FROM THE ARCHIVE: The House that PlayStation Built

Christopher Dring
FROM THE ARCHIVE: The House that PlayStation Built

Back in 2011, days before Andrew House moved to Japan to become CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, MCV sat down with him to conduct his final interview as Sony Europe President.

The piece looked at the career history of the man who would go on the become the most powerful Brit in video games. And to coincide with his Develop keynote today, we've republished the article in full.

If you search for Andrew House on Google the first thing that comes up is a drug rehabilitation centre.

Put his name into Wikipedia and he’s nowhere to be found. Which is surprising when you consider he helped launch the original PlayStation, worked in senior roles at SCE, Sony Corp, SCEA and SCEE, and has signed some of its most defining products.

But then Andrew House always has been one of Sony’s unsung heroes; a PR turned marketing man who has successfully launched brands and platforms in all major territories – Japan, USA and Europe. And while the internet may be unaware of his achievements, the men who run Sony have been paying close attention. 

“Kaz Hirai [ex-SCE CEO] has adopted a broader role within Sony,” says House. “He’s retained overall responsibility for the PlayStation business but is now in charge of all of Sony consumer products. There was a collective feeling that there was a pressing need to have someone to take on his SCE responsibilities and provide focus for the PlayStation business globally.”

Andrew House was the natural choice. He is someone who can, in his own words, “build bridges and cooperation with the rest of Sony."

 

"I had to choose between joining Sony and Toyota."

 

House is very much a Sony man. He had spent two years in Japan learning the language, and in 1990 he faced a choice – get a real job in the country or return to the UK. He was bowled over by what Sony had to offer.

“Two opportunities presented themselves to me – Toyota and Sony” he recalls. “The two interviews couldn’t have been more different.  Toyota was held entirely in Japanese, while Sony was largely in English.

“There was an obvious sense of which was the more international opportunity. Sony also has a fascinating heritage in being one of the companies that’s an icon of Japan’s resurgence after the war and so the combination of those factors made it an easy choice.”

House’s 21-year (and counting) career at Sony began in communications, but his remit extended to software marketing in 1995, when Sony Corp teamed up with Sony Music to launch a brand new product – PlayStation.  

“To find yourself at the formative stage, when a company was just being born, was one of most fascinating opportunities you could have had career-wise,” says House.

“The culture of SCE, and this is something we’ve worked hard to retain, was that of a start-up. A firm with a real entrepreneurial sense about what we were doing.

“The vision from Ken Kutaragi at the time was to radically change the structure of an industry. Bring in a new business model, bring in a new distribution mechanism but also bring in a new approach to content that was about risk taking in games. It was a very invigorating and also confusing time to be in the industry, but it taught me a lot of lessons about what it means to come to the business as a challenger and I think that’s something I’ve never forgotten.”

As one of the few Brits working within the newly formed Sony Computer Entertainment, House found himself a “tad lonely” but expected it wouldn’t be long before he returned home to Europe and the UK. Sony had other ideas.

 

"The vision from Ken Kutaragi was to radically change the structure of the industry."

 

“One of my mentors within Sony Corp is the recently retired Akira Sato and he’s amazing at managing people’s career development,” says House.

“One of the things that he cites as important is throwing people into new challenges. I had anticipated after some early time working on the PlayStation business that I’d find my way to London or Europe, so to be told that my next destination is Foster City [SCEA’s HQ], which I had to look up on a map, was an example of that. 

“It’s something that I’ve tried to adopt. When we see talented people we’ll say: ‘how can we push them outside of their comfort zone and  give them something that they haven’t tried before’. There are inherent risks associated with that but by and large people do step up to challenges and that’s something I’m certainly trying to foster.”

By 1996 House had become a full marketer working in the United States for SCEA. During his nine years at the division he experienced his career highs in launching PS2 and PSP. He did such a great job with PS2 that AdAge listed him as one of the 50 most powerful marketing execs in 2003.It was around the launch of PS2 that SCEA chief Kaz Hirai gave House the task of handling third party relations and developer support.

One of the most significant companies he built a relationship with was Rockstar, a fledgling publishing label that had ambitions for its Grand Theft Auto series.

