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Sony: PS4 success is "important for the shape of the whole industry"

GDC Europe/Gamescom 2014 in association with
Sony: PS4 success is "important for the shape of the whole industry"

Thu 14 Aug 2014 8:02am GMT / 4:02am EDT / 1:02am PDT
gamescom 2014

Jim Ryan explains how strong sales make innovation easier, and clarifies SCE's position on EA Access

Sony Computer Entertainment

Sony Computer Entertainment is a Japanese videogame company specialising in a variety of areas in the...

playstation.com

Microsoft may have realigned its messaging around the Xbox One after a very unsteady start, but Gamescom proved that Sony isn't about to give up its early lead through simple mistakes. With a broad range of games on show and some tantalising new technologies and services in development, Sony further strengthened its position as the pre-eminent console at this stage in the generation.

But while SCE Europe president Jim Ryan departed the Gamescom stage with the reassurance that the PlayStation 4's success will not lead to complacency, he also knows that some things are far easier to say than they are to realise. In this interview, Ryan discusses the importance of variety to the new generation of consoles, and finding the line between freedom of choice and quality of experience.

Q: It was another solid conference for Sony, buoyed by that sales figure: 10 million PlayStation 4s in well under a year.

JR: It's so much faster than we've ever done it before. We're pretty pleased with it.

Q: That's a commanding lead over the Xbox One, and the Wii U. But what does that really mean for Sony at this stage? What actual advantage does that give you?

JR: Having momentum and having that initial success - and it is just initial, there's a long way to go yet - it puts us in good heart for the future. Some of the stuff we touched on yesterday, talking about the future, whether that's PlayStation Now, whether that's Morpheus, PlayStation TV in the nearer term - all of these things require investment.

It's much easier to make decisions like that from a position of relative success, relative strength, rather than a world where PlayStation 4 was struggling, where our momentum wasn't great. The money man would be thinking, 'hmmm, do we really want to put more into this?' Those conversations, which are very important for us and very important for the shape of the whole industry, they become easier. That can only be a good thing.

"All that [Xbox vs. PS4] feeding frenzy last year was interesting, but I think, and I hope, that it has run its course now"

Q: From the consumer perspective, a figure like that builds confidence that those calls are more likely to be the right calls, too. It also compares favourably to the PlayStation 3's faltering start. You obviously know that momentum can run in both directions.

JR: Yeah, we made so many mistakes last time round that I won't list them now. But we did list them, and we vowed to rectify them. By and large, I think we've done that.

Q: Are we past the point now where the success of PlayStation 4 can be put in the context of what Microsoft was doing, be that the wrong price point, the wrong digital strategy, the wrong peripheral bundled with the console? I've heard the argument that PlayStation 4's success is a consequence of those mistakes, but I'm not sure you get to 10 million sold on that alone.

JR: In some ways, all that feeding frenzy last year was interesting - probably great for you guys - but I think, and I hope, that it has run its course now. We're just getting on with doing our thing. We haven't really changed course at all. We've got plans, and we're confident about them. Some of that was laid out last night, other stuff will follow in due course. We'll just get on with it.

Q: You mentioned avoiding complacency at the end of the conference, and that's the most obvious pitfall from a position of strength. There was a good variety of experiences on show - is that what you were referring to? Because more so than the hardware, breadth of content has probably been the definitive aspect of the new generation to date.

JR: I think that's right. Some of that comes from the polarisation of the industry. Everybody can see that the big studios getting bigger and more monolithic, and there's this really interesting emerging sector at the entry level - I dread to use the word "indie" these days. That brings breadth and variety.

And then on the time axis, what you saw a bit of last night was the first signs of us starting to think about different audiences. Some of the games last night were 2015, possibly even beyond, where we're going to be looking at something a little bit broader, a little more mass. Those two things meant you had a range of types of developer activity, but also looking at slightly different audience profiles. You've got Bloodborne at one end of it, Tearaway at the other.

