PS4: Sony's UK Boss Speaks Next-Gen, Second-Hand Games, Exclusives
Fergal Gara, PlayStation UK MD, sits down with NowGamer to discuss PlayStation 4, second-hand games and next-gen exclusives…
Published on Feb 26, 2013
How do you measure the success of announcements as big as when you announce something like PlayStation 4? Is it volume of feedback, is it the type of feedback you get?
Yeah, well, a couple of things. The first measure, which is really important, is does anybody give a damn and is it being talked about? I think on those measures, instantly, you have to give a massive tick in terms of trending on Twitter and so on and so forth, we were absolutely all over it.
If you looked at who covered it in terms of media, specialist and broad, the answer is everybody was interested. Everybody was commenting on it.
If you look at the detail of what they’re saying, there’s a mix of great excitement about the power of the games and the new experiences we’re delivering. There’s a bit of frustration that not every last detail was on the table last night but let’s not forget, we’re not launching it next week.
We were laying out a plan and a vision last night at pretty much the earliest stage we could do that, really, and show what a game would look like. If it was a powerpoint presentation of a feature set, it would have been a hell of a lot more dull than ‘let me show what that looks like for real in a real next-generation game’.
So basically, we chose the timing when we could reveal a significant amount of the picture and I understand the frustration of the bits missing but they will be clarified in the weeks and months ahead.
I noticed some of the mainstream outlets like BBC and New York Times were particularly focused on the fact that the console itself was not shown. Were you expecting that to be such a sticking point for mainstream outlets?
Yeah, there are always calculated decisions. Are we ready to show the form factor? You know, the decision was made, no we don’t want to rush that. Last night was not considered the right time to do that. Everyone loves the form factor of any Sony device you care to mention but we took the call that if form factor of the machine was the best thing it had going for it, we’d be in trouble. So let’s focus on the experience we’re going to bring to people. Form factor and detail can come later. The look is important but it’s certainly not the be all and end all.
So it was five years ago that Sony started looking into the PS4, correct?
Why that point specifically?
I don’t know. You’d have to ask the likes of Mark because I certainly knew nothing about it, that’s for sure. In fact, I wasn’t even with the business! But what I’m delighted to hear is just starting to shape a vision of what the future will look like. Time’s being taken and time’s being invested. That whole thing about being focused on the gamer but you know, harnessing the power of the development community by understanding what they want to see, what they need, what’s frustrating them, what’s blocking them and what’s curtailing their creativity, getting to those issues early and in-depth really seems to have borne fruit in terms of what we saw last night.
The presentation touched on taking the PlayStation experience out of ‘the tower’ and moving it to mobile so PlayStation fans can take the experience with them. What is it Sony has seen or what trends has Sony spotted that makes them believe this is the right approach?
It simply comes back to how do our target audience lead their lives today. The answer is they’re socially connected in a whole multitude of ways and much as we might like to live in our little ivory tower and say they should only use our devices, that’s neither reasonable nor realistic.
The answer is devices are proliferating and they’re using many more of them than ever before. So you can see that as a bit of a problem or as a threat or you can say look, let’s embrace it. So your PlayStation life is now part of your broader social media life, so I think that’s a big tick. It gives loads of benefits.
It makes it feel integrated as part of their world but you know, we’re seldom marketing guys, fundamentally. I think there are a lot of exciting things in that because people are going to recommend to each other, people are going to brag about their own things in a broader, louder way.
What a great way to shout about the best games they’ve found or the best achievements they’ve achieved, so I think it’s going to do a whole lot of positive reinforcement for what we believe is the top tier videogames experience. Does that mean app gaming isn’t going to exist? No it doesn’t. What it means is we can embrace it to make the top tier even better.
How important will PS Vita be for PlayStation 4?
How important is it to PS4? I almost feel in a way, it’s how important is PlayStation 4 to PS Vita. I think the answer there is very. I think it was a big, big step for PS Vita, what was announced last night. We often use the adage PS Vita was aiming to be a PS3 in your pocket. What we saw last night is actually, it’s more than that. It’s a PS4 in your pocket.
