The SCE UK boss on price points, first party studios, online services and the power of the Sony brand
GamesIndustry.biz recently caught up with Sony Computer Entertainment UK boss Ray Maguire at the Games 3.0 event in London to talk about some of the challenges the games industry will face in the next 12 months.
Here he gives his views on that, as well as the importance of first party studios, online services, and how the power of the Sony brand benefits the PlayStation business.
Q: What do you consider the key challenges for the industry in the next year or so?
Ray Maguire: Well, clearly we're in a situation with the economy which isn't brilliant, and although it maybe doesn't appear to affect people now, the effects will start to take effect as people start thinking about their expendable income
We normally hide behind the fact that 50 hours of gameplay for GBP 50 is pretty good value. But in the end it depends on how bad that recession comes as to whether people say, "Yes, that's true, but I'll only buy one instead of two of them."
Q: Which immediately halves people's expenditure...
Ray Maguire: Absolutely. So thinking of the challenges, what we have to do as an industry is actually show collectively more value - and I'm not talking about better deals, I'm saying that we have to show that we have fuller experiences than people might think who are non-gamers, or people who are looking to come into the gaming world.
When we have a look at PlayStation 3, for example, and the ability to have PlayTV - the ability to record your TV programmes and play them back as you see fit - to have a relationship between PS3 and PlayStation Portable, and Remote Play and the ability to look at all your media at hotspots around the world.
It's the bits that we haven't really talked about that much, but I think our duty now is to make sure everybody knows you can get GPS, you can get connectivity, you can get communications anywhere you like, with a PSP connected to a PS3.
That, alongside great games and some games with new experiences in terms of creativity, such as LittleBigPlanet.
Q: If cost is a barrier to entry, isn't that a potential problem for the PS3 - it's a premium machine, with lots of tech, but isn't there a danger that it will just be too expensive?
Ray Maguire: It's a possibility, it's always a possibility. Alternatively it could be that people think that if they go for a lower-spec machine, that by the time they add in another hard drive, and this and that, they'll end up with something which still doesn't play Blu-ray movies.
So if you're doing some detailed cost analysis as a consumer - which of course, they don't, they buy emotively - then the answer is that the PS3 turns out to be good value. Obviously everyone wants to see products cheaper, and cheaper, and cheaper, and that is the pressure that always comes from the consumer level.
Our job as an industry is to make sure investment goes in the right place. If you take the price of hardware down it's less money that people spend developing great software, and at the end of it our biggest focus is that we do create the LittleBigPlanets, the Motorstorms, the Resistances, the Killzones and the SingStar Abbas that just give people a great entertainment experience.
Q: All of those titles are first party games - at a time when Microsoft is divesting itself of owned studios, how important is that level of investment to Sony?
Ray Maguire: It's really important, because if anybody has a responsibility to take a risk, to take a chance on development - and this is a huge expense - then it has to be us as a first party.
There are many people who have said that everything from the original EyeToy all the way through to LittleBigPlanet wouldn't have happened from a third party publisher, because the risk is too difficult, or too much to take when you've got a potential multi-platform strategy in front of you
So we take those risks - some of them come off, and some of them don't. We've been reasonably lucky in that most of them have been okay. With SingStar, Buzz!, EyeToy and now with LittleBigPlanet we think that's typical of overall investing in something, taking a risk, but when it comes right? My God, it comes right.
Q: There was some surprise over Microsoft's strategy over Bungie and Ensemble - were you surprised?
Ray Maguire: Not really. I can understand most of the business decisions for anything happening and you have to look behind the scenes at some of the structural and business issues internally. I'm clearly not party to much of the strategy that goes on, but you can probably second guess it.
Q: The online component is something that Sony's worked very hard on for PS3, and with titles like LittleBigPlanet and platforms such as Home, it's become vital now?
Ray Maguire: Yes, it is. It's increasing nicely - we want to make sure the growth is organic and controlled, and is supported correctly as well, so Home goes into public beta at the end of the year and we just start rolling it out, and rolling it out, making sure the infrastructure is there.
What's been really interesting through the beta trials on LittleBigPlanet is just how much creativity there is out there. I've seen some absolutely stunning stuff coming back, and it just amazes me that people have put so much time and effort into doing something - but there again, it's creative and they are rewarded by the experience at the end of it.
So I think we're developing in the right way - there are loads of things that we need to do, and we will do them bit by bit?
Q: How do you market the PS3 at the moment - there are many aspects to the machine, so what do you do to get that message across when it's still considered primarily a games console?
Ray Maguire: It's a really difficult question, that one, because when we first started - because all the functionality was radical - we talked about that functionality. And in doing that, maybe we weren't strong enough on the games side of it.
Now, with the strength of the games we've got coming out, this Christmas we're definitely about the games. From our own first party, and also third party, there's a feast of games for PS3 this year.
At the same time though, because we've been out for a couple of years now, people are starting to understand and discover the functionality of things like PlayTV, and that's created the desire for people to upgrade to larger hard disk sizes. I just recently put a 320GB drive in mine.
I think people are starting to come to grips with that, but what's probably lesser known is the relationship between PS3 and PSP and the Remote Play functionality. Those are the things we have to work a little bit harder on - the GPS functionality, the camera functionality - all of those elements which of course give us content to sit on the PS3.
Q: People have been talking about Home for a long time now - do you think it's something that was talked about too much, too soon?
Ray Maguire: There's a whole change in the way that consumers behave now, and it's not just games consumers, it's all consumers. With the internet we've become a different breed - no longer do we sit back in our homes absorbing communications from brands. Everyone now is a journalist, or a publisher, or an artist - we're in an environment where I am a shopkeeper-slash-pop star through the social networks that I have, for example.
Because of this there's a real immediacy of information going around. Now, whether this information is right or wrong, it doesn't matter - we now absorb things very quickly, and because of that we also want results very quickly as well.
So what we haven't worked out how to do yet is have a child in less than nine months, but I'm sure consumers would expect it right now [smiles]
We have to make sure that things are born at the right time, that the infrastructures are right and are tested, and that they actually work. It's one of the things that PlayStation has been known for - a plug-and-play mentality, rather than a patch-patch mentality.
Getting it right is more important than getting it out quick, and I think it's very difficult to make that decision, to hold something up, but again I think it was the right decision to make sure that we were defining along the line where it is that we're trying to go to.
Q: We've seen a number of MMO titles suffer from launching too early, after all. Finally, how much of a boost does the Sony brand give you in selling the PlayStation brand?
Ray Maguire: Well, everybody knows Sony, but what is it that they know? They know it's well produced, that it's a company into research and development, they know it's a company you can trust to do the right thing. They know Sony's in there for the long term, and that it's a company that will be innovative.
Yes, we might take a bit longer sometimes to bring a product to market, but when we do, we bring you the most powerful gaming platform ever to hit - and it will be something that will around for a very long time.
It's nowhere near even halfway through its lifecycle, and I could argue that some other competing formats are on their way down right now.
So I think the Sony value is really important - no one else is going to put the kind of money into R&D for the PS3 that we did, and many said it was too much for the price point of the hardware.
But when it comes down to it, it's an awesome machine, and has an awesome future in front of it.
Ray Maguire is head of Sony Computer Entertainment UK. Interview by Phil Elliott.