How PlayStation conquered Europe – Jim Ryan on DriveClub issues, vocal gamers and game delays

On the first anniversary of PS4, PlayStation Europe boss Jim Ryan tells MCV his thoughts on European domination, broken games, angry consumers, PS4 vs Xbox One and 2015

…on PS4 becoming the No.1 console of 2014 in every single European market

PlayStation has always been strong in Europe. Even with PS3 where we started late and were too expensive, we still ended up comfortably ahead. So when you go back to a world where we launched on time and at the right price, the underlying strength and popularity of the PlayStation brand has come back to the fore, whether it’s Northern Europe, France, Germany, Benelux or Scandinavia or Southern Europe where we were hugely dominant.

"It’s been great. The competitor launch wasn’t until September in some of these markets, which helped. I’ve launched late and know how difficult it can be.

Germany is one market where we’ve achieved some sort of step change. We sold more in the FIFA week in Germany than we have in many Christmas weeks on PS3 and PS2. It was frankly unbelievable.”

…ongame delays and a quiet software market

From generation to generation the games development arms race increases. Budgets go up and as they go up, the time required to make games increases.

"With each generation things get a bit more complicated. There’s certainly been a fair amount of games that were either planned for 2013 and slipped to 2014, or planned for 2014 that have slipped to 2015.

"Would we have liked to have seen a greater number of games? Yes, consumers would, retailers would and we probably would. But when you look to how the games that have been published have been performing, there’s nothing too much awry with that.”

…onthe closer fight between PS4 and Xbox One in the UK

You can see a difference between the UK, US and Australia markets, and continental Europe. The situation in the former is more difficult in the latter.

"In the UK we posted our 1m number in September. It’s a tough market. Retailers like to slug it out and platform holders and publishers like to put paraffin on that fire and there are deals and discounts and numbers go up and down from week to week. We’re happy with our momentum and performance going into Christmas.

We’ve got our business objectives, which are to obtain a certain level of install base and profitability. I’ve been public that we needed to make a step change and do better in the UK.

"With the size of the UK market and the patch that I manage, you have to do well in this market. If I’m to stand any chance of doing what I need to do, be it from a total install base or from a market share perspective, I have to do well in the UK. It is a considerable area of focus for us.”

…onDriveClub and SingStar suffering technical issues

We have to acknowledge that there have been problems and we’re really sorry to anyone who has suffered from those issues. They shouldn’t happen. But in a world that’s becoming more and more technically complicated, it’s getting harder to deliver stuff.

"That’s not an excuse, because you shouldn’t really launch a game before it’s ready. And clearly we’ve made mistakes and we apologise for that.

"Has it dampened our momentum? No. Has it damaged our reputation? I don’t think so. People understand that mistakes do get made so as long as you apologise and make them right. That’s the main thing.

When you spend 50/60 on a game you’re entitled to expect that it works. If we or anyone else in the industry makes mistakes you should fess up to it and then put it right as soon as possible.

…onvocal, angry gamers

We had the two platform launches last year and that raised the temperature level in the relative communities. People got interested and excited again and that’s kind of flowed through to behaviour this year.

"Organisations such as ours need to be big enough to be able to deal with it, and if you can’t deal with it, go find something else to do.

"The passion and energy of the gamers is one of the things that separates what we do from something less exciting.

"We don’t complain when that passion is something positive that helps us on the rollercoaster. You have to take the rough with the smooth.”

…ongoing beyond the core gamer with PS4

It’s one of the things that I’m going to be watching with the keenest of interest as we start to get data as to who is buying and what they’re playing and doing over the course of this Christmas.

There have been a couple of interesting pieces online recently about how you must not desert the core market too early. That’s absolutely right, but we certainly will look to broaden the audience because we have to do that if we’re to get anywhere.

"You can’t do the numbers that PS2 managed by just talking to the core. It’s a question of how and when you do it.

"We will typically go that way earlier in Europe than we do in other parts of the world, and typically we have been successful in doing that while at the same time not alienating the core audience.

It’s not easy. You have to have two different conversations with two different groups of people. It’s a considerable marketing challenge. It’s all a question of degree.

"Whether we look to broaden out in a meaningful extent in 2015, or whether it’s 2016, I won’t really know that until we know exactly what’s happened this Christmas and done some in-depth analysis.

Of course, on PS1 we had all sorts of stuff like Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. And PS2 we had lots of Disney IP, very young-end licensed properties. All of that was going on while GTA was quite cheerfully doing its stuff with a different group of people. Even with PS3, we had The Last of Us and GTA coming very late in the life-cycle while we were already talking to a different, broader audience.

"I’m totally relaxed about being able to do both. It’s just a question of when you start to shift the emphasis. It’s a bit of a wishywashy answer, but it’s a very nuanced topic.”

…onwhat’s next for PS3

Will PS3 last as long after the launch of PS4 as PS2 did after PS3 came out? No, I don’t think so.

"The final production of PS2 was in March 2013, which is six years after we launched PS3. There are a number of reasons [it won’t happen this time].

"When we launched PS3, it was at €599, and the PS2 was at €99, so there was this massive difference that continued for quite a while. And there was headroom. Now this time round PS4 launched at €399 and PS3 is anywhere between €199 and €299. That price gap is massively eroded. That is something of a factor.

Also, generally, technology cycles are shortening. There is an increasing consumer willingness to make the jump from one generation’s technology to the next. Maybe that’s a consequence of the way people transition from one smartphone to another.

That said, you probably see this issue at its most acute in the UK, which is one of the early adopter markets and therefore the quickest to move away from the old generation. There are parts of Europe, the Middle East and Africa where PS3 is still really robust and will continue to be for some time.”


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