But PlayStation Vita plays an important role, I guess, in the broader integrated ecosystem if you like. The things that will be possible on Vita will go above and beyond what will be possible on companion app stuff on iOS and Android because of its power and capability.
Now PlayStation 4 has been announced, does that affect Sony’s PS Vita strategy?
It gives us another strength and actually, our biggest challenge this year, is we’ve got an absolutely tremendous console in PlayStation 3 with a fantastic software line-up for this year that in no way deserves to be ignored or neglected, we’ve got an incredible new machine just announced in PlayStation 4 and we’ve got the best ever handheld device that’s been given another great boost in terms of what it can do. So balancing all of the messages of what our PlayStation family can do and what’s most relevant to who is going to be a challenge that we’ve got some of the answers to but more work to do.
You’ve shown the new controller from PlayStation 4, which utilises motion control. What lessons did you learn from the launch of PS Move, in terms of how it was received both by fans and developers?
My personal reflections on PlayStation Move are that it’s still, in my humble opinion, the best motion control system that’s out there in terms of accuracy, etc. I do think we’re being and we remain a little lacking in terms of defining new experiences in a fresh and different enough way to make it realise its true sales potential. I thought we saw some exciting stuff last night as to how PlayStation Move in a PS4 environment could be exciting.
Some concept work admittedly, from Media Molecule, but highly highly creative and highly engaging and funny in the way they do so, so well. So you know, there are more details to be fleshed out as to what role Move will play, but clearly we’ve indicated it will be compatible. So that’s good news.
Clearly we majored on – well not completely majored on – but we focused more on, I guess, core genres. Key genres for gamers because the really passionate gamers will be first in. Let’s make no bones about it. So what kind of genres do they look for? Hardcore shooters are incredibly important. Having driving games are incredibly important. Having great third-party support is incredibly important. We lined up all of that.
It did lead to a little bit of a core, male bias with a little bit of a counterbalance but I look forward to seeing that flesh out more because we’re certainly not saying PS4 is a man’s machine and that’s the end of it. PS4, like PS3, will want to be a very broad machine in terms of its appeal and we’ll continue to broaden that story.
Two of the major rumours going round prior to the announcement of next-gen consoles – obviously we’re still waiting to see what Microsoft does – is that always online connections are required and second-hand games would be blocked. Now the PS4 announcement shows neither of those to be true, were either of those avenues ever explored?
Well first of all, we haven’t stated that second-hand games… we haven’t made a statement on the second-hand games question. There was a lot of reaction to a patent that was filed, which is a matter of course for a technology business like us, to file various patents at various times, many of which many never see any application but they are good to have depending on ideas that might be building.
So what we’re here to do is offer the best value and the best gaming experience for gamers. The answer to the pre-owned question isn’t clarified just yet and we’re working through that and we’ll announce our position in more detail as and when we can.
What do you see as PlayStation 4’s major competition? There’s Microsoft’s next console, the resurgence of PC gaming and smartphone gaming is on the up…
It’s a bit of all of those, you know? You’re also competing for people’s share of time and share of wallet. You can put your smartphone and tablet into that space. Is it the same quality and experience? No. But does it compete for people’s share of wallet and share of time? Yes.
So are many other things. It can be anything, by the way, from clothes shopping to the cinema, you know? So share of time and share of wallet are a very important factor. And how do you compete with that? You go and redefine, you go and excite them again, you go and show them how you’ve raised your game, pardon the pun, and give them something to be truly excited about again.
And yes, of course, we’ve got some core competitors who we expect will give us a run for our money but we’re absolutely delighted we’ve got our vision, we’ve stuck to our guns and we’re able to share that with people now. We’re excited about it and we’ll carve our own foothold here.
The most impressive game in terms of spectacle was Killzone: Shadow Fall. I can’t imagine it was cheap to make. It certainly doesn’t look cheap to make. Has there been any concern on either Sony’s side or developer’s side about the cost of making these sort of next-gen games?
I’m not the best guy to comment on development cost because I’m not closely involved in it. I think you’re right to say the scale of the experience and the sheer look, the bar has been raised. I think every game last night looked even more impressive than I was expecting it to look. I think every example, graphically quality has absolutely stepped on, big time. So I think that’s a big tick.