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Q: Two very different propositions for sure. For the core player, though, those big exclusives can still seem pretty far away: Uncharted 4, The Order, Bloodborne. Perhaps it's a perspective issue: there are so many games available in so many places now that the expectation of how much should be available at this point in the generation has been skewed.

JR: That's accurate, because we've done the comparison and there are way more this time. Maybe it was a bit patchy over the summer. I kind of get...frustrated is perhaps too strong a word, but you hear, 'Where are the games for PlayStation 4?' and there are more than there have ever been at this stage on any new console platform. But I think 2015 is going to be great from that perspective. Starting with Destiny, it'll really begin to take off.

Q: Going back to what you said earlier, Sony has Morpheus, it has PS Now, it has Share Play - there are ideas and initiatives on the periphery of the games themselves that, right now, are helping the PS4 to stand out. Is it valuable to be seen to have these concepts growing in the background? It would be easy enough not to put them in the foreground.

JR: Yeah, we think it's really, really important. I'm glad you picked up on that, because it's something I was really hoping we conveyed. I think we did well at showing a variety of games, but we also wanted to drive home these ways we're trying to innovate. There's a whole different set of areas we're looking at: virtual reality, streaming, remote play, this share play idea, which is actually a very cool feature. It's hard to articulate some of that on the stage.

Q: Is there a danger to that, though? Some of that is a long way off, some is only available to a limited number of people with no set release date.

"We've always said that PlayStation 4 would be a socially connected console, but that's dead easy to say and talk is cheap"

JR: The risk is that you talk about this stuff and then you don't deliver, and we run that risk by putting this innovation story out there. But we reflect very carefully, internally, before we stand on the stage and talk about these things.

We've been pretty careful to position Morpheus as an R&D thing for now. Everybody who tries it seems to love it, and some of our devs are getting really amped up about it. With PlayStation Now, the end state is hugely seductive: PlayStation games streamed to PlayStation devices, other Sony devices, and then hopefully not too far behind that other, non-Sony devices. It's very intriguing, very seductive, and very difficult.

The message to get across in a meeting like this is, 'It ain't gonna happen tomorrow.' This is a multi-year horizon, but if we do it, to have that universe of potential client devices, virtually all of which can be accessed with no barrier to entry of the need to purchase a console, as a future end-state it is hugely exciting.

Q: Share Play ties into that, too. It's similar technology powering it, and it demonstrates another way streaming can add to the user experience. It's a very consumer-facing concept, and it's hard to imagine getting the greenlight even a few years ago. I feel like it would have been shot down over fears of cannibalised sales.

JR: Yeah. And, y'know, those conversations did take place. It kinda goes back to learning the lessons from last time round. We've always said that PlayStation 4 would be a socially connected console, but that's dead easy to say and talk is cheap.

If you want to position it that way you've got to deliver in terms of the feature set. And at a very high level, taking that approach and being true to the promise - which we haven't always done - that must prevail over cannibalisation of sales. Ultimately, that is a narrow tactical consideration.

Q: You also set a European release date for PlayStation TV. That device has been described by Sony as a possible route into certain Asian markets where the cost of console gaming would be too high. I can see that logic, but who is the PS TV consumer in Europe?

JR: We see two user cases. We see the remote play user case as being potentially quite powerful. For under 100 you can have a PlayStation experience, output it through a television elsewhere in your house. Look at the models where you can get Sky elsewhere in your house and it starts to look like a pretty good deal. So you have that, and it's also just an affordable console. It's not an inconsiderable amount of money, but it's cheap.

Q: What about your core customer? The person with a PS4 and a Vita?

JR: I can see that. The person with a PS4 and a Vita is likely to have two televisions as well.

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Q: It still feels like we're talking around this idea of choice, of variety. We talked about exclusives earlier, and I do wonder what the value of the exclusive is in this context, when so many developers can put their games out there and we have all of these services supporting so much content. The exclusive seemed a more powerful concept last generation.

JR: It's a fair question, and it's one that we all need to reflect upon, and not just carry on doing what we've done in the past. It is one of the points of differentiation between our platform and any other. We have this big network of studios making experiences that are on our consoles and nowhere else, and that remains a definite plus.

