Sony's Andrew House Part Two
The new president of Europe on why digital content is as important as packaged goods, and why the time is right for PS3 motion control
Last week we bought you the first part of our interview with Sony's newly-appointed CEO and president of Europe, Andrew House, in which he discussed in detail the new PSP Go and its focus on digital content.
In the second part of the exclusive interview, House details his role in Europe and the challenges the PlayStation business faces in one of its traditionally strong regions. He also sheds some more light on motion control for the PlayStation 3, and why the time is right to introduce the technology.
Q: You've been in your new role for one month now - how's it been returning to Europe and the PlayStation business?
Andrew House: It's been a great experience. In the last few years I think I'd forgotten what a vibrant business the games business was and in all honesty, without getting too sentimental, I've missed it. So it's fantastic to be back. And it's a really good time in the lifecycle to come back to the fold because I think we're poised for a lot of success and a lot of momentum seems to be shifting in our favour.
Q: So what's your focus for Europe in 2009, what are your priorities for the region?
Andrew House: Ensuring that we solidify the PlayStation brand strength and putting some renewed emphasis on that. Clearly, I come from a brand marketing background so it's something that's close to my heart. Following that, a renewed focus on the network business. From my point of view there is still a lot of untapped potential for the PlayStation Network with the European consumer and it's about making it fully accessible and bringing the range of services to it that we're starting to see emerge in the US and making it as important to our business as packaged goods. And clearly the PSP Go goes some way to taking us in that direction.
Q: If you're looking to educate the consumer about the network business – do you have to think about the consumer in a different way?
Andrew House: One of the things I'm fond of saying is that in the old packaged goods-only days the relationship ended when you shipped them the product. The way we're looking at the business now is that is only the start of the relationship and that's going to inform the marketing and the positioning for the system overall. But more importantly it informs how we think about the business. If you have a device that's constantly changing and evolving you have to think about the way that builds a relationship with a consumer and what that means to us. And this has a wider impact for the bigger Sony business as well because the PlayStation is essentially the first fully networked device that we've bought to market. The wider impact for me, having come back from Sony corporate, is that we're on the exciting forefront of where a lot of Sony's devices are going to go. So there's learning there that we're building in-house at SCEE that I think can inform the company's wider strategy. We're at a focal point right now.
Q: Sony's always been strong in Europe – around 100 different countries – what are the challenges of unifying the brands across so many different areas?
Andrew House: To be honest I consider myself to be really fortunate because SCEE's core strength has been striking this really good balance between a globally thought-through brand positioning but also having a deep knowledge of each of the markets and being able to localise and appeal to consumers in the way they want to be addressed. Part of my objective is to not mess with that in a sense, because it's been very, very successful.
The two things that we're talking about are inter-related. The network business entails a different kind of relationship with the consumer and I think the balance going forward is that a network business trends towards a more centralised way of thinking, but we need to balance that with not losing that tremendous strength in the local markets, and how we strike that balance in a networked world going forward is going to be the main challenge.
Q: You're mainly from a marketing background. Was that part of the thinking behind your appointment to the role, that Europe needs that refresh in terms of marketing for the PlayStation 3?
Andrew House: I'm not sure that it needs that sort of push. But at any point in a platforms lifecycle it's worth thinking about which consumers you're trying to target and how you're welcoming new users into the fold. And that's heavily driven be brand positioning and brand strength. What I'm hoping to bring is a good set of pre-existing relationships between the publishing community and the development community.
Andrew House: The primary reaction that I had and others we've shown the technology to is that it is the sheer entertainment value that impresses. What came across was that a new new technology could lead to very interesting and entertaining experiences both for the player, and also for the performance gaming aspect. We have have a lot of confidence from a Sony stand point on the right time to introduce new technology and new interfaces, and the goal of the company has always been to do it at the right time, when we can make a difference and be best of breed. What we had at the E3 showing was very forward facing technology, a firm date for launch which is important as it gives us a good lead time to assemble the right sorts of content to take advantage of it. And we demonstrated a very tangible sense of how this will translate into gaming experiences. And those are three critical things. The final point I would make is that it's stunningly accurate in terms of the way it tracks movement. That sounds like an incremental step in terms of motion technology, but it's a huge one in terms of saying 'now it's arrived' and it's really going to change the way we think about how we play games.
Q: How long has the technology been in development?
Andrew House: It's been a while. If you want to track it back the team has been working on that since the days of the original EyeToy.
Q: Is motion technology important in the PlayStation 3's ten-year lifecycle plan?
Andrew House: That's one of the essentials. But the PlayStation 3 is also one of the best Blu-ray players around for high-definition movies and that almost gets lost in the mix. That gives it an enormous sense of longevity, people want the best if they are buying into high-definition entertainment from a television standpoint or from a movie standpoint. That's an inherently long lifecycle and it helps bolster the traditional gaming lifecycle as well.
Q: With Microsoft working on Project Natal, and Nintendo improving its console with Wii MotionPlus, are you concerned about the competition in the motion control market?
Andrew House: I'm not unduly worried and I think the reason for that is that we've done a very good job with the PlayStation 3 as an overall value proposition without any motion control technology. This becomes additive to what is already an incredibly powerful device. It gives a new aspect to the experience. We went into this show with a tremendous software line-up, strong confidence in the platform's power and the kind of experiences that are only possible on PlayStation. This gives us one more extension to that, it helps us build the business in a different direction.
Q: Have you got any pricing ideas for the motion control technology?
Andrew House: No, it's too early to say. We'll take our time with it.
Q: Can we expect a new PlayStation bundle now – are you going to bundle the technology with every PlayStation 3 you sell?
Andrew House: It's possible, but Spring is a long way away.
Andrew House is president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. Interview by Matt Martin.