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How Shawne Benson is Driving PlayStation’s Content Strategy

Last Updated: January 8, 2024
Boardroom talked to Shawne Benson about her career trajectory, the pivotal work her team does, and what she’s most passionate about when it comes to gaming.

Meet Shawne Benson, a legacy gamer responsible for driving PlayStation‘s content strategy while connecting gamers to the best games on the market.

Benson is the global head of third-party portfolio and acquisitions at PlayStation, a team responsible for content intelligence and knowing about all of the games coming from PS’s third-party partners. She leads a group of game analysts who evaluate potential partnerships spanning all PS products.

Her team doesn’t just lead the charge on partnership deals; it also offers support outside of that. Benson joined Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE), PlayStation’s parent company, in 2017 after a decade at Apple. She worked in different roles at the Big Tech company, most recently serving as a games editor, working closely with the App Store Team before she joined SIE.

When Benson started working with PlayStation’s portfolio team, she mainly focused on working with indie creators, publishers, and developers before her role evolved.

“I started to grow my reach and influence into pretty much everything that’s coming from our third-party partners, both big and small,” Benson told Boardroom in an exclusive interview.

In this Boardroom Q&A, Benson talks about her career trajectory, her team’s pivotal work, and what she’s most passionate about when it comes to gaming.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

MICHELAI GRAHAM: How did you get your start in the gaming industry?

SHAWNE BENSON: It’s kind of a twisty path, so just for some context, my background in education was in theater. I was a designer. I liked composing music and sound for plays as well as lighting. Basically, things you couldn’t really touch but gave you feeling on stage, and I felt like there was a lot of overlap with video games and theater.

Over time, I was trying to break in, kind of like an actor going to Hollywood with their headshot. I had my mix tapes or CDs at the game developers’ conferences. I made a lot of friends and networked around there, and then, you know my partner, he also is an artist in video games. Through that, of course, I met a lot of the indie game community and, as a result, wound up getting really inspired by the journey that a lot of the indies were going through at the time and really wanted to figure out a way to move from being a creator where I was designing stuff for games and more into a patron, for lack of a better word or an advocate for other creators.

MG: How big is your team at PlayStation?

SB: My team is a total of 11 people. However, we work very closely with the third-party relations team, and there is a huge group of account management team members that do the day-to-day relationship management with all the creators. Our partner marketing team members do all the support for advocating.

MG: What does a typical workday look like for you?

SB: A typical day-to-day is looking at content, communicating, and advocating internally. So a lot of meetings. Over the last few years, there has been a lot of travel, basically going around the world and meeting with partners in their studios, getting my hands on their games, and going to trade shows.

In those meetings with partners, it’s not just talking about whether a game is good but does it really resonate with our PlayStation brand? Would this be a good fit for PlayStation? Oftentimes, we’ll see a pitch deck; they’ll show us the overview of the game.

We’ll sometimes see, for publishers, a slate review, which is a high-level look at the games that they have in their portfolio, and if there’s something we have of interest, then we’ll try to kick the tires, so to speak, and play a segment of the game like an early prototype or something a little bit further along. Then we put together our analysis and run our due diligence process, which is similar to what investment firms would do for a company, but we’re doing it for a game.

So I mean, we’re not doing the Q&A: the quality assurance process necessarily, but we absolutely are getting looks at the game throughout the development journey.

MG: Can you talk about a time your team changed the scope of a game in development?

SB: We’re pretty good at putting our dev goggles on at that early stage. One of my favorite examples was with the game Stray. Our team worked really closely with Annapurna Interactive and the development team behind it, BlueTwelve Studio, and gave them a lot of guidance on how to take advantage of our controllers. There are haptic adaptive triggers, so there’s the tension that you can feel when you pull the triggers. Imagine being a cat, and you’re on a carpet, and you have the feature where you can scratch the carpet. Why not get the controller to give you a little bit of resistance? Feels like you’re literally embodying the cat vibes with that moment.

Those are the kinds of moments where we can give them advice that is very console-specific. What we don’t do is tell them how to make their game because they’re the experts at making a great game. We just give them tips and tricks on how to be best on PlayStation.

