As the last generation drew to a close, PlayStation limped over the line in third place, soundly beaten by Nintendo and Xbox.Now it is king of the consoles again with 1m PS4s sold in 42 weeks.
MCV discusses the comeback with UK MD Fergal Gara
There was a moment last year when UK boss Fergal Gara believed PlayStation could be No.1 in the UK again.
It came before PS4 was named the ‘fastest-selling' games platform ever, and even before that iconic
It actually took place before the PS4 was even announced.
Back on February 22nd the whole #PlayStationMemories trend kicked off,” recalls Gara. That showed us that there was really strong PlayStation love in the UK. It had just fallen a little soft in recent years. The brand was still in the hearts and minds of lots of people.
"Before the PS4 there was really strong PlayStation love in the UK. It had just fallen a little soft in recent years."
Fergal Gara, PlayStation
"Then in October we did the ‘Since '95' video, which captured millions and millions of views. We were very clear at that point that the love for our brand was there, we just needed to give consumers the right device and position it in the right way. And that is what we did with PS4.
We might look back in the fullness of time and say PS3 was a hiccup. It was good, but it wasn't as excellent or timely as it could have been, and it had its problems. That may be our perspective when we look back in years to come. But it is great to see that the love for PlayStation remains alive.”
BACK ON TOP
A now famous quote from Sony Worldwide Studio's Shuhei Yoshida last month had him shrug his shoulders as to why PS4 has managed to sell so well.
We don't completely understand what's happening,” he told Eurogamer.
You can appreciate his bafflement, and it's one probably shared by the folks over at Xbox, too. Xbox One has had two price cuts and at some retailers it's actually the cheaper console. It comes with a free game. It's arguably had a better line-up of exclusives. Yet almost every single week PS4 sells more.
Sony may not know exactly how it's managed it, but it certainly has its educated theories.
We created a great machine and positioned it very well upfront,” says Gara simply. That all went fantastically, and the gaming community remembers that. It wasn't quite the same for others. But even more importantly, when people have got that machine into their hands, it's been great.”
And of course there was that incredible moment at E3 when Sony announced the console's price and business model.
I will never forget it,” says Gara. The emotion in the arena was way beyond our expectations. We hoped for positivity and we got it in spades. The next morning, we had retailers who take pre-orders coming into us and talking about the sheer acceleration and bias in the pre-orders they witnessed in the hours following that press conference... it was proof, if you ever needed it, that E3 matters.”
And a lot of those pre-orders were people coming over from PlayStation's rivals.
We have certainly seen PS3 consumers come across quite fast,” says Gara. But a very significant proportion are people we have never seen on our network before. And from their behavior it's fairly clear that a big chunk of those have come across from Xbox. There's also a group that look like they're brand new to gaming. And they've picked PS4 as their first serious gaming device.”
"A very significant proportion of PS4 users are people we have never seen on our network before. And from their behavior it's fairly clear that a big chunk of those have come across from Xbox."
Fergal Gara, PlayStation
STEP INTO THE FUTURE
Gara is understandably confident about PS4's future prospects. The firm has achieved this 1m sales without the aid of its biggest brands – Uncharted and Gran Turismo are still some way off.
In fact, Sony's broader focus appears to be on a more diverse range of indie games. So do the triple-A blockbusters not hold as much importance anymore?
Big blockbusters continue to matter and matter hugely,” insists Gara. Indeed, this week was poignant because there was another brand new blockbuster on the shelves [Destiny].
But there is definitely a new pattern. What we saw through the PS3 cycle was some mega franchises gradually getting bigger and bigger, but we also had a rich middle ground of medium-sized publishers. That has thinned out quite substantially, so the advent of the smaller, or independent, publisher – if you want to use that word – is a key phenomenon that we are seeing in the PS4 world.
Then I would point to PlayStation Plus. PS Plus has been a big step-change business for us over the last year. So really we've seen a broad spread of games being played.”
THE NEXT WAVE
PS4 flew off shelves over Christmas and at the start of the year. And although hardware sales remained healthy, demand has dropped off slightly since Easter.
Our research tells us that the next wave of consumers are slightly more ‘Well, prove it to me' in their mentality,” says Gara. They are waiting for the portfolio of games to be that bit deeper. And the great news is that those games are coming, starting with Destiny. That will drive another wave of install base for us and it will create a whole new wave believing in next-gen.”
Gara points to the likes of DriveClub, Call of Duty, FIFA and Assassin's Creed as key milestones this Christmas, but also highlights SingStar and LittleBigPlanet 3.
"The next wave of consumers are slightly more ‘Well, prove it to me' in their mentality."
Fergal Gara, PlayStation
You can see it's not just for the core gamer, and as we come into the second Christmas, we have every reason to expect the PS4 to broaden a bit,” he says, adding: When I joined the business I was quite downhearted that when a multiformat title came out that had a younger bias in it... we didn't do well at all. Take a franchise like Skylanders: we would definitely be third in the three-horse race on that kind of title. But with PS4 the slate has been wiped clean, hasn't it? You start all over again. So there is absolutely no reason not to have a focus on those gamers. So we will have a structured focus on more than one audience.”
Sony is cautious about the future of PS4. Now that the company has smashed through 1m sales in the UK, 10m worldwide, commenters are suggesting that perhaps the firm could repeat the astonishing performance of PlayStation 2 (155m worldwide), but Gara and his team have a different target in mind.
I don't think we will be hiding anything by saying that we want to do better than we did in the PS3 era,” concludes Gara. PS2 set the gold standard for any console performance. We should review in a steady-as-she-goes manner. But we will continue to iterate our expectations, and maybe we can be looking at PS2 numbers. But it's too early to say that, because I think the shape of this cycle might be quite different. It already is. There has been an incredible rush in at the start... so what does the middle and the long-distance look at? That won't mirror PS2. It will be somewhat different.”
FOR THE GAMERS