The Sony Interview: Play to Win

Christopher Dring
The Sony Interview: Play to Win

Sony’s stinging attack on the Xbox One business model at E3 saw the PlayStation firm take pole position in the next generation console race.

Here, SCEE CEO Jim Ryan tells MCV why it hasn’t won yet...

What’s the aim for PS4 2m consoles sold by Christmas? 

(Laughs). I think right now we have to content ourselves with the news that we will have a launch in Europe before Christmas and we have a price point. We are going to be aggressive, and the price point and marketing efforts will reflect that. But right now it’s too early to talk numbers.

But are we looking at a PS2-style pre-Christmas drought?

The whole process of moving from design and engineering to mass production, that is all on track. But until we hit mass production, we won’t know for sure.

You mention being aggressive. So this is not going to be a soft launch?

Oh my, no. It is going to be a proper PlayStation marketing event. In the UK, Fergal [Gara, managing director], Murray [Pannell, marketing director], and the team have been given their orders to go out and do a bang up job. And we’ll be investing accordingly.

The new UK team is focused on growing its share, but it has been fighting a losing battle with 360. Does PS4 give them a fresh start?

We have the building blocks in place to make a step-change in the UK. Because over the course of the cycle I don't think we got it right in the UK. We now have a number of things in place to help address that. And PS4 is hopefully the time all those things come together.

MCV saw you before your press conference and you told us you were nervous about the event. You must have been delighted with how it turned out?

I was nervous. Something as big and important as this, there are always a few butterflies. I was wondering what were publishers going to be coming out with? What would our rivals do? I am very happy with the way it has all gone.

How important is it to ‘win’ E3?

It was a good week and we were very happy with how it went. We are still many months away from launch. And after launch we will hopefully have a sales period of ten years. There is a lot to do. Nothing has been won and lost at E3. Some commentators have said that the next generation has been decided already, but I don’t think that’s the case. We still have a lot more to do.

You ran through your PS3 line-up for the year at E3. And there is still room for you to lower the price. How long does that console have left in it?

We had a clear strategy in the past of squeezing a lot of juice from legacy consoles when next gen launches. When PS2 launched, PSOne carried on, and when PS3 launched we sold loads and loads of PS2s for many, many years. And we anticipate to continue that approach and PS3 having a fruitful dotage. PS2’s long-tail success was partly driven by emerging markets. And it’s still going strong in emerging markets today.

Is your successful emerging markets business part of the reason you’re not forcing consumers to connect online like Microsoft was doing with Xbox One?

It is one of the reasons. But we also believe in consumer choice. There are large numbers of people who just don’t want to connect their console on a regular basis. And we don’t think people should be obliged to do that if they don’t want to. And that applies in the UK and in the markets of Western Europe. But also, as you say, we take emerging markets very seriously. Those territories are very important to us and obviously internet connectivity in some parts of that landscape is not as it is in the Western world.

How important was it to get PlayStation 4 out this year?

Really important. It has always been our intention, and I pushed very hard to get an unequivocal statement about the European launch at E3. It allows our guys on the ground and the retailers to get cracking on pre-orders. It removes that uncertainty. They can now do it in the knowledge that the PS4 will be out before Christmas and how much it will cost.

Are you launching just one hardware SKU? Or can we expect software bundles, or a bundle with the new PlayStation camera?

That is something we are looking at. In Europe we have had success with offering premium propositions that offer great value. We honestly have not made any decisions about what we are doing at launch. But it is something we are looking at.

It’s interesting to see how little has been written about the console's appearance. Especially seeing how your decision not to show what it looked like in February sparked so many complaints.

I am delighted that over the last couple of days I’ve not had to answer that question. I just hated those questions so much back in February that I ended up using profanity in the Daily Telegraph, and my mother wasn’t happy.

Was Sony not tempted to block pre-owned at all?

No. As Andy [House, PlayStation CEO] said repeatedly throughout the presentation at E3, the corner stone that has guided how we’ve designed the product, and the business policies have been put in place, have been all around the gamer. It’s about doing what’s right by them. These decisions we made about online and game sharing were decided a long time ago. And we understand the importance of the used games model on a consumer level and for retail stakeholders. We think the current model works and it should not be tampered with.

Charging for or blocking second hand game sales could potentially have a negative impact on retailers, too.

The retail ecosystem is rather fragile. But we wouldn’t go out and take a decision like that to simply cater for any stakeholder, whether that be retailers or publishers. It is the consumer that has driven the decision. But equally, trying to shore up what is a very fragile ecosystem in the retail area is something we are quite happy to do.

Do you feel you’ve got your launch line-up balance right?

Because we spent so much time back in February showing the software, we only really showed updates to those launch titles at E3. People kind of overlook the fact that we did such a detailed job in February on the software side of things. With Killzone, Driveclub and Knack we have a number of bases covered. And obviously there is going to be a whole heap of third party content.

In SCEE’s games room away from the E3 show floor we saw titles that were missing from your conference. Book of Potions was there, and the PS4 tech demo The Playroom. Why were they not on stage?

There is only so much you can show at these things. That tech demo [The Playroom] is really cool, and we are ensuring developers get exposed to it so they can get a sense what the PlayStation Camera and DualShock 4 can offer in terms of game mechanics.

Are there any opportunities for retailers to get involved with those indie games you demonstrated on stage?

It’s a good question. We haven’t turned our mind to that yet but there is absolutely no reason why retailers would not be involved in these titles. Whether it is through some form of voucher-based mechanic, which is something we are moving into with increasing purpose. Or whether it is a compilation of the games on a Blu-ray disc. Both are possible. No decision has yet been taken, but it will be something we will look at doing.

You told MCV in February you had a lot more to show us on Vita. You didn’t show a great deal at E3. So when can we expect to see more?

We showed Killzone Mercenary, which we are excited by. And also Tearaway, which is out in a couple of months. And we showed more of Remote Play. But yes our E3 show was all about PS4 and there will be more on Vita in the months to come.

Gamescom then?

[Laughs] You will have to wait and see.

What did you make of E3 overall?

It felt like a throwback to the old E3s. I wouldn’t say they have been flat or uninteresting, but nothing has been happening for a few years. It was great to have a ‘what are they going to do, what are we going to do.’ it was a good day. It was very energising.

Some analysts have suggested the games market has lacked a bit of competitiveness recently.

Well it has certainly got it now.

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Tags: Sony , interview , playstation 4 , PS4 , jim ryan , E3 2013

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