Interview: PlayStation Europe CEO Jim Ryan
20th Aug 2012 | 08:45
There was a sober message behind the razzmatazz of Sony's Gamescom press conference last week. Amid illuminating reveal trailers and on-stage demonstrations there was a confession that the industry has transformed dramatically and Sony needs to adapt.
PlayStation Europe chief executive Jim Ryan spoke on stage about the challenges that the industry faces, with potential customers spilling across numerous devices and platforms to engage with the content that's most appealing to them.
By the end of the press event there was a sense that Sony has shaken off the forced paralysis that the other platform holders engage in. Sony, or at least Sony Europe, understands that PS3 owners don't want to buy a second copy of their game for Vita. They don't want to sign up to PlayStation Plus if it doesn't benefit their expensive Sony handheld. They don't want a second-screen experience unless there's good content that comes with it.
PlayStation Vita was billed as a truly next generation handheld, yet many of its philosophies were stuck in the past. Before it was about driving a market; pushing products in the hope that people will bite. Today it's more about reacting to the market, noticing consumer habits and acclimatising fast.
We speak to Ryan about the potential, and drawbacks, of the changes happening to Vita.
CVG: Congratulations on the Gamescom press conference. There was a clear positive response to it.
RYAN: Thanks, do appreciate that.
At the press conference was it your objective to pitch the PS Vita as a PS3 companion?
No I think the priority was to convey the range of great IP that's coming to the platform this Christmas, and I think we achieved that. It's not so much about considering the PS Vita as the 'little brother' of PS3, I mean we consider it a partnership of equals.
Obviously, if you have in excess of twenty million people in Europe that have a PS3, that's a pretty good place to start.
I did get the impression that you're now pitching PS Vita to PS3 owners specifically. That narrows your target market of course but gives you focus. Would that be fair to say?
I think we're trying to appeal to PS3 owners, but I don't see how that is essentially restrictive. The main emphasis for PS Vita at our Gamescom press conference was the focus on this big killer IP that will be on the platform.
But how can PS Vita appeal to the more casual audience? What does it have?
Well, the games we create for the PlayStation Mobile initiative are compatible with Vita and we see Vita as being one of the primary devices for that content. We have a lot of Vita network games that are lighter touch but are priced accordingly. So I think there's a reasonable amount of things now that will appeal to that side of the market.
I just wonder what's happened to the casual market. It feels like it has left the traditional games business.
Well we still have a significant PSP business in many markets, which is something that tends to be forgotten. But I think a certain amount of that market has found its way onto smartphones and tablets.
Which is why you've moved into that space with PlayStation Mobile?
Yeah you see commuters playing games on their smartphones and tablets, and these are not people you would normally consider to be gamers, so there is a great opportunity to be able to provide these people with a recognisable PlayStation experience.
And quality is going to be the priority with PlayStation Mobile, we are going to be fairly robust when vetting these games. Having a place where people can go, and where people know there will be quality, is going to be the big draw of the service.
The new Cross-Buy service essentially allows people to buy the licence of a single game and access it on either their PS3 or Vita.
Yeah, that's essentially it.
But how hard will it be for developers and publishers to make games that can be played on both devices?
Yeah the development environments are rather different. PS Vita is a more PC-based environment whereas the PS3 is a more bespoke development environment. So the cross-over between both is rather limited.
So it sounds like there's not going to be a huge amount of games that will use the Cross-Buy service, nor does it look like many other publishers will use the service.
Well, I think our priority with publishers is to provide them an environment, in terms of installed base, where they can publish profitably on Vita. That's our challenge and it is something we have to rise to.
Yes and Shuhei Yoshida recently claimed that it had been difficult for Sony to attract publisher support on PS Vita.
I read his comments with interest, because at Gamescom I presented our Vita holiday line-up which includes games from EA, Ubisoft and Activision, so it clearly is possible [laughs]
I think the point that Shuhei is trying to make is that today there are so many platforms for games that these publishers have to place bets carefully. It's the job of the platform holder to explain why betting on their console is good business. We have been successful in getting Ubisoft, EA and Activision committing to the platform, and if you can demonstrate that you can get the big three to support your platform then the rest will follow.
