Sony's Andrew House: 'PlayStation can help turn Sony fortunes'
28th Jun 2012 | 14:48
Sony chief executive Kaz Hirai has marked the PlayStation business as one of three key divisions that can help Sony move forwards.
The challenge is intense. In May Sony revealed a record annual loss of £3.6 billion, marking its fourth successive year in the red and outlining the almighty challenge the entertainment empire faces in turning fortunes around.
Andrew House, who has fast-tracked up the ranks at Sony and now runs its global games division, believes the PlayStation firm can provide buoyancy to Sony's business. In the interview with CVG below he explains why.
When we spoke late last year we discussed Sony's difficult year and since then we've seen the aftermath in terms of restructuring to some Sony divisions outside PlayStation. Do you feel you're through the worst of it?
There's obviously a heightened sense of concern and urgency in the company, given the overall financial situation. I think amongst the management team, there is a feeling that a new team is in place. It's working extremely well together. I think Kaz [Hirai, former PlayStation executive and now Sony CEO] has been very clear about communicating that sense of urgency, and gone are the days when individual divisions' concerns would somehow overreach the major challenges of the organisation overall.
So on the positive side, there's a tremendous sense of teamwork and a sense of shared objective, which is to turn around the situation we have right now. And I think we benefit from some very strong clarity from Kaz, both internally and externally, and with the same message to both. "One Sony" is the mantra: it's about pulling together the resources of the company in the best way possible, and with no fiefdoms and no infighting to be tolerated. There's a sense that Kaz is a change-agent: he has absolutely set out his mantra that Sony will change and he will change Sony.
Where does this leave Sony Computer Entertainment?
We benefit from the fact that we are a profitable part of the company and are making a strong contribution to the financial situation. We feel very strongly that the area of networked and interactive entertainment is one of very strong potential growth.
That was reinforced when, as part of his very first strategy briefing, Kaz was very clear about three core areas of the business which he felt were critical to growing Sony's presence overall. We're fortunate enough to be one of those core businesses. That comes with pressure, obviously, in terms of being able to deliver, but we're in a spot where we are making a profitable contribution, and there are opportunities for us to invest in the future.
How do you feel things went for you at E3? There were plenty of exclusive PS3 games, and the Wonderbook came out of nowhere - getting JK Rowling on board for that was a coup.
We were very pleased with the showing that we were able to put together. There are a few things that I would point to - not just exclusives -- but the opportunity to deliver three potential new IPs in the sixth year of a platform's cycle is a huge testament to [PlayStation Worldwide Studios director] Shuhei Yoshida.
I think it's also a testament to the longevity of the platform itself. So seeing Beyond from David Cage and Quantic Dream, seeing the Last of Us from Naughty Dog, and then the one that I chose to announce personally, Wonderbook, coming from the London Studios was a pretty good showing for a platform at this point of its lifecycle. I'm very enthusiastic about Wonderbook, and it was in part why I wanted to make the announcement.
For me, there's something a little bit magical about it in terms of - as I said on stage - taking one of the oldest information interfaces that we know, which is the book, and then somehow, through the magic of brand-new technology and AR, bringing it to life. I'm a big reader, and I was a big reader as a kid, and I think there's something child-like about fulfilling that dream of bringing books to life.
We were very, very fortunate that JK Rowling herself shared our enthusiasm for the potential of Wonderbook, and that enthusiasm grew to the degree that she has been creating new content for the first launch of Book of Spells, which is absolutely fantastic.
There are a couple of other business-related points I'd like to make about Wonderbook. We think it's a very interesting model, because we're launching with Book of Spells - we thought it was very important to come out with something associated with an extremely strong franchise and a great story-teller - but the beauty of the platform and the way it's set up is that it provides a pretty easy development environment for lots of other forms of content to be generated pretty cost-effectively.
If I look at the value proposition from a parent's point of view, hopefully we've got a large amount of people now who have a PS3 and PlayStation Eye. The book itself is a single purchase - one of the early lines was "One book, 1,000 experiences". And then there's the opportunity to refresh that content: I think we'll be able to deliver a fair amount of variety in a quick period of time, and hopefully at price-points that the average parent won't baulk at.
You can see Wonderbook being an easy sell to parents - it's something for the PlayStation 3 designed to get them into books?
Exactly. And very frankly, that's why JK Rowling was so enthusiastic about it, and she gave the team some great pointers. You'll have seen people reacting to text and so on - I think that's very important as part of its proposition. It's magic, it's wonderful and there's a sense of play, but it is also a book.
We get castigated an awful lot in the interactive entertainment industry for a particular form of content, or types of games that are very prominent. I think it's a great opportunity for us to show that interactive forms of entertainment can be taken in other directions.
There was a general sense of disappointment with the absence of new PS Vita games at Sony's E3 press conference. So many people love PS Vita but its sales have been disappointing. Clearly it needs more key software, so why didn't Sony reveal many new games for the system at E3?
Well, we did hear about Call of Duty, and we did hear about Assassin's Creed.
We didn't see them, though?
Well, we'll show them when the time is right. But I think we gave a good sense of what those games are going to be, particularly in the case of Assassin's Creed. You can be assured that, whether it's first-party or third-party, there's a good raft of content in the works there.
I think we also showed that there's a commitment to broadening out network services other than games, whether it's YouTube or Hulu Plus, which aren't at the core of the PS Vita's offering, but provide additional convenience and fun.
Something else that we alluded to and will spend more time talking about is: given that this is our first network-connected portable games device, we're looking at other ways in which we can leverage whether it's the PSP content portfolio or PS One games, which got a good shout from the audience, and deliver those in a low-cost model that adds to the overall portfolio of content for the PS Vita.
So if we were remiss on not spending enough time on the PS Vita, I'll take that one under advisement, but you can rest assured it's not for the want of any sense of overall commitment. We know that killer games are going to be what sells this device. I think there are other aspects to the proposition that we can build in there, which will be attractive.
One message from your E3 press conference was that there's plenty of life in the PS3 yet. But nevertheless the PS4 is looming. Can you tell us anything about it?
There's nothing to talk about on that front right now.
How does Sony stand now for the rest of the year, in terms of recovering from last year and acting in a more joined-up manner?
Looked at from the perspective of the games business, we're already forging a much greater degree of collaboration and dialogue with other Sony divisions than has hitherto existed. It will take time for us to benefit from that. But I think PlayStation Mobile is a good starting point there, where we're combining strength in the mobile space with strength in game development and game development environments, and then combining that with a good business model.
From the games business' point of view, we're quietly confident throughout the year. We've got a very strong software line-up which we think will translate into momentum for our platforms. If I threw one note of caution in there it would be that the macroeconomic situation has got to be a concern for any international business right now, and I think that's the large unknown. That and concomitant moves in currencies, which have particular effect on Sony's businesses, are two areas of concern that remain.
It was Jack Tretton at the E3 press conference who said that the PS3 "Is at the epicentre of gaming", the point being that the PS3 is a games console at heart, although there are other things you can do with it.
Absolutely. Getting that balance right is something that I would hope that we pride ourselves on. And again, I point back to three great, brand-new IPs that will get gamers excited. They will be gamers of different ages, with different profiles, but I think actions speak louder than words, and that's our way of showing that we're very committed to the PS3 at its core as a gaming device.