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The E3 Interview: PlayStation's Jim Ryan

Sony on absent indies, fighting Xbox, reaching mainstream gamers and why a resurgent Nintendo is good for everyone

It was bound to happen eventually.

After back-to-back E3 press conferences laced with surprises, there would come a time when Sony would deliver an event that acted more as an update, than a series of shocks.

Yet beneath the surface of PlayStation's E3 2017 was a lot more depth than many realised.

Indeed, we may have known about most of the games that featured during the firm's concise 60-minute broadcast, but this was still a stellar line-up. The words 'Sony Computer Entertainment Presents' - indicating first-party releases - flashed up on screen more than 12 times during the course of the show. And most of them are due out over the next 18 months.

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PlayStation's Jim Ryan

Yet what we didn't see was what exactly Sony has up its sleeve to combat the new Xbox One X this Christmas. And as the PS4 looks to broaden out to a wider audience, how it plans to overcome a resurgent Nintendo.

So that's what we asked the firm's global boss of sales and marketing, Jim Ryan.

This was a very different press conference. Barely any executive appearances bar brief words from Shawn Layden. No developers. Only an hour long. Why do it this way?
It's actually a surprisingly hard thing to do. I think we made progress last year, but took it almost to an minimalist extreme this year, in that the less time you have people talking and the more time you have for seeing games, the better. There's no magic to this. You want to keep it short, because once it gets over an hour people start to get bored. Let's just see the games.

Some of those games do seem to be taking a while to come out. What's taking so long?
Which games are you talking about?

Well, Detroit, for one.
You saw that in Paris. So October 2015.

Days Gone and Spider-Man were both shown last year, but still seem a way away.
It's a commonly held belief that these games are taking a while, and it's not the first time that I've heard it. But I wouldn't be able to say 'guilty as charged' on that one. We are very careful about trying to avoid audience fatigue. I don't think there was anything that had been seen two years ago.

Well there are also games we didn't see. It's been a while since we heard from Dreams or Wild. Death Stranding is another one that I'm sure will take a long time to come.
Death Stranding was really... it was clearly a statement about a relationship between Sony and Hideo Kojima. I think making a statement, at that time in that manner, is wholly legitimate, with a slightly unusual video with it.

I don't mean to come across as too defensive.

"To have an Uncharted and a Gran Turismo in the same year, and within three months of each other coming into the holiday season, we've never done that before"

I know there are different strategies to E3 announcements. Some companies announce games that are out within the next six months, while others tease things that are further out. There's something to be said for both strategies. It's just that there was very little on stage that seemed to be coming out anytime soon. You have Xbox One X on the market this Christmas. What do you have to counter it?
Well, obviously GT Sport. And also Uncharted: Lost Legacy. To have an Uncharted and a Gran Turismo in the same year, and within three months of each other coming into the holiday season, we've never done that before. I think we are feeling pretty good about that.

Are you now positioning Uncharted Lost Legacy as a full game?
The price is €40. It is not €70. So this isn't Uncharted 4. But it's not a small piece of DLC either. It is several hours of gameplay. It's not a data disc, you don't need to own Uncharted 4 to be able to enjoy it.

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There were a few surprises at Sony's E3 conference, including a remake of fan favourite PS2 game Shadow of the Colossus

The buzzword of E3 appears to be 4K. But isn't the focus for you, and Xbox for that matter, to now start broadening out to a more mass market?
Yeah. Ambitions have to be measured against a number of different axes. But I think your comment is fundamentally correct. Going from 0 to 50m [customers] are conversations with a certain group of people, and going from 50m to 100m are different conversations with different people. It's probably at this point, if you'll allow me, to mention PlayLink [a series of PS4 games that use smartphones as the controller]. That is clearly not suitable, in terms of tonality and demonstrating the thing, for the event this week. But it is nonetheless something we are really pretty excited about, especially in terms of moving the goalposts from 0 to 50m, to 50m to 100m.

So the absence of that from the press conference isn't indicative of the support you're planning to put behind PlayLink?
No, no. I am actually meeting with the country execs tomorrow, and we are going to be really serious about this. There is going to be some meaningful marketing activity around it. The first game, That's You, will launch in early July. We will actually include that game within PlayStation Plus for a period of time over the summer, because we feel there's an opportunity to have potentially millions of people sample it, enjoy it and see that it is a bit different, and not what you have been used to from PlayStation 4 up until now, and is actually a bit of fun. That is going to be great.

Then come towards the end of the year, the other four games will release. We have announced five titles from our own studios, and we are having really meaningful conversations with third-parties about them coming to this. When you see the antipathy of certain gaming audiences towards the DualShock as an interface, we feel this can be quite interesting.

We've seen PlayStation do this quite a bit mid-way through console cycles. EyeToy, SingStar, PlayStation Move, Wonderbook... this one benefits from the fact it uses an acccessory most people already own.
That's a valid observation. You don't have the barrier to entry of a costly and perhaps, for some people, just as confusing bespoke peripheral. People know how to use these things. Games will be priced at 19, so we won't be greedy in that area. So we'll see.