Usually the acid test for games consoles is whether or not they can make third-party games a success. Do you think any of the games you showed at Gamescom can be that success story?
I most definitely do. I think all four of those big third-party IPs [Need For Speed, Black Ops Declassified, FIFA 13, Assassin's Creed Vita] will be a success for us.
Assassin's Creed Liberation will be particularly interesting, and Call of Duty Black Ops Declassified is a huge brand that is exclusive to PS Vita. I think there's a lot of dedicated Call of Duty fans who will be very interested by that proposition.
In terms of handhelds, do you see Nintendo as being less of a direct competitor in this increasingly fragmented market?
I think Nintendo is always a competitor, and I think the PS Vita will skew to a younger demographic over time, as most consoles do. I think that, when Vita does skew to that demographic, there will possibly be some collision.
The game propositions are so different that there's plenty of space for them to live side by side. They are very different games propositions.
Nintendo lost money but gained momentum when it slashed the price of the 3DS. Is PS Vita not being cut in price because you're not willing to make that type of trade off?
We think about the cost and whole value proposition of the PS Vita a lot, but right now we've got these great four third-party games on PS Vita as well as LittleBigPlanet Vita and we really think that's going to do it for us holiday season. So we're going to give this price equation a really good go.
There was no mention of 3D at E3 and no mention of it at Gamescom. Is this something that you're still pursuing?
Where it makes sense, 3D technology will be included into our games. I wouldn't read too much into its omission. We spoke about it at E3 two years ago and everyone put their glasses on for the first time, and the next year we did the same and everyone did it again. Y'know, there comes a time when you don't need to talk about it any more.
So you wouldn't accept the view that there's less support for 3D gaming than before?
I'd have to look more closely at what third parties are doing. I wouldn't read into the fact too much that we didn't shout to the rooftops about 3D recently.
And there was no mention of the new PS3 either and-
-Which new PS3? [laughs]
Well it's been given the nickname PS3 Super Slim, though effectively it's a PS3 4000, and...
Can I get a pen?
[laughs] I just wonder why it wasn't mentioned.
Well, we had so much to talk about on the software side, and that's all we wanted to talk about.
How important do you consider retail partnerships to be over the next five years?
I think, on that time frame, they will be very important. Obviously one topic that is much discussed is the impact of the growing emphasis of digital distribution on existing retail arrangements.
It's interesting because previously the whole debate took a very binary approach. You either bought a game in a shop or online. But what we're now starting to see the business adopt hybrid models where the retailer is able to play a really legitimate and substantial role in the digital value chain.
The hybrid model itself is more prevalent in North America, but I think Europe is catching up. You know, the classic example is someone buys Call of Duty at retail and is upsold some vouchers for DLC. I think that business will definitely be incremental, significantly so.
Also I would say, and certainly for the next five years, that disc-based distribution is going to be the norm.
And I suppose Sony would be limiting its audience if it lurched to nothing but digital distribution.
Yeah I think it would. If you take Uncharted 3's file size, and look at the average internet speeds people have in Southern Europe, it would take about two days to download it [laughs]. So discs are going to be around for some time yet.
This model of launching new consoles with a ten-year lifespan; do you feel it is sustainable model going forwards? Do you expect the entire industry will adopt a more modular approach where consoles will be upgraded?
I think that's a really interesting question. I think that's already happening, and it manifests itself through firmware upgrades. Look, a box is a box, but if you compare PSN from 2007 and what we have now, it's actually chalk and cheese. But the improvement is always incremental.
So I think possibilities offered by a connected online universe, specifically the use of firmware, means my answer to your question is yes.
But the modular approach to future hardware, do you have any thoughts on that?
[Pause] I think... [Pause] Not particularly [smiles].