250,000 consoles sold in two days means PS4 is already ahead in the next-gen console race.
But does a good launch really spell success for the future?
MCV talks to PlayStation president and CEO Andrew House on the future of its new machine, the role of retail and the death of consoles…
PS4 has enjoyed a strong launch. But then so did PSP and PS3, and neither platform went on to be market leaders. So does a good launch even matter?
I am going to give you a slightly contradictory answer. When two consoles of this scale comes to market almost simultaneously, it seems to have put video gaming back into the entertainment mainstream and back into people’s conversation, so the launches are important from that point of view.
It also sets the tone for how momentum is going to be for a platform’s lifecycle. The contradictory other side to that, is the old:?‘it is a marathon not a sprint’. A lifecycle is years long. It is not just about one night. But it is an important start in terms of staking out the road you are going to try and follow.
PS3 is almost 3m units behind Xbox 360 in the UK. From a global view, how vital is it that you turn around your performance in the UK?
It’s extremely important. On previous platforms we’ve enjoyed a stronger leadership position globally in many markets, and that strengthens the partnerships you can build with third parties, which is critical to the business. So the goal is absolutely, as far as possible, to get ourselves into the No.1 position in every market we operate in.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that outside of the US and the UK, we are in that leadership position. But those are two key, critical markets, and PS4 – given the supply we have been able to generate to-date and given the value proposition versus the competition – has a really good opportunity to get us back into a better leadership position than we were in this lifecycle.
"Let’s not lose sight of the fact that outside of
the US and the UK, we are in that leadership
position. But those are two key, critical markets,
and PS4 – given the supply we have been able
to generate to-date and given the value proposition
versus the competition – has a really good
opportunity to get us back into a better leadership
position than we were in this lifecycle."
Andrew House, Sony
80m PS3s sold is a good figure, but it falls short of PS2, which managed 150m overall, What are your aspirations for PS4?
PS4 has an opportunity to significantly exceed what we’ve been achieved with PS3. One reason is we start off with a price that is more consumer friendly than we had for PS3.
Also, one of the success stories, not just for ourselves but for the whole games business, has been our ability to open up new geographies for video games over the last five years. The PS2 success was achieved with Latin America being almost a non-existent market for consoles. We are seeing signs that finally China may open up to consoles with the establishment of the free trade zone in Shanghai. So there are opportunities for new markets that we haven’t tapped into.
Finally, we took several years to take PS3 from a dual-function device to a multi-functional entertainment machine. PS4 arrived with a full suite of non-game services from day one. There will be someone who wants this principally for playing video games, but the fact that it is a great place to experience BBC iPlayer, or the other 18 services, means that there are other reasons to purchase for other family members. That is really important in broadening the console’s reach.
Judging by the mood at E3 and Gamescom, it feels like Sony has a bit of the old confidence back.
That is a fair assessment. We had some struggles with PS3, but the important thing is that we learnt a lot from those experiences.
Anyone can point out how those learnings have translated into the decisions we’ve made around PS4 – selection of architecture, emphasis on ease of development, understanding PS4 had to be a highly connected and social experience. These were products of some tough learning we did on PS3. I believe the confidence we’re showing is because the feedback from gamers and developers is that we’ve got some of these decisions right. There has been more of a spring in the step from folks in the organisation that perhaps hadn’t been there for a while.
It’s been seven years since PS3. EA and Ubisoft told MCV that the wait was too long. Do you agree?
It’s hard to look back in hindsight and say: ‘It should have launched at this point.’ Because that is not how we approach the business. We don’t pick a year and launch a console then we ask:?‘What experience do we want that will be inspiring to creators and players that should constitute a new generation?’ And there’s a technology roadmap that goes against that. We target qualitative goals rather than temporal goals.
Analyst Michael Pachter predicts this console generation will be the last due to the rise in mobile and tablets. Will there even be a PS5?
I would first say that I don’t share Michael Pachter’s confidence in being able to prognosticate out at the beginning of a lifecycle, what will be that lifecycle’s end. I think it is much too early to make those kind of decisions or predictions.
There is a similar parallel question that says that packaged media will go away and all games will be digitally distributed. But we are already seeing, even on the early launch line-up on PS4, massively bigger games that, for many people, are just more conveniently purchased in the form of physical media. Others will gravitate towards digital. It will be both, and I think the truth can be for consoles as well.
Physical media is struggling. Blockbuster is the latest retailer to hit serious trouble. Does retail still have a role to play in games?
It has an incredibly important role. Retailers offer recommendations and people that can explain more about a product – that is really valuable in terms of how consumers learn more about, and interact with, our products.
On the other hand, one of the great benefits of digital is the rise of indie games. I tend to draw a not-quite-perfect parallel with when we shifted to CDs, and suddenly lowered the barriers of entry and allowed for more risk taking. Digital is doing exactly that for a raft of new small teams.
"There is a similar parallel question that says that
packaged media will go away and all games will be
digitally distributed. But we are already seeing,
even on the early launch line-up on PS4, massively
bigger games that, for many people, are just more
conveniently purchased in the form of physical
media. Others will gravitate towards digital. It will be
both, and I think the truth can be for consoles as well."
Andrew House, Sony
The industry performs best when we structure partnerships with retail where they can participate in digital, while leveraging their expertise. That is the best of both worlds.
There’s a lot of promising new IP next year, such as Watch Dogs and Destiny. But right now it’s the same old faces. Does that do a disservice to PS4 do you think?
That’s a fair comment. In terms of sheer breadth and depth, we are in a better shape in terms of third party support for this console launch than certainly any I’ve ever launched. And I do think that the early consumer is going to buy in if they sense that there is a roadmap of great content that is going to come down the pipe, and you have cited some of those games that have been announced, which are also brand new IP, which I think is critically important.
We are more committed to new IP establishment and delivery than most other platform holders out there. The other thing as well is that to talk about the launch line-up is one thing, but you also have to balance that with what the experience is going to be from system-level features. The most encouraging sign that I have seen from the US launch is not just around the numbers, it’s the fact that a large amount of people are actively engaged with almost every single feature that has been available from day one. I think that is where some of this excitement is coming from. It’s what you can do around those games, as much as the gameplay experiences themselves.
What has surprised you the most during the PS4 journey, from February’s unveil until now? What have you learned?
It surprised me that we were required to make such a clear statement that we were going to maintain status quo in areas that we took for granted. That wasn’t dictated by us, that was by the moves the competition was making. That remains the largest surprise for me – how visceral that reaction was. But the fact that we had to put a stake in the ground, in an area that we felt was just common sense, still has me scratching my head.
And he’ll kill me for saying it, I was also surprised by the endless talents of Mark Cerny that extend not just from system architecture but also game development, and who knew he was such a great presenter as well?