly, and I would argue legitimately, by me, in the course of summarizing a long lecture, and even further by others for more subjective reasons) on the problem of multiple SKUs, he needs to think carefully before he goes on the attack.
If you say something, even given caveats before or after the fact, then you've said it. Harrison is right, though - his comments weren't an all-out boner. But given the context, they certainly aren't a slam dunk, either.