Q: Yes, certainly. But the term 'exclusive' does seem to be applied rather liberally beyond entire games: to DLC, to pre-order incentives, to in-game items, even to relatively short periods of time where a game will be available in one place and not another. Obviously, that applies to many companies in this industry, but can we go a little too far in that direction, to where it no longer serves the consumer?

"We try not to be dogmatic about anything, but it's important to be measured in your approach to this sort of thing [EA Access]"

JR: Yes, I do think there's a risk of overcooking these things and making them too complicated. There are limits to peoples' attention spans. It does need to be simple.

Q: Sony's stance on EA's Access initiative does seem to be against consumer choice. The official line was that it doesn't offer good value to your customers, and that's your right as platform holder, obviously. But you have Netflix there, you have Spotify, you have other services that offer content by subscription. What's the difference with EA Access?

JR: We've got to look at this issue very holistically, to look at the consequences of that service relative to existing services on our platform, relative to other services that might come along from other companies. We have to juggle a lot of balls. I don't think we're ruling anything in or out forever, but right now we don't think it's right for the platform.

Q: It does raise the question of what it would be like if every publisher had one of these services. Is that part of it?

JR: It's a sensitive area, but that's the sort of thing that we're thinking about.

Q: So you're not ruling it out altogether. And the value proposition of something like Access is likely to change with time.

JR: We try not to be dogmatic about anything, but it's important to be measured in your approach to this sort of thing, because there are ripple effects. Precedents do get set, and if you're not careful you can end up in a place that isn't good for the platform. And more importantly, isn't good for the people who've bought into the PlayStation proposition.

We saw all the reaction, and it's understandable, but I don't think people should get too hung up on it at this stage.

21 Comments

Popular Comment
"All that [Xbox vs. PS4] feeding frenzy last year was interesting, but I think, and I hope, that it has run its course now"
Utter rubbish,,, They (Sony) are thriving on exactly this, hence the "#4theplayers" tag they seem so rather embarrassingly proud of.. There's also a lot of gaming press published whose sole purpose it to cater for this "feeding frenzy". I can't see it going away any time soon either as nothing is done about it, just look at the comments on a gaming related youtube video, or on a gaming site / forum or gaming related facebook page and you'll see some pretty immature comments from people who share the same hobby / pastime, who at any given opportunity are at each others throats..

I don't think Sony can afford for this "Xbox vs. PS4 / PS4 vs Xbox feeding frenzy" to end.

As for Sony passing on EA Access, I think this a huge mistake and one that should have been at least trialled so that people have a choice.Xbox gamers taking out memberships seems quite high from what I've read, and you only need to buy one game as a member from the store (which brings the games prices inline with Amazon.co.uk and Shopto.net) and you've got more than half of your annual sub (19.99) back.. I don't see how it's a bad deal at all..

Edited 6 times. Last edit by Pete Thompson on 14th August 2014 2:01pm

Posted:2 months ago

#1

Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd

1,020 1,467 1.4
Popular Comment
@ Pete EA Access is a rabbit hole that Sony is smart not to go down. Encouraging publishers to run individual subscription services on your system is inviting a clusterfuck of dissonant, un-navigable game services, damaging the immediacy and simplicity that are supposed to be the hallmarks of console gaming (and arguably its last remaining advantage over PC gaming). Inviting this sort of confusion will only damage Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus. Once you let one publisher in, others will follow.

Posted:2 months ago

#2
Popular Comment
@ Nicholas

We'll have to agree to disagree on it being a rabbit hole that Sony were smart enough to avoid, as an EA Access member myself I see it as something that's good for gamers, at present buying a game in either the PlayStation Store or the Xbox Store you'll pay far more than if you picked it up from a retail outlet such as Amazon / GAME / Shopto.net / Gamestop etc, any service that offers gamers a better prices i see as a win win situation.

The next gen version of BF4 is 54.99 on both PSN Store and XB Store, EA Access members get to download and play BF4 for 19,99 a year, how is that not a good deal? on top of that there's another 3 titles, with loads of AAA titles to be added, alongside 5 days early access to games..

