TGL’s Joseph Murphy recently had the chance to sit down with Sony’s VP and MD of UK and Ireland Fergal Gara. Gara spoke to us about the life-cycle of the PS3, the future strategy for PS Vita and PS Vita TV, Sony’s next-gen console hitting Ireland, the importance of indie developers to Sony’s long-term PS4 strategy, and just what the Irish market means to the firm.
The Gaming Liberty: With the PlayStation 4 now steadily available, can you share your thoughts on the life cycle of the PS3, and what changes you would make (if any)?
Fergal Gara: PlayStation 3 is, and was, a great machine. I think it remains so even today. Technologically it was very ambitious. I was on the other side of the cycle when it launched – as I was buying and selling them at that time, but certainly looking at it now through PlayStation eyes, we see that it would have been far better if it had released earlier, and it would have been far better if it had released at a lower price point. Topping that off, it also would have been a great benefit if Bluray had become a bigger thing faster.
So there’s a lot of “ifs” and “buts”, but it remains a high powered console. But as we did the soul searching to think “where do we go next”, some of the key reflections for the PS4 was “how easy is it to make games for”, and “what’s a fair price point?”. So we had a fair list of things to improve on, as well as making it more relevant to this period; the social media period…
TGL: That can’t be a bad thing, right? Having a consumer base that runs into the millions, and a list of improvements you’d like to make in the PlayStation hardware which would benefit such gamers.
FG: Exactly, and one would expect to always have that – especially when you deal with life cycles that are so long. When you think about it, that six or seven year window is an age in technology.
So PS3 has delivered very very well on many levels. To launch late than our competition, and at a higher price point, but to then go on to break through eighty million sales globally? It’s a good result, but we aspire for more and want more, so the PlayStation 4 is a very focused effort to get a lot of things right at the same time, and we’re chuffed with that.
TGL: The Last of Us was one of the greatest first party titles to grace PlayStation hardware. Many people claimed The Last of was the swan song of the PS3, can you share your thoughts on that?
FG: You’re certainly right to say the Last of Us is one of the last epic first-party titles for the PS3, but I would hate us to forget about titles like Gran Turismo 6 for example. But yes, The Last of Us was certainly a pleasant surprise to all of us, and more importantly to gamers, that Naughty Dog could could come out with a brand new franchise like that and effectively become the hit of the summer.
TGL: What was interesting about The Last of Us was it really gave last-gen a push didn’t it? It appeared to blur the lines between current and next-gen tech.
FG: Yeah, and it’s quite fascinating when you see the best of current-gen with the start of next-gen. Sometimes, with some games, people might not see the gap as obviously as they could have imagined, but that’s due to six or seven years of getting the very best out of the PS3 has taken us to that level. But it’s time to pass the baton, and PS4 will take us onwards and upwards. The launch games are excellent, but there’s every reason to believe they will improve even further going forward.
TGL: The PS4 recently passed the benchmark of 1 million consoles sold across North America, can you tell us, internally, how it feels to meet such a demand so quickly? Can you update that figure for us?
FG: We don’t have an updated number to release right now – but it could be timely to release a figure next weekend.
As far as sales go, we’re extremely pleased with the North American launch. But what does it mean to us? We’re seeing a lot of gamers returning to PlayStation – which is very encouraging to see. We seemed to have earned their trust, and seemed to have laid out our stall very well, and that has resonated well with gamers. From what we can see, the signs are similar across the globe, so that’s all positive. Myself and many other peers around the world, prior to E3, were asked to give a forecast on the PS4 before launch, and where we were is much more modest compared to if we were asked that same question today. So it has been a very successful year for us whether it’s current-gen successes like The Last of Us, but certainly the way we presented PS4 has gone down extremely well, the price point has also gone down extremely well with consumers.
So we go into next-gen with the biggest demand we’ve ever seen, and we’re very excited about that. Europe comes online Friday the 29th, and then Japan in February, so we would have very rapidly got to most of the world by February. It’s really one of the most aggressive plans we’ve ever achieved.
