INTERVIEW: Andrew House

Ben Parfitt
INTERVIEW: Andrew House

HACKED OFF

Sony is still recovering from an intensive PlayStation Network hack that saw customer data stolen plus its digital store and network games service taken offline.

What’s the official SCE take on why it was targeted?

“As far as I can assess it’s that when we very legitimately sought to project our interests and IP against criminal activity [and remove piracy from PS3], so that people who create our games are fully compensated for their creativity, a certain element saw that as some infringement of their rights. As a form of reprisal they launched this unprecedented, sustained and criminal attack,” SCEE president Andrew House tells MCV.

Despite the intensive and sustained problem this caused for Sony and its partners – with the PlayStation Store offline for a month, no digital content sold, and multiplayer games unplanned – the firm concedes it has learnt lessons.

“There is learning at multiple levels. We’ve learnt a powerful but painful lesson about the degree to which companies with a digital strategy need to adopt a stance of hyper vigilance in terms of building security. What I would characterise our activity now is us having taken the few steps on a long road to restoring the consumers’ faith in our brand and offering. Both Kaz [Hirai] and Jack [Tretton] said at E3 we are humbled by the faith costumers have shown so far.

“We are now doing everything in our favour to remain worthy of that faith.”

KEEP ON MOVING

Sony announced that it has shipped 8.8m units of the PlayStation Move controller at E3, which shows the device is slightly lagging behind Kinect, which has sold 10m units.

House says that PlayStation Move has been strongest in Europe out of all the SCE territories. Why?

“Move has found an easier success in Europe because of the heritage of lifestyle gaming that SCEE has been able to build through SingStar and EyeToy. That built a credibility that made Move a natural step,” he says.

“It’s been a success in the US, but they’ve had to work harder, because that lifestyle pedigree wasn’t so big on PlayStation over there.

“We’ve got a strong sense of momentum. PlayStation Move has got legs – it’s got lots of other opportunities with it. At the risk of being critical of other formats, controller-less gaming has limitations, and we saw that with EyeToy.

“Using a controller with buttons and motion controls just gives you a lot more more to do. And today we
are only at the very beginning of that.”

Q&A: THE VITA LAUNCH GAMEPLAN

Who do you think will be the first primary owner of PlayStation Vita when the device arrives around Christmas-time?

It’s no big surprise to say the early purchaser will be firmly in the core gamer audience, entertainment and technology enthusiasts.

But the important point I’ve been making – and this is backed up by the extremely aggressive price we have for it – is that we will move to a mass market audience quickly. Much quicker than we did with PSP. Two reasons for that. Firstly, I view it as extremely good value for money – the power of the device, the screen and the interfaces. Secondly, it has immediate appeal to a younger audience. To my children connectivity is a birthright. They expect a connected experience.

Is that the thinking behind the aggressive price point? Has Sony got a point to prove about reaching lots of people quickly?

No. I view it as a very different approach from SCE to the rest of the market – our HQ listened to a lot of very strong pushing from the regions and those of us closest to the consumer. We said that if we wanted to build rapid momentum towards a mass market position with the device then we need an aggressive starting price to move quickly from that core gamer technology adopter to a wider audience. As an organisation we like to strike the right balance between financial responsibility, cost management, and building momentum very quickly – with Vita we have that balance right.

Tell us why this doesn’t have phone capabilities – which many expected in ‘the iPhone era’.

These days you don’t need a phone to be a powerful connected device. My kids don’t actually use the phone element of their phones – but they’re heavily connected. So that’s the prism through which we want to see Vita.

First and foremost it is built around the gaming experiences. All credit to our studios – it has one of the strongest launch line-ups ever seen. Shuhei [Yoshida, SCE Studios head] has very strategically not looked for just new franchises and new IP, but games that take real advantage of the new interfaces and see how they relate to gameplay.

What about 3G support in the UK?

There will be a necessity to have some form of 3G plan in addition to the price of the device for that model of the Vita – more details are forthcoming.

We talked about AT&T at E3 because it’s a US show with a big American audience; it was relevant for them. But [SCEE] has equivalent partnerships.

Is there any flexibility there for 3G contracts – could an operator offer a deal to get Vita even cheaper, as you can with a phone?

We have nothing to announce yet. But what I’d say is that there is an opportunity to offer the consumer something extra and add more to the value proposition.

UPWARDLY MOBILE


WITH THE impressive Vita on the way, what of the ‘PlayStation Phone’ (AKA the Xperia Play) launched by Sony Ericsson earlier this year? It still represents a big part of Sony’s handheld strategy for games, says SCEE’s president.

“Xperia Play has done well, and has had real impact for Sony Ericsson, the Xperia brand and has really helped lift games in the Android space,” says House.

“It’s also a real leg-up for PlayStation Suite. It has demonstrated that we can find an audience for a mobile device that has genuine gaming controls.”

How does it stack up next to Vita? If someone asked House which of the two should they buy, what would he say?

“It’s up to the individual consumer and their needs. These devices co-exist very happily. Because if you are interested in games and interactivity we would steer you to Vita as a ‘best in class’ device. But if you wanted a device that was primarily for productivity and connectivity but also has really good gaming features you will lean to an Xperia Play – or, what I hope to see, a range of devices from different manufacturers that are Android-based but PlayStation Certified.”

PlayStation Suite and PlayStation Certified have been two linked strategies that have seen Sony apply its game thinking to the growing and growing mobile games business. The former is about providing a console-like development environment for Android complete with digital storefront, the latter is about encouraging other technology firms to make handsets that have PlayStation-approved controls.

House adds: “There is one aspect of PlayStation Suite I don’t want to lose sight of, which I hear good feedback from publishers and developers about.

“They say it really is a struggle to make the business work in the current mobile and Android space. So what we can’t lose sight of is the development of a dedicated PlayStation Store in that area to help publishers differentiate themselves in a very crowded market, differentiate themselves based on the quality of the experience and also build a better business model.

“Every publisher I have spoken to about the initiative has said it’s great, and that it’s great to see Sony take the stance to help the industry in that space.”

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