MCV sat down with PlayStation UK boss Fergal Gara shortly after E3 to discuss Vita, Wonderbook, the challenges at UK retail and how PSN can grow the market for all.
Vita has had a difficult start in terms of sales. Has it been a total disappointment?
We would love it to be selling more and we intend to make it sell more and help it sell a lot more. The feedback from many consumers who’ve got their hands on it is positive – so that’s a very good start. The key thing for the rest of the year is the key software drive for the console so as we look towards September, LittleBigPlanet, that really is taking the concept on another level because of the Vita functionality. And of course the other key big third party IPs – Call of Duty, FIFA, Assassin’s Creed – will do tremendous things for the Vita. So it’s our job now to take that strength of software and give people more reasons to buy.
I think we haven’t quite hit the spot with the killer software just yet and I have every reason to think that will happen in the next few months.
How are you supporting Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed on Vita? Are these almost first party titles for you?
Our first and foremost job is to drive install base and those IPs are owned by those guys so we’ll put our arms round them and work collaboratively with both teams to make the best of it. You saw an example of how Assassin's may be presented there with the white Vita pack and bundle. That’s an example of how you can take the game and go the extra mile by working together.
What can we expect from the tie-up between Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation on Vita and Assassin’s Creed III on PS3?
I think we’re able to show a lot more of what Ubisoft have done with Assassin’s Creed but that’s not just in terms of creating a parallel storyline, there’s a real reason to own the PS3 version and the Vita version and that’s what we’re about today really because we’re multi-platform at home.
Moving away from Vita for a moment, what is your internal big-bet for PS3 this Christmas?
Well, by far and away the biggest number we’re going after is Book of Spells because that is a new concept and you saw it yourself. A lot of what we had at E3 is a pick of the best of many of the different tools we’ve got as a business. Whether that be motion control, whether that be augmented reality, whether it be still making the best of the PS3 at this stage of the lifecycle with The Last of Us and Beyond, for example, pushing brand new boundaries. And whether that be using Vita together with LittleBigPlanet 2, which demonstrates cross controller.
Wonderbook was probably my favourite announcement at E3, but then I do get quite excited by new concepts. What’s been the general reaction?
I was a little worried about would people get it and particularly for this demonstration it really has landed very well with people so the response has been fabulous.
As killer apps go, an exclusive Harry Potter spin-off is quite a coup.
It’s a killer hook if nothing else was good, which plenty else is.
How much focus are you placing on Wonderbook this Q4?
Wonderbook is top of the pile and certainly the biggest number we’ll be going after and it’s tremendous that we have such great early feedback. I still think there’s a job to do. There’s still a lot of communicating to do and we’re not going to get them all in here. There’s a big practical side of how do you communicate it, how do you work with retail to demo it where appropriate etc., etc. That planning is going to start right now and we have retail in and so we can start really taking E3 down another level and getting the requirements that apply to them in the UK.
Does that mean retail is going to play quite the role in this?
Well, yes. When it comes to choosing the right retailers, I actually think it will be a particularly broad church on this one. The specialists see a very key role for them in it, especially the power to demonstrate and introduce it to consumers. But also it’s going to appeal to mums who value the creative power and the educational power of the product stoking kids imaginations, so therefore you’d expect the likes of Argos as a key toy retailer and supermarkets to do well with it. The interesting hybrid that it is between book and video game means the likes of Amazon fits very nicely with some of its core strengths and maybe it will be appropriate to take it into traditional book retailers as well. So these are many of the questions we’re trying to work through over the next couple of weeks. But the main thing is – everybody’s interested.
In that sense, is Wonderbook this year’s Skylanders?
They’re clearly very different but I think there are lots of similarities really which are: how do you extend the concept of what a video game is? How do you cross that divide between toys and video games and in this case, augmented reality and video games? So blurring the edges near so there’ll be many retailers where it will not, and should not, maybe sit just on an old video game shelf. Maybe be out in a pod; maybe out in a Christmas toys offering. There’s various places of which it lies in, similar to Skylanders. That’s where the parallel lies for me.
With J.K Rowling involved and the Wonderbook concept being worked on by the London studio – Book of Spells seems a very British game. Does that Britishness help you in the UK?
Yeah, but I don’t see that as an exclusive thing though. I mean I had a glimpse of it a few months ago and it was just like this is very special, we’ve got to put this across now and make sure the consumers understand what it is we are offering them then this should fly because it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The feedback that we’ve had this week as well is that is special, that is creative, that is different, that is pushing boundaries and that’s what you want to be doing in a sector like this.
How will Wonderbook get bundled?
On day one when Book of Spell lands, you need the book, you need the software, a PS3 and a Move controller. Some will have the PS3 and just need the controller and software. Others will have a Move and just need the book. But Wonderbook should bring new people into the PlayStation 3 universe, and they need the lot, so we need to think about their needs and how to put the product together with that in mind.
Is this the product that the Move has been calling out for?
This, for me, is certainly the most inspirational product we’ve seen for the Move in the two years since it’s been out. Though I would highlight Sports Champion 2 is a really solid successor to the most successful title we’ve had so far so that’s great and there’s further innovation there. But if you asked me what’s the stand out title, it’s indisputably Book of Spells.