MG: What happens when your team gives the green light on a deal? Does it change your relationship with developers at all?

SB: It varies. A lot of times, we tell our partners it doesn’t always end with a traditional deal. A lot of people feel discouraged that if we don’t have a traditional partnership, it means their game isn’t good or it doesn’t make sense as a fit for PlayStation.

We only have so many games we can really put our chips against in that regard. There have been so many great games that don’t become part of a deal that we still do a lot of cool stuff with. In fact, our State of Play has a lot of titles in there that we don’t necessarily have traditional partnerships on.

MG: Let’s pivot a bit. Can you talk to me about your personal gaming experience?

SB: I’ve been a gamer since basically the earliest I could possibly play. I’m older than I look; I was I was definitely a child of the 80s, and my first console was an Intellivision. My dad had one. One of the early, more memorable ones for me, though, was the Sega Master System because it had the light gun and the 3D goggles or glasses that you could wear.

I’ve been a religious gamer between me and my brothers. I used to love either playing or watching my brothers play together. Final Fantasy VII, when the first PlayStation was around, just blew our minds. It was one of the most memorable games.

I’ve been a gamer the whole time, and my livelihood depends on it.

MG: Dare I ask, do you have a favorite game that you are playing right now or of all time?

SB: My favorite game of all time is Elden Ring, and that was recently dethroned by my all-time favorite majority of my life, which was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. This was a Super Nintendo game that really just changed me. I really loved that game as a kid, and I still, to this day, will go back to it and replay it over and over again.

But Elden Ring was everything I ever wanted and more in a game. And also, it was from a creator that I always was. It was too punishing for me, so I never really got into it because it was, you know, the type of game that they created was very linear in the previous versions, and this one was so much more open, and it channeled a lot of the things that made me love Zelda, honestly. But it kind of felt like a much more adult, fleshed-out version of that, just a great sense of wonder, but had a little bit of grit and darkness, too.

My personal game of the year is Alan Wake 2. The runner-up is Baldur’s Gate 3.

MG: What are some of your favorite games you’ve worked with since working at PlayStation?

SB: The top games that I worked on in my career here that I’m most proud of are as follows:

  • Stray
  • Kena: Bridge of Spirits
  • Deathloop (It’s one of my proudest experiences/deals, something we signed before Microsoft bought Bethesda. The game director even made a special shout-out to my team when he won Game of the Year.)
  • Baldur’s Gate 3 (although I will note that most of the heavy lifting for this one, in particular, came from my team and account management)
  • Genshin Impact
  • Final Fantasy XVI
  • RE Village
  • Tetris Effect
  • SIFU

MG: Do you have a mental checklist for what you consider a good game?

SB: There are two tracks to answer this because there is a good game for Shawne and a good game for PlayStation.

Personally, the story really has to grab me. It really has to be something that pulls either my intrigue or sense of wanting to peel the layers back and learn more. But that being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a 3D photorealistic, you know, high-tech version. Some of my favorite games are very pixelated and 8-bit.

For Playstation, I think about the audience and where we are in the life cycle of the platform. we’re looking at how those games will resonate and be the best place to play, not only for our existing users but also for players that we want to reach.

MG: Where do you see yourself in the gaming industry in the next five to 10 years?

SB: I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately, you know, cause I really love my position, and I love what I do at PlayStation, and I love connecting with creators. I think no matter what I do, I’ll always want to work with creative people, understand their vision, and try to celebrate or advocate for their vision. Sometimes I wonder if I might one day get back into the creative seat myself.

But for now, I will continue to grow as a curator and a champion of other creators.

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About The Author
Michelai Graham
Michelai Graham
Michelai Graham is Boardroom's resident tech and crypto reporter. Before joining 35V, she was a freelance reporter with bylines in AfroTech, HubSpot, The Plug, and Lifewire, to name a few. At Boardroom, Michelai covers Web3, NFTs, crypto, tech, and gaming. Off the clock, you can find her producing her crime podcast, The Point of No Return.