INTERVIEW: Sony

Ben Parfitt
INTERVIEW: Sony

It has taken a while, but GT5 is finally on shelves. Were you ever worried it wouldn’t make it this year?

No. We had good conversations with Yamauchi-san and the Polyphony team at Gamescom about the milestones. And there was always very strong confidence it would be out this year.

But with a game of that size and complexity, sometimes you can encounter a few bumps in the road as you approach the end. We have successfully overcome those and were careful of not communicating a revised date until we were certain.

What about Move, how do you evaluate its launch?

To give you a sense of how great consumer demand is, we have had to accelerate a lot of the shipments, and take them from sea-freight to air-freight in order to meet demand.

I think we hit the right marketing message in terms of reaching a casual audience but also showing the core gamer that there are great experiences with Move.

I had a meeting with Capcom recently, who were just fulsome in their praise of how much Move has positively impacted Resident Evil sales. They were basically saying they were so glad they banked on this early in the adoption curve because it has served them so well. So that is a really good sign.

Microsoft has been making a lot of noise on Kinect, while Sony went a little quieter with Move. Why is that?

I don’t think it was necessarily quieter. For us, it was a natural development of our platform.

We know that a marketing push is important around a launch window, but what will really drive adoption of new technology is going to be great content. That is a far better long-term bet. You can only sustain a certain amount of momentum by trying to ram product at people based on a strong marketing push. It will be content that defines it.

Part of our insight came from the fact we pioneered camera-based gaming with EyeToy. We learnt from that experience that there are limitations around a camera-only solution. It does work well and lend itself to certain genres, but you do tend to hit a bit of a wall when trying to support it with the broadest range of content. That’s not the sort of problem we have encountered with PlayStation Move.

At the London Games Conference, speakers were saying the future of games will become less about the console and more about screens – be it mobile, TV or PCs. Is this something you subscribe to?

I think there are two trends we are monitoring. Clearly, multi-screen is something that is here to stay. And I think we will see an increasing variety of screen sizes and devices that people want for different times of the day. Screen usage is driven by convenience, immediacy and with less emphasis on resolution and quality interface.

But what we’ve also seen – and this sounds almost contradictory but then consumers often are – is this trend to own bigger and bigger televisions, with the increased proliferation of HD and adoption of Blu-ray. And at that point people want the very best experience.

For this generation, and at least for the reasonably foreseeable future, this is going to come from a dedicated console that is designed with the right interfaces and experience in mind.

Sony has the benefit of having a console, but you can also deliver PlayStation through a Sony Bravia TV or, as the reports are saying, a Sony Ericsson phone. Does Sony have a broader view that some of your rivals don’t quite have?

Yes, and in several areas. We have got the broadest view of any company in 3D for example.

Our chairman, Sir Howard Stringer, made a commitment to have 90 per cent of our devices with full network functionality within a couple of years.

One of the reasons we created Sony Network Entertainment was to have a central, global organisation to look at network experiences because they have to be viewed now across a variety of devices.

And PS3 is pioneering this with the largest base of registered users that is currently sitting at around 60 million worldwide.

Taking that into account, what’s next for PSP?

We demonstrated with PS2 that with the right value proposition, the right long-term attention and the right global reach to emerging markets, that there is much more longevity for a platform than people had envisioned before.

I am not sure I can characterise the portable space as being exactly the same. The pace of change in the portable space – phones in particular – is so much quicker.

But I think with the current PSP, there are opportunities to reach out to new audiences if you can hit the right value proposition.

Beyond that, yes we are a company that’s history is based on innovation, and we will look to apply that innovation in the portable space. But these aren’t plans I can talk about now.

Last time we spoke, you described PSPgo as an ‘experiment’. So what have you learnt?

I think we’ve learnt a couple of things. We learnt a lot about how consumers want to obtain their content digitally, and we learnt a lot about the still-strong consumer desire to retain their game library.

And I think we also realised a segmentation of the market, with certain users having a propensity
to move much more quickly into a digital-only environment, but there is a huge swathe of consumers who still have a big attachment to physical media.

Another form of learning on that is the success we’ve seen on PS3 of the HD collections, where we have taken older franchises, increased their resolution, added functionality and sold them as compilations.

That has been a surprise hit for us. And the reason it is a surprise is because we as a business still think that our content does not have the same long life that movie content will have.

There’s a lot of discovery and learning in that area and understand people’s attachment to their libraries was a big piece of that.

At Gamescom, Kaz Hirai told MCV that he didn’t expect to see a digital-only future for PlayStation for a long time. Is this still the view at Sony?

You’re asking me if I will disagree with my boss, which is always a challenging question.

I am absolutely in agreement with Kaz, because we are talking about different trends.

One of the major challenges in the digital-only space – and this is something many content providers are really wrestling with – is trying to work out how you can efficiently merchandise in the digital space when you have thousands and thousands of different apps and content experiences. That can be really challenging.

Browsing digital content is a little overwhelming and too confusing, and that’s the underpinning challenge that makes me think there is a strong role for physical media for many years to come.

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