 “I spent a lot of time with Sam Houser, understanding what they were trying to bring to the business,” recalls House. “There was a great match between their wish to change the face of what games could be and our wish to try new things. That was a benchmark for us in terms of building relationships with publishers.”

 

"I spent a lot of time with San Houser.
And that was the benchmark for us
in terms of building relationships."

 

House returned to Sony Corp in 2005, taking up the role of chief marketing officer. But he was soon brought back into the PlayStation fold by his former SCEA boss Hirai. Hirai had since become the global PlayStation boss, and he needed someone to head up the business in Europe. It was 2009 and House was finally returning home to the UK.

But by now the PlayStation business had changed a great deal.

The glory days of PS2 were over and PS3 has become a major drain on Sony’s resources. Bloody noses followed, with Xbox gaining a foothold in the US and DS outperforming PSP.

House returned to find PlayStation had lost its crown, and a games market transformed by Wii, Facebook and digital. “It’s become enormously more complex when I returned. We’ve seen games, and it’s now something of a cliché, go from a kids hobby to something that’s absolutely mainstream,” he says.   

“The proliferation of platforms that now offer games presents challenges to the traditional console model, but also huge opportunities. It has opened up a much broader and larger audience that are potential customers for our form of deeper or more traditional forms of games.”

 

"Video games had become enormously complex when I returned."

 

During his stint at SCEE, House oversaw a turnaround in PS3’s fortunes in Europe, with a price cut and a slimmer model. He also introduced new services to the platform, including the classic and independent film service, MUBI.

Now, as the head of the entire business, House must make that turnaround global and work out how PlayStation fits into a world dominated by Facebook and iPhone.

“I’ll be in a position, I hope, to advocate for the SCE interest within the broader Sony, but also to manage the business with a sense of collaboration with what we’re trying to accomplish as a company overall,” says House, adding that his vision for PlayStation is “two-fold.”

“It’s ensuring that the foundations of the PlayStation business are built on content that’s only possible on our devices and that strike a balance between being responsive to local consumer tastes while having the capacity to be great hits globally.

“The second aspect is to have an SCE that can be a pioneer for the rest of Sony, by delivering great interactive experiences and network services that can raise the quality of our portfolio and the Sony brand.”

 

"My hope is that Vita is the device that represents that new
SCE approach to the business.
It's about listening to input from the teams."

 

The first task for House is to launch Vita, Sony’s dedicated games portable that must find an audience in a market dominated by smartphones.

“Kaz [who is still involved with SCE as chairman] has built a structure where there is so much more dialogue between the people who are on the frontline selling products and those who are developing them,” continues House.

“My hope is that Vita is the first device that represents that new SCE approach to the business. It is the product of great engineering talent, but was also about listening to the input from people like myself or my teams. I’m hoping that Vita is the first resounding success that shows our strategy going forward.”

The job of SCE president is far more complex than what his predecessor had to deal with. Competing with Xbox is the easy part when you've got hackers attacking your network, smartphones invading the handheld space and social and digital platforms challenging the console model.

Yet House is more than capable of meeting these challenges. He is a man who’s been trained by the best that Sony has to offer. He is someone who remembers being the challenger and wants to build greater co-operation across the entire Sony business.And he is a man who will get top billing on Google before long, not to mention his own Wikipedia profile.  

The unsung hero of Sony is now very much in the spotlight.

[Andrew House - EMPLOYMENT HISTORY]

* September 2011: CEO and president, Sony Computer Entertainment

May 2009-August 2011: President, CEO and co-COO, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe

* September 2005-April 2009: Chief Marketing Officer and Group Executive, Sony Corp

* 2000-September 2005: VP of marketing and head of Third Party relations and developer support, Sony Computer Entertainment America

* April 1996-2000: Vice President of Marketing, Sony Computer Entertainment America

* April 1995-March 1996: Marketing and communications, Sony Computer Entertainment International

* 1990-March 1995: Corporate Communications, Sony Corp (Japan)

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Tags: Sony , PlayStation , ps3 , sce , ps2 , andrew house , PSX , PS1

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