It's also one that Sony haven't entirely ruled out, I suspect that they will wait to see how it goes on XB and then reconsider their position on the service as evident from this comment from JR in this article
Q: It does raise the question of what it would be like if every publisher had one of these services. Is that part of it?

JR: It's a sensitive area, but that's the sort of thing that we're thinking about.

Q: So you're not ruling it out altogether. And the value proposition of something like Access is likely to change with time.

JR: We try not to be dogmatic about anything, but it's important to be measured in your approach to this sort of thing, because there are ripple effects. Precedents do get set, and if you're not careful you can end up in a place that isn't good for the platform. And more importantly, isn't good for the people who've bought into the PlayStation proposition.
Navigation around these services would be simple, (well on XB at least), as the use of APPS in the dash is the exact sort of thing the new dash was designed for and around, you only have to look at the amount of APPs available to see how it's being embraced by users, I'm sure Sony could clone / implement the use of APP's..

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Pete Thompson on 14th August 2014 5:41pm

Posted:2 months ago

#3

Nick Wofford Hobbyist

180 190 1.1
If Sony wants to be idiotic and reject EA Access, it's their choice. But it's borderline offensive to claim that it doesn't offer good value when they're charging their own damn beta testers the outrageous prices of PS Now.

And I, personally, would welcome multiple subscription services. If the top 15 publishers were to offer the same service, it would amount to $450 a year. That's $37.50 a month, for at least two games(edit: 2 games per publisher) for the whole year. That's a hell of a deal to me, and it would allow me to choose what games I was getting. I can't count how many times PS+/GWG have screwed me by offering games that I'm either not interested in, or have already played. If I could filter by company, it'd be a much better method of filling out the back catalog.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nick Wofford on 14th August 2014 5:09pm

Posted:2 months ago

#4

Barrie Tingle Live Producer, Maxis

387 202 0.5
@Nicholas
"Encouraging publishers to run individual subscription services on your system is inviting a clusterfuck of dissonant, un-navigable game services,"

Guess you haven't used EA Access yet. EA Access is basically a Store front App. You load it up, you pick the game you want to play, it downloads and off you go. You don't need to load EA Access after it has installed, it is the same as Xbox Marketplace/PSN Store in terms of content delivery, just focused on one publisher.

Posted:2 months ago

#5

Chris Payne Associate Lead Programmer, Traveller's Tales

54 173 3.2
MS do an interesting thing with their Xbox video apps - if you search for a movie, it brings up a page showing all the apps that offer that movie, along with the price and whether it's purchase or rental or requires a subscription (eg. Netflix). I can see that working for games too.

Posted:2 months ago

#6

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

415 988 2.4
Im glad to see Sony and Microsoft putting up decent numbers with such headwinds presently. I mean Europe is headed for its first triple dip recession, Japan's economy is totally in the toilet ( -7%GDP) and the US losing its middle class. I think things will likely get worse before they get better, but if they can weather this storm and the upcoming storms, they will have it made if ever all this economic nonsense is over.

Posted:2 months ago

#7

Neow Shau Jin Studying Bachelor in Computer Science, Universiti Sains Malaysia

52 81 1.6
Popular Comment
@Nick Wofford

If PS+/GWG screwed you over multiple times by offering games that you already owned, how is an even more limited list from a single publisher going to help that? You aware that you are paying $50-60 a year for PS+/GWG that offers 4-6 different games a month, and pay $30 a year for EA Access, which is half of PS+/GWG prices, but not going to offer half of what the latter subscription offers a month. I think that's what the "not a good value" math comes from.

Plus EA has not make gamers forget that they pull their games from Steam to make them Origin only, it makes me wary that if EA is allowed to launch their own subscription, no more EA games is coming to PS+/GWG. So they are actually taking things away to charge you more.

Posted:2 months ago

#8

Nick Wofford Hobbyist

180 190 1.1
Neow,
It's a better deal because I get to pick and choose which subscriptions I want. By definition, that means I also get to pick and choose which subscriptions I don't want.

