Q&A

Man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Sony Com­puter En­ter­tain­ment UK

EDGE - - KNOWLEDGE E3 2014 - Fer­gal Gara

You’re here at E3 to meet re­tail­ers as well as the me­dia. How has their per­cep­tion of you changed now that you’re in the lead?

They see a resurgent cat­e­gory, they see a resurgent PlayS­ta­tion brand, and they know there’s great sales in it for them. They know we want to sell more con­soles this year than we sold last year; it won’t be about one big bang, one huge launch mo­ment, but hope­fully great sales over many weeks. The UK mar­ket in par­tic­u­lar: we were third in the home con­sole mar­ket only three or four years ago, and now we’re leading the mar­ket. We’re very proud of that, and in no way com­pla­cent, but of course that brings with it more en­gage­ment. We’ve worked hard to be open and to cre­ate that en­gage­ment, and it’s very much re­cip­ro­cated from our re­tail part­ners. And our pub­lish­ing part­ners: all the part­ners we work with, re­ally, have an ex­tra level of de­ter­mi­na­tion and in­ter­est in work­ing with us, which is great.

Last year you won E3 at a can­ter. This year it’s much closer, but do you feel like it’s your show again?

I won’t com­ment on the op­po­si­tion. I un­der­stand it was a good show­ing. I think what we are proud of is that we did the right thing for year two: we showed there is a fan­tas­tic ar­ray of games com­ing, and com­ing into Christ­mas that’s hugely im­por­tant to bring in the next wave of con­sumers. But what I also think we did very well was to show that the PlayS­ta­tion ecosys­tem continues to push for­ward. I think the mo­men­tum we’ve got as a brand and a busi­ness was very vis­i­ble on the night. We’ve not just got what you’d ex­pect this year, which is great games; the story continues. PlayS­ta­tion TV, PlayS­ta­tion Now and Project Mor­pheus are the key ex­am­ples of that. There’s much more to come.

Mor­pheus is a tough thing to mar­ket: you can’t demo it on stage. How will you ap­proach that?

Thou­sands of head­sets! One in each seat. We’re a fair way away from tak­ing it to mar­ket, and we’re fairly open about that. As you know, it was re­vealed at GDC. That’s not an ac­ci­dent, it was a very de­lib­er­ate strat­egy to say: “We’ve got this hard­ware, it’s maybe near fi­nal, it’s pretty so­phis­ti­cated and in good shape. We’ve got a few bits of demo con­tent here that show some of what’s pos­si­ble, but we haven’t got a set of ex­pe­ri­ences that are go-to-mar­ket ready. But help us. Here’s the blank can­vas, here are some ideas you might want to con­sider. Go forth and de­velop”. And when those ex­pe­ri­ences have been de­vel­oped, and we can see them tak­ing shape, we’ll know when the right day to go pub­lic is.

You must have a rough idea of when that will be.

There are thoughts, but I think it will be shaped by the ex­pe­ri­ences. It’s a bit like de­lay­ing a game un­til it’s at the right stan­dard. There’s a right time to bring these things out and [in this case] it’s when there’s enough great con­tent.

On that note, 2015 is go­ing to be an amaz­ing year for videogames, but is your 2014 slate good enough?

I think it is. But I also think 2015’s go­ing to get off to a great start – whether that be Arkham Knight or

The Or­der: 1886 or other ti­tles in the pipe­line, we can have con­fi­dence that 2015 is go­ing to be great as well. But to have the likes of Des­tiny com­ing, which launches the peak sea­son, I think that is ab­so­lutely tremen­dous. And a cou­ple of mas­sive ti­tles from last year com­ing across in GTAV and The Last

Of Us, plus much more be­sides. We’re pretty pleased. some points of dif­fer­ence [from] some of the key pub­lish­ers and de­vel­op­ers we’re work­ing with. We’re do­ing both of those things. I’d pick out Des­tiny as a great ex­am­ple of where those points of dif­fer­ence will be truly mean­ing­ful, and will mean PlayS­ta­tion 4 is the best place to play Des­tiny by some way.

That speaks to the ex­tent to which things have turned around – 360 used to be the place to play shoot­ers.

Ab­so­lutely. We’ve learnt a lot from the last gen­er­a­tion: we had a list of things to fix – or to im­prove upon, I should say – and that’s one of them. We’re in far stronger shape now.

Why wasn’t Driveclub, one of the few first­party ti­tles due for PS4 this year, even men­tioned on stage?

Just time and pri­or­ity. I’d ac­tu­ally pick out three pretty sig­nif­i­cant things that were miss­ing on Mon­day evening that cer­tainly mat­ter to me and my team and our plan for this year: Driveclub, Minecraft for PS4, and SingS­tar for PS4 and PS3. There’s only so much time, and Driveclub has been shown be­fore. I think it could well have de­served an­other air­ing, es­pe­cially as it’s now look­ing so, so much bet­ter. I’m sure Andy made the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer de­ci­sion as to what made the fi­nal cut. It’s one of those things we didn’t cover again but I have no con­cerns about the plan: it’s an­other ex­am­ple of a slip but, again, it’s bet­ter for it and it’s def­i­nitely bet­ter to bring the game out right than bring it out early.

