PlayStation UK MD Fergal Gara tells MCV why the platform holder will never give up on its portable console, and where it goes next…
Many of the exciting games announced for Vita are indie projects. Do you think the console is lacking a big triple-A product this year?
Well, there are a lack of those titles announced. Is it a problem? It would be fair to pick up that there wasn’t a second Call of Duty made specifically for Vita. But what’s changed is that Call of Duty: Ghosts was available on Vita via Remote Play on PS4. And Vita is sort of evolving as a platform.
If you take it as a standalone product at the moment, the digital programme is proving to be a key strand of consumption for PS Vita. I think it’s interesting that the No.1 digital seller on Vita right now is PS Plus, so people are buying into Plus for the games that it gives them. I don’t think they’re buying it through Vita to play on PS4 – it’s technically possible but I don’t believe that that is the behaviour we are seeing.
Vita is proving to be a big niche device. Using the term ‘niche’ makes it sound tiny, but it’s not. The console is occupying an interesting space for interesting games built for more committed gamers. Yes the market place for it isn’t as big as it might have been had smartphones not arrived, but it is still a more thorough, more complete experience. And it is therefore appealing to people with a more eclectic taste in games. And many of these indie developers are proud to be on the platform. All of this is before we even talk about its role alongside PS4, which is clearly exciting and we seeing some good results from that.
The attach rate on Vita is quite high. Is this because of that niche or cult following that you have?
Correct, and that’s why we will continue to support it. The device is loved, it has a place. Sure it’s not enormous, but there are green shoots that show its position in the market will be at least as big with the advent of PS4.
"Vita is proving to be a big niche device. Using the
term ‘niche’ makes it sound tiny, but it’s not. The
console is occupying an interesting space for
interesting games built for more committed gamers.
Yes the market place for it isn’t as big as it might
have been had smartphones not arrived, but it is
still a more thorough, more complete experience."
Fergal Gara, Sony
Vita appears to be aiming younger with some of its recent games. And Invizimals speaks to that audience. So why did you choose not to lower the price with your new slim model?
Well it frequently is lower. If you look at the price last year, you could find the device with the Mega Pack for around 139, which is highly competitive against any alternative. The 180 we announced for the new model is flat with where we are, but that price is rarely played. There has been lots of promotional activity and I expect to see more of that on-going.
Invizimals is your big kids project coming up. How are you planning to support it?
We are going medium with Invizimals. We are not going to launch it like The Last of Us, because it’s not. But are we going to give it a due level of support? Of course we are. It’s done pretty well across the continent in the lead up to Christmas. We decided that with everything else going on in the UK, it might be a better time to launch it this year in the UK. That way we can make sure we have all the pieces of the plan together, in terms of the trading cards and the TV shows in development and just having a better cohesive plan together for launch in the UK.
It’s been a hit in Europe, hasn’t it?
Particularly Southern Europe. It has a long heritage particularly on PSP. It’s done well on PS Vita and although it’s not the bigger of the two games, it’s coming to PlayStation 3 as well.
Why didn’t Invizimals take off the last time in the UK?
Invizimals launched in the UK at a time when PSP started to underperform in this country. PSP had a longer life on the continent than it did in the UK, so a lot of it was down to timing really.
You talk about the PS4 connectivity, and you’re actually promoting that on the box for the new slimline Vita model. Is it proving to be the killer app you were expecting?
We are only a few weeks into the PS4, but it is a strong component of the PS4 ecosystem already. There is a significant number of PS4s being used with Vita, and not only that gamers are not just using it once – as you might do out of intrigue – they are coming back and continuing to use it. It is still early days, so we must be careful about drawing firm conclusions, but we do take encouragment from that data.
"Well that just shows that playing on a dedicated
handheld device has not gone, as many will try to
suggest. We want to have a healthy share of that
handheld market. But we are playing fairly
differently to Nintendo 3DS, when you think that
is a dedicated handheld device with a very strong
showing amongst kids. Vita is positioned differently."
Fergal Gara, Sony
A lot has been made about the new PS Vita Slim and its LCD screen and how it is inferior to the original Vita’s OLD display. Is it proving an obstacle?
This is what we believe: when we introduced the device almost two years ago, OLED was undeniably the best technology out there and it was and is a beautiful screen. As we have re-engineered and produced the new model there were a number of boxes to tick and we really wanted to deliver against the size, weight and battery life criteria.
Going over to LCD has allowed us to do that. But the reason it is acceptable – because we never like to produce any sub-standard products – is because LCD technology has come along quite a bit in the interim. Technology is always about trade-offs, but we believe the difference – if perceptible at all – is very subtle, and the advantages significantly outweigh the disadvantages. That’s the call we have taken and we hope gamers agree.
Nintendo 3DS was the best-selling games console in the UK last year. Does that bode well for Vita?
Well that just shows that playing on a dedicated handheld device has not gone, as many will try to suggest. We want to have a healthy share of that handheld market. But we are playing fairly differently to Nintendo 3DS, when you think that is a dedicated handheld device with a very strong showing amongst kids. Vita is positioned differently. Yes it appeals to kids but also to committed gamers and as a companion device for PlayStation 4. 3DS shows that the sector is still there and that Nintendo is doing very well in it, so there is a market to harness.