TGL: Campaigning and promoting your product is obviously very important as far as you are outlining to customers what they can expect from your next-gen console. One of the best promotions we’ve seen was the PS4 was “The Players Since 1995″ video campaign. Talk about hitting gamers right in their core…
FG: We were delighted with that success actually. It all came from the excitement around the launch period really as we noticed the “#psmemories” – which was user generated memories of nostalgia pouring onto social media outlet twitter. So it seemed only right to engage with consumers through that avenue. The video itself was quite British-centric in terms of the production, but the principles apply to gamers worldwide as most of what goes on in that video, happens with gamers worldwide.
TGL: Sony have such a deep history in the video game industry. On reflection, do you think such a past offers the team a source if inspiration and confidence as we enter the PS4 era?
FG: It earns us the right to say we’re coming forward with the next-generation of our console, and what we believe, is the next big step forward. So it makes sense to remind customers of our best, and then tell them “this is our new best”. It’s definitely a positive, in marketing terms, to remind gamers of our heritage and to re-stimulate their interest in gaming.
There’s a lot of skepticism in console gaming these days with many many more devices that are “gaming machines” of sorts. But what we’re seeing is, despite all of these alternative forms of gaming, we’ve never seen such hard and fast demand up-front for a new console. So the naysayers, I think, need to look elsewhere <laughs>.
TGL: The PS4 is really aiming to hit an itch gamers have, right? Now with the next-gen here, people want continued Blu-ray support, people are demanding more first-party developments and there’s also the ever-growing need for more ram and faster processors etc. Do you feel the PS4 is striking while the iron is hot?
FG: We do. The PS4 is quite a pure-play device. It doesn’t only do games, not by a long shot, but it is definitely and deliberately architected to get the best possible games performance from these pieces. These elements are assembled with value in mind. So, less in the way of bespoke chips, but instead cleverly putting pieces together to get that optimum performance for gamers. Things like, and we sometimes gloss over it, GDDR5 memory – is not a small decision. That stuff is expensive, and you have to remember you’re trying to hit a price point for consumers, but you want make optimum performance a reality.
But we decided, despite the fact that there’s cheaper alternatives, it’s the best we can buy and this all feeds into what we want we’re trying to do; deliver the best gaming experience for gamers. The audience with the biggest appetite are, of course, the core gamers, but we think we presented our case to them very well. We’re humbled and excited with the reception we’ve seen so far.
TGL: To bring in the competition for a moment, The PS4 released later than the Xbox One, but hits stores at a lower price point. With Christmas in sight, how does Sony feel about the holiday period with those factors in place?
FG: Well, there’s a couple of points of reflection with this: 1. As we planned the year, we didn’t know when the competition would release, and 2. we didn’t know what price point the competition were due to release at.
We had decided, some time ago, that hitting Christmas 2013 was our objective. So to come out and hit the price point we wanted, hit the release window we wanted, in the year we wanted? It’s a tremendous success by any standard. But to ask are we a week early or a week late? It depends on what part of the world you’re in. But what I often say to that question is “would you rather seven days of sixteen months?”
We were sixteen months late, and two Christmas periods behind last time around – that’s not where you’d ideally want to be. So we’re absolutely delighted to be, let’s call it, releasing at the same time. The run up to Christmas means you have a double-whammy with the pent-up demand from the core gamers. I suspect they’d come out at any time during the year to get their new console, but with that interest in place, we’d ask for patience as it might be that little big harder to get their hands on a console. With that in mind, we’ll be doing our best to replenish stock and meet their demands.
TGL: That’s what’s interesting about Ireland. Despite the fact that we’re rather small geographically, we do consume an extraordinary amount of video game material. Can you tell us what the Irish market means to Sony going forward with the PS4 and in general, the PlayStation brand?
FG: There’s a few factors to pick out to say the least. First of all, yes, Ireland isn’t the biggest country in the world. But I think penetration of consoles per head of the population is up there, if not the best in the world – or close to it. Comparing PS4 pre-order figures, there are some of the biggest I’ve seen, in fact, some of the biggest in the world by store. It’s also a bellwether for Europe, often what happens in Ireland is then reflected by what happens in Europe. So, the Irish are early adopters, and big consumers, and it’s a market we can’t afford to ignore.