“We were third in the UK home con­sole mar­ket only three or four years ago; now we’re leading it”

You have such a large net­work of first­party stu­dios, but it seems you’re in­cred­i­bly re­liant on third­party pub­lish­ers, for the re­main­der of the year es­pe­cially.

We’ve got a great set of part­ner­ships there in 2014 and even in 2015:

Arkham Knight is one of the best­look­ing next-gen ti­tles I’ve seen so far. It’s way up there, I’m very ex­cited about it – it’s a great ti­tle for us to be work­ing with. I think we’re much bet­ter rep­re­sented in the first­per­son shooter area: Des­tiny, Bat­tle­field:

Hard­line looked great as well, and both of those are pre-Christ­mas. So the breadth and depth, I think, our rep­re­sen­ta­tion across gen­res – right from Des­tiny to Dis­ney In­fin­ity – that cov­ers a hell of a spec­trum.

There was a fo­cus on plat­form-exclusive con­tent dur­ing your press con­fer­ence. How im­por­tant is that to the suc­cess of a con­sole?

Well, you saw Andy [House] put up the words: play it best and play it first. Our vi­sion is to cre­ate the best place to play; if it’s the best place to play, it’s got to have some unique ex­pe­ri­ences. That can be gen­er­ated in two ways: ei­ther by our own first­party stu­dios, or

The an­nual E3 ques­tion: where’s

The Last Guardian? [Laughs] I have no idea. We didn’t see it, so there’s no news! Sorry, I have noth­ing to re­port.

What we knew as Vita TV is now PlayS­ta­tion TV, which seems a pretty log­i­cal name change. How big a fo­cus is that for the rest of the year, and what’s your tar­get mar­ket?

In short, it is sig­nif­i­cant; we have a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber in our plan for it. The name change works for me be­cause al­though a lot of the ar­chi­tec­ture is tech­ni­cally a PlayS­ta­tion Vita, we think the pri­mary role we should com­mu­ni­cate for this de­vice is as a PS4 extender. And at the price point – which in the UK will be £85 – we think that’s rea­son­ably af­ford­able and the best, the sim­plest place to start in terms of com­mu­ni­cat­ing its ben­e­fits is to say that it gives you that prac­ti­cal home so­lu­tion whereby you can con­tinue to use the TV and de­camp from the liv­ing room and con­tinue to play in an­other room.

There’s more to it, whether that be as a client de­vice for PlayS­ta­tion Now or the abil­ity to play Vita games; maybe it’s got a fan­tas­tic role as a ‘My First PlayS­ta­tion’ to take away on a fam­ily hol­i­day or an en­try point to the PlayS­ta­tion brand. There are mul­ti­ple an­gles as to how we could take it to mar­ket but we’re pretty clear that the best, and eas­i­est way to ar­tic­u­late the ben­e­fit is as the PS4 extender. That’s where we’re go­ing to fo­cus.

How’s Vita do­ing in the UK now? You’re ex­per­i­ment­ing with bun­dles, and the per­cep­tion of the de­vice has changed now that PS4 is on shelves.

It’s do­ing re­ally well. It’s in growth; year to date, we’re up. We’re ab­so­lutely pleased with that, and see plenty more op­por­tu­nity on the hori­zon. The PS4 agenda, as you rightly point out, is key, and it is hav­ing a pos­i­tive ef­fect. Bring­ing a full Minecraft to Vita is an­other mile­stone in the year to come. Vita’s not go­ing to sell as well as PS4 this year, but it’ll sell very com­pa­ra­bly to PS3 in the UK this year. It’s a good, solid per­former, a key part of the fam­ily.

How about soft­ware? PlayS­ta­tion Plus is so gen­er­ous – has it had an ad­verse ef­fect on game sales?

It’s fair to say PlayS­ta­tion Plus is a very pop­u­lar ad­di­tion for Vita own­ers. They kind of feed off each other – it works both ways. People are con­sum­ing a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of dig­i­tal games – they may be [bought] in­di­vid­u­ally, they may be through their Plus sub­scrip­tion, but they’re still buy­ing a good pro­por­tion of pack­aged games as well. It’s a real mix, but we’re see­ing games be­ing played and we’re see­ing games be­ing bought on top of the sub­scrip­tion.

Mi­crosoft has played its hand on price; do you feel any pres­sure to cut the PS4 price in re­sponse?

We still haven’t caught up with launch­day de­mand across Europe. We are very sat­is­fied with the pricepoint we landed at; I see no rea­son to change that any time soon. It’s great value, gamers have clearly been happy with it, and it’s still sell­ing. We still have avail­abil­ity prob­lems – which we’ll hope­fully catch very soon – but we haven’t even caught up with day-one de­mand in some coun­tries so there’s clearly no need for a price cut.

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