But I go back to one of the very first points made in the presentation, you know, the ‘by developers for developers’. Making it easy for them to unleash their creativity, making it easy for them must have some benefits, so it’ll be interesting to get a developer’s view on this. But I potentially see a nice balance there of ‘Okay, we are shooting for a higher target here’ of a bigger, better experience but the road to get there has been made easier, slicker and more appropriate for developers, so there might be a nice trade-off there which means it hasn’t moved on much. But I honestly don’t know because it’s not my day-to-day work.
When PlayStation 3 launched, the console war was about the exclusive. As the generation wore on, it became just as important, if not more so, to have the definitive multiformat version of big IP – whether through having the most technically proficient version, exclusive DLC and so on. Given that trend, what do you see as being more important for PlayStation 4? Exclusive titles or the definitive versions of big multiformat games?
Yeah, good question. I think content will always matter. It’s one of the reasons why it’s essential to have first-party studios. For several reasons. One, to give you a launch line-up to cover the bases nicely, to be able to start working on these things way in advance without anyone knowing about them, etc etc. But also to be brave because not every decision is made on absolute pure commercial gain.
It’s important to be able to prove where the boundaries lies and most especially on a brand new console, to be able to push boundaries not for pure commercial gain alone but more than that. Proof of concept, etc etc.
So the role of first-party exclusives, I see as remaining important and you know, it depends on how the competitive landscape pans out as to whether there’s this battle for an extra slice of this or an extra feature of that between version A or version B. So it sort of depends on how the competitive landscape looks.
But we’ve delighted we’ve got a great first-party line-up in the bag and great publisher support. You saw the logos last night. It was ‘can you see if one’s missing?’, you know? Rather than ‘who’s in?’
PlayStation 4’s been in the works for five years and in the interim, Nintendo released Wii U. Was there any aspect of Wii U Sony looked at in detail, in terms of what worked and what didn’t?
I haven’t been involved in that depth of the development cycle here but I think it’s absolutely fair to assume that we watch each other quite closely but when Wii U was unveiled, were we looking? Were we interested? Of course we were.
I think it’s interesting that we chose to have maybe some of those ideas but do them very differently. Maybe that’s a good thing. I think we more openly embraced other devices and other operating systems and that was very evident last night.
Personally, I think that’s a good move, which is don’t try everything in a proprietary way. There are install bases out there, there are devices that are made by other people efficiently and cheaply, why not tap into that? It’s like a family of peripherals, really, isn’t it? Like a companion app piece. Your phone can be a peripheral for a PS4 now and that’s a good thing. Why should we start making them? I know we do that in other parts of the business but you know what I mean! Try and enforce everybody to have our one-of-that peripheral device when everybody’s got one in their pocket anyway. So I thought that was a nice touch, to be more open and more inclusive.
And take that same principal down to the gameplay actually. One of the things I’m most excited about is we can get games to people that they didn’t even know they wanted really, because of the whole personalisation piece of delivering you content we know you might want because that’s one of the genres you’re interested in.
Or I invite you to come in and play my game. You’ve got to have the platform but you don’t have to have the game, so I’m sharing something with you that doesn’t require the now-already-feeling-antiquated route of you’ve got to traipse off to the shop and we’ve got to play it at the same time.
We’re moving all that stuff along, which I think is great. That’s another massive social benefit. Posting to Facebook is great. Loads of bragging rights, loads of things that matters to gamers for a long time but getting that content, getting all the games excites me at least as much.
So where does all this leave PlayStation 3?
Well, I touched on that earlier – it’s probably our biggest challenge this year, is how do we keep an appropriate level of focus on all three key machines we sell. We still sell PSP in the UK, so it’s four. But the key focus will be on those three – PS3, PS4, PS Vita.
It’s going to have a tremendous year and I think it’s going to have a tremendous multi-year life way beyond this year with the UK consumers maybe graduating that bit faster onto PS4, but there’s much of the world where they’ll be very happy with PS3 for years to come and they’ll have a slower adoption curve on PS4.
So it’s great we have these multiple devices and PS2 is just coming to a close now in certain parts of the world, so they’ll co-exist, is the answer. At different ratios, depending on which market you’re talking about.