TGL: Stock concerns have been expressed across the country as Christmas approaches. Can you tell us what Sony are doing to fulfill th demand for PS4 consoles, and really, should people worry?
FG: Winding the clock back, as we started to see the bigger demand for consoles later than we expected, but we’ve done everything we can do to increase production. This has given us more than we were expecting some weeks and months back for example – so that is a good job. Stock is flowing over time so there is regular replenishments! Even if it was to sell out this weekend, we expect more stock to be available next weekend for example. It might pop in and out of stock between now and Christmas, and yes, we do apologise to anyone that can’t get one, but again, we would ask for patience.
TGL: The PS4 and PS Vita bundle is expected to come our way this Christmas too, what can gamers expect from it? And how does the PS Vita fit into your vision for next-gen?
FG: First of all: we believe the PS4 and PS Vita together is a great combo. Remote-play is surprisingly effective. Ok, you do need a strong WI-fi signal, but it’s a seamless process. So people have asked? “Are you going to create one hard bundle?”.
Well, what we’re not going to do in 2013 is produce one box with the two consoles inside it. But we are working with certain retailers to sell the consumer a package with the PS4 and PS Vita. Certain add-ons for example, like PS Plus, is an obvious addition really when you think about it as it would also cover your multiplayer for PS4. To top that off, you also get your instant game collection covering both consoles – including PS3 if you wish. So there are certain talks happening right now to put that proposition together, but the availability within Ireland will depend on talks with retailers.
TGL: PS Vita TV is another item a lot of Irish consumers are interested in. Do you seen potential for it in Europe, and what lessons do you think you can you learn from the impending Japanese release that you’ll then carry over into a possible EU release?
FG: Clearly we look with interest at how the device does in Japan. There’s also reasons why it could perform better in different regions. Streaming services, for example, are probably more successful in Japan, when compared to Europe. The idea I’m most excited about personally, as far as the PS Vita becoming a PS4 extender, is the ability to take it and go. As that functionality proves itself more, it could work successfully outside of the home. Imagine leaving the house and simply taking a micro-console and a DualShock, rather than a full console?
This is the kind of potential this technology has, but it is early days yet, and we’re excited that it’s yet innovation that’s now part of the PlayStation eco-system. Will it be launched in Europe? We can’t say just yet, but again, it’s great to have it in the family and we’ll simply take it from there.
TGL: Software-wise, there’s a lot of interest these days in content, HD remakes and franchise revival. In fact, Sony’s Adam Boyes recently commented that there’s a “list” of titles Sony are “looking into” bringing to PlayStation – including Shenmue. Can you tell us a little about the conversation that goes on behind the scenes to make such possibilities become a reality for gamers?
FG: We’re probably on the record of saying “we want to create the best place to play”, and it’s not the best place to play unless it has the best games. The best games can come from publishers both small and large. So, starting at the smaller end of the scale, the indie development and publishing scene is there to support unique, clever and original content. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t see some surprise hits come from that community, so I’m delighted we have that in place with the PS4. I think it’s a changing dynamic in the publishing world when you think about it. You got the giant publishes, and giant franchises, but now you have the smaller innovators that can create new and original content that’s affordable and low-risk. All of that gives us promise, and our doors are wide-open to this kinda of development and support.
So that’s group one.
When it comes to mega-titles, and consumers wanting them on PlayStation formats, there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure we’re working with publisher and developers – because they are vital to our business. There’s a lot of work that’s involved in striking the right business relationship, the right working relationship.. so we have to make sure we’re wokring on the right titles together. Take for example the work we’re doing with Watch Dogs and Destiny as we approach 2014 – but again, they are the big titles.
But surrounding older titles and remakes, it comes down to how easy it is to make happen – from a technical stand-point; how much commercial potential does the game have? Is our business relationship in the right place? Let’s not forget, going forward, there’s a lot of games that will sell better on PS3 instead of PS4 as our PS3 install base, at this moment in time is higher.
With all that in mind, it’s not simply down to the PlayStation team, but it’s really about the publisher too; what works from them and how much they can make from them. Because remember, they are a business too!