For example, I buy virtually every title that Ubisoft releases on Day One. I would have no need of a Ubisoft subscription to access their back catalog, so I would now have the choice to not subscribe to Ubisoft's plan. With PS+/GWG, if AC or Watch Dogs become free, I have to sit there and take it. No download that month. No offer of a separate title to replace the one that's there. Etc...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nick Wofford on 14th August 2014 8:34pm

Posted:2 months ago

#9

Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing

359 215 0.6
I have no problem with EA access, so long as they expand on a regular basis, and start offering Genesis and Xbox First titles in a timely fashion.

How much revenue are the games currently in there going to generate a year from now! Battlefield 4 is now in game of the Year modem where selling you DLC is more important, the sports games have weeks left got live, and Peggle is bait.

Monetizing your catalog is a good thing. And the price is very reasonable. The only part of the market this might change is part that's changing whether we line it or not: the production of physical copies. If I'm hopping between these services at $5 a month, that will not make me sad

EA Access is indistinguishable from any other game on your HD once the game is downloaded

Posted:2 months ago

#10

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,137 1,176 1.0
If Gamestop can make it a working business model to sell last year's game for cheap, then so can EA.

Posted:2 months ago

#11

Neow Shau Jin Studying Bachelor in Computer Science, Universiti Sains Malaysia

52 81 1.6
@Nick

it is still, well 6 titles a month as opposed to the current 4 titles in the vault, with the amount of console games EA release every year, we'll be lucky if EA vault titles exceed 6 titles by the first anniversary of EA Access.

Many PS+ subscribers are adding the monthly titles into their download list without downloading them, many non-Vita-owners did this to Vita games offered as well, with the hopes that they will play them should they eventually decided to get a Vita.

The last EA games I bought was Mass Effect 3 a few years ago, nothing they made has my interest since then, so my perception of value of this service is very low. I know a few friends who plays Battlefield and FIFA whole year, and bought the next entry of the series and keep playing them again. This may appeal to them, however, they are release date purchaser of the respective franchise, so I sense a missed mark here. So I can't see anyone plunging down for a $30 a year subscription, but I can see someone paying $5 for a single month subscription to try out Battlefield, which they may or may not end up buying the full game by the end of their subscription, which essentially turns it into a paid demo

Posted:2 months ago

#12

Nick Wofford Hobbyist

180 190 1.1
Neow, your lack of interest in the service is only adding to my point. It's an optional service. If you don't play or want enough EA games, then don't subscribe. Just because you may not like the shows on Netflix doesn't mean that Netflix isn't still a good value.

Posted:2 months ago

#13

Carl Hudson Studying Computer Science, University of Adelaide

18 11 0.6
All of the major platforms are obviously heading towards a digital only future .. this is just one publisher getting in first at trying to have some of their own control over that. As for price, that's all well and good until the introductory price comes to and end.

Posted:2 months ago

#14

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

896 1,337 1.5
>> "Sony: PS4 success is "important for the shape of the console industry"

There, I fixed that for you.

Posted:2 months ago

#15

Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany

822 654 0.8
@Paul

Don't you think that PS4 success also affects positively studios that work in multiple platforms? not to mention how it opened to indie studios giving them a good chance to reach a bigger audience in a extremely competitive environment?

I think that you overlooked that.

Posted:2 months ago

#16

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

896 1,337 1.5
No, not really. But that's not the entire industry either.

It would be better for my shop if all consoles vanished completely. And in fact all but one marque of tablet with them. Then we could focus 100% on making something good rather than spending time making it compatible.

Posted:2 months ago

#17

Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany

822 654 0.8
Ok...

Posted:2 months ago

#18

Neow Shau Jin Studying Bachelor in Computer Science, Universiti Sains Malaysia

52 81 1.6
Isn't compatibility is a bigger problem when you have an unlimited range of hardwares on mobiles and PCs?

Posted:2 months ago

#19

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

896 1,337 1.5
Yes, it's terrible. Anything that adds to it creates more pain, not more anaesthetic.

Posted:2 months ago

#20

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