"If Nintendo Switch means that some of those people, the many millions of people, who got into the Wii start to come back... if they go into a store looking for a Switch, I'll have a crack at selling them a PS4"

Now as you look to target this broader market, doesn't the timing of Nintendo Switch pose a potential challenge? After all, mass market appeal is Nintendo's forte.
It's a very interesting question. To the extent that they come in, and the word 'steal' is a bit crude, but they take a more casually-orientated consumer, who might otherwise have been a target for PlayStation 4... obviously, viewed narrowly, that is not to our benefit. But when you look at the whole of the industry ecosystem, having a resurgent Nintendo back, and playing in a meaningful manner - I hear a lot of what they showed at E3 was really good - can only be to the benefit of the industry. And to pretty much everyone in the industry. So we will see. If it means that some of those people, the many millions of people, who got into the Wii start to come back -- in many cases they have been absent for a few years -- if they come back, and they go into a store looking for a Switch, I'll have a crack at selling them a PS4.

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PlayLink is Sony's effort to increase PS4's appeal to a more mainstream audience

The thing with E3, a lot of what people talk about is what wasn't shown, as opposed to what was.
[Laughs]

And one of the things you didn't really show were indie games. You didn't really show any last year, either. Now clearly indie games are coming to PS4 all the time. So why aren't you showing them anymore?
One of the things we have realised is that these video collages of ten indie games shown in a minute, is almost meaningless. Nobody can really learn anything about the games in that sort of time. It is almost viewed as wasted time.

There was a time and a place, in the early stages of the life of PS4, to make statements. It was more about making a statement that we are serious about the indies, and that we are doing this and that with the indies. No Man's Sky and so on and so forth, which broke out from that and carved its own niche. You know, right now, we have tonnes of indie content on the platform. And the fact that we elected, along with many other things such as Gran Turismo and PlayLink, not to give it its own spot on the stage this week, in no way means it is not important, or it is not there, or we don't worry about it. It was just good to talk about in 2013/2014. It is less relevant now. We have VR to talk about now, for example.

"The fact that we elected, along with Gran Turismo and PlayLink, not to give indie games a spot on the stage, in no way means it is not important, or we don't worry about it"

You did show quite a few new VR projects...
We were fairly deliberate about that. We were aware of the conversations around 'where is the content, where is the content?' I think we did quite a good job with that at the event.

Well, some of that talk comes from the concerns that the VR market is not really there for most third-parties at the moment. Are you confident the content you showed will accelerate VR uptake in a meaningful way?
I think we are still really just learning about VR. When hopefully we meet in a year's time, I will be able to give you a better answer to this question. It still won't be a perfect answer, but I'll know more. We are still in our infancy in terms of understanding. We had no idea that VR would play such a significant part in the success of Resident Evil 7. The percentage of people who played that game on PS4, and then in VR, was in double digits. It wasn't 10.1%, either. That was a big surprise to us. Whether its other full game modes, or portions of full games... Gran Turismo or Doom or Elder Scrolls... that might accelerate the VR demand. Or if it will be the shorter form stuff. We don't know yet. It is too early.

Since PS4 Pro launched, you have seen it account for 20% of all PS4 sales. Are these new customers, or those upgrading from PS4?
They are both. Broadly speaking, 40% of people buying a Pro are upgrading. And it varies month-to-month, country-to-country, and time of the year. But broadly speaking that is about it.

So Pro is managing to draw in some new customers?
Yes, but the other distortion on this is that I didn't call the demand right. PS4 Pro has been out of stock ever since we launched the thing. It is only now that it is starting to come back into free supply, and only now are we really getting a sense of things. Some of these dynamics sort of get squashed when you are in a situation of supply constraint. We will learn a lot more over the coming three or four months.

Is it your plan to push it hard now that Microsoft has its own 4K machine coming?
Talking about competitive plans is never a wise thing to do. Certainly, with 1 in 5 PS4s sold being a Pro, it is clearly going to be a really important part of the holiday season for us. And we anticipate that that proportion will grow. Sometimes when you ship and you're supply constrained, you don't want to talk about it too much because there's nothing to sell. We anticipate we will be in a positive inventory situation this Christmas, and we will look forward to selling a lot of PS4 Pros.

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Latest comments (2)

Bob Johnson Studying graphics design, Northern Arizona University4 months ago
PLaylink will be big for PS4 from the looks of it. AT least one PS4 game was already using smart devices as controllers. Party Pack (Jackbox.) It was pretty easy to setup and worked great. They just used the browser to connect (the controller) to the game if I remember right. Pretty much wondered why this wasn't more of a thing at the time.

It gave you the one thing the Wii U lacked. Which was a private screen for everyone not just one person. And it didn't cost any extra $$$$.
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Christopher Dring Publisher, GamesIndustry.biz4 months ago
I have to admit, I did enjoy what I played of PlayLink. A range of new $25/20 games that you can play with the family, including 'parent' games like Hidden Agenda, and some fun family stuff. And the touch screen interface is far easier for my mum to understand than a motion controller. Thought it was impressive.

But the challenge will be selling it. It's a viral product that will likely do well when people play it around a friend's house. So Sony must try to get it into the hands of existing PS4 owners, and see them play it with mates and see if the concept can spread. It'll need to look for PS4 owners that play board games or card games, like Cards Against Humanity. That's the ideal initial market.

Putting That's You as part of PS Plus is a smart move.
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