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Interview: SCE UK MD Fergal Gara

Christopher Dring
Interview: SCE UK MD Fergal Gara

You were one of the only games companies to support GAME in its recent crisis. Why? What made you different?
Well, first of all, I came from retail so therefore looking at where we were with our various retail relationships was one of the first things on my list. And, basically, I saw plenty of room to improve. GAME was the biggest specialist in the market so understanding how we were doing with them was high on the list and the answer was – plenty of room to improve.

We also had a new console launch [Vita] and we also needed the power of the specialist to show, demonstrate and sell the product like that. So, for multiple reasons it didn’t feel right to be over conservative in pulling away from GAME. It was about very, very close communication about working together really to manage exposure, help them deliver a great job for Vita and also not be the guy to put the nail in the coffin, because there was hopefully a surge in sales to be had for them. So it didn’t on its own save them, but it certainly helped keep things going and it might have been the thing that kept them out of trouble so it was great to be able to support them through that period.

The dynamic in the retail space has changed quite a bit. HMV and Blockbuster are behaving more confidently. Do you feel there is a bit of change now, an opportunity for more people or is it still really tough?
I think it’s still tough but you just look at the UK market over the last five to ten years and people forget that the industry was around this £1.6 billion level. We then has an unprecedented explosion up to £4bn, so we are coming down off that peak and it has been a steep ride for many, and has involved fallout on many, many levels, not least of all for retail.

So what we’re seeing is not really a surprise, a bit of a readjustment if you like and it isn’t just happening to the specialists on the High Street, there is a bit of a reappraisal around space and the commitment from other retailers so there’s a bit of a re-steadying of the ship going on, and we’d love to see as many of these retailers as possible maintain their interest in surveying the space because down the road many of us are going to be doing our best to give another injection into the market whenever the next cycle starts. Nintendo being first to the table.

When will we be able to write some positive headlines?
We’re hanging in there. And those who can hang in there should benefit from another surge. I mean none of us know the exact timing or exactly how big the market is going to be in the next phase. I think we all know there’s a lot of work going on.

Why is it important for a company like Sony to inject new IP and new ideas into this time?
New IP is the lifeblood of the industry and I don’t think that is limited to a current generation cycle anyway. It’s not a conversation I’ve had but I don’t see any immediate reason why, just like Gran Turismo, you don’t go from platform to platform and keep on going.


When you launch a new IP it doesn’t have to be when you’ve got a brand new console. We’ve got to keep the new IP going. For me, what’s most impressive about the new IP here this week has been the diversity of it, the fact that it’s appealing to different consumer groups, radically different consumer groups. Take Beyond and Book of Spells, they could hardly be farther apart. Also, many of what we presented at E3 makes the best of our broad strength – handheld, console, motion gaming– it’s a really interesting hybrid of all the bits coming together so that’s exciting and that’s what we should do as a format holder. We want to be and we are dedicated to being a broad church. That’s what we are and that’s particularly important being fairly well on in the life cycle of the home consoles – embracing both your core audience and the people who can still come into that.

There’s 200 PSN games on the way. How does the PlayStation Network perform in the UK?
I think we need to put our arms around it a bit more in each of the territories. What can I tell you about the UK market? Well, they’ve got the biggest appetite for digital content in Europe which is not a huge surprise. So the hunger for it is there, the growth is there and also I think we’re pushing more boundaries than maybe we give ourselves credit for. Whether that be high calibre new games that are PSN only, Journey being a great example, whether it be the way we’re integrating that offer with retail by not making it digital and physical separate but the two being very much in partnership. Whether it be the day and date of our releases that we are driving. I think it’s a really exciting part of the proposition that now needs to sit more centre stage.
So that’s a bit of work I think we can….  The pieces are there, we just need to pull them together and shout about it more.

What role can retail play with PSN?
They have a role for many reasons. First of all, yes, you can engage in digital content by simply having a PSN account and using your credit card via the console but there are several drawbacks to that. First of all, you’ve got to have a credit card. Secondly, it’s more a pull rather than a push and a sell, and as a retailer there’s an awful lot to be gained from impulse purchasing or from advising people to buy a certain digital product that can only happen in a store. For our PSN store that’s not going to naturally happen to the same extent so getting the visibility out there and creating innovative combinations, so physical with digital and PlayStation Plus. We’re really willing and able to work with retailers to put extra combinations together. I’m certainly intrigued about how we broaden our way we go to market now with not just doing what we’ve always done, but bringing in digital into our product mix.

What are you telling your UK teams at the moment in preparation for Christmas?
One of our biggest opportunities I think is teamwork, which sounds trivial, but actually when it’s done well it’s powerful. We’ve just moved the office around and one of the reasons we did that is to get the people who function front and centre going to market, working together more closely, create more dynamic communication, create better working relationships and I think that alone is one of the powerful things we can do to become a high performing team. I think we’ve been an okay team and I want us to be the best team out there so it’s a journey and there’s several pieces falling into place now to enable that. It’s a small but important step.

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Tags: Sony , PlayStation , ps3 , psn , Vita , playstation vita , playstation network , sce , ps2 , playstation 3 , gara , sce uk , fergal gara , fergal , SCEUK

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