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Jim Ryan: “I would love a world where hundreds of millions enjoy our games”

The PlayStation president and CEO sets out his hopes for a more ubiquitous, limitless games industry

Sony Interactive Entertainment boss Jim Ryan says he wants PlayStation games to be reaching hundreds of millions of players, not just tens of millions.

In a keynote fireside chat during GI Live: London, the PlayStation boss says that a hit game on PS4 or PS5 is around 10 to 20 million sales, but hopes that will change as gaming becomes as ubiquitous as movies and music.

"I hope that PlayStation 5, and I really believe the PlayStation 5 will be Sony's biggest and best and most loved PlayStation yet. I hope that will happen," Ryan said when asked about his hopes for the future.

"I would also like to see a world where the games that we make at PlayStation can be enjoyed by many tens of millions of people. Perhaps hundreds of millions of people. Right now success with the current console model, a really great PlayStation hit you're talking ten or 20 million people being able to play that game.

"We're talking about games stacking up against music, we're talking about games stacking up against movies. Music and movies, they can be enjoyed by almost limitless audiences. And I think some of the art that our studios are making is some of the finest entertainment that has been made anywhere in the world. And to kind-of gate the audience for the wonderful art, wonderful entertainment that our studios are making... to gate the audience for that at 20 or 30 million frustrates me. I would love to see a world where hundreds of millions of people can enjoy those games."

During the fireside chat, Ryan revealed that the firm's Play At Home initiative has seen 60 million games redeemed by players, he shared a story of a particularly harrowing meeting with PlayStation founder Ken Kutaragi and talked about launching the PS5 from a dining table in London.

Check out the full interview below.

It's been a difficult year, with game delays and console manufacturing issues. But when you look at the reception to The Last of Us Part 2, Ghost of Tsushima, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Returnal and Ratchet & Clank. The number of studios and companies you've acquired. And the momentum behind PS5... you must be pretty happy with how it's gone.

Yeah. It has been quite a ride the last 18 months. We closed the offices in March 2020, like everybody. And I flew back. My lifestyle has been quite unusual. I feel like I am spending most of my life working in the dark. I get up very early in the morning, cross over with Japan, and then I break, and then I start again for cross-over with the States. So I don't get to see much daylight a lot of the time. That has been weird.

But I'm really proud and happy with what the team has been manage to achieve over that period, and you listed it out. Great games in 2020 with Ghost of Tsushima and Last of Us: Part 2, and then obviously the launch. That was quite something to do that from a dining room table in Highgate, North London. It was a fairly unusual experience and not one I'd care to repeat, but it was quite a blast going through it.

It must have been hard promoting the PS5 without the ability to go hands-on. But the fans still turned out.

You touched on the difficulties of making the machine in a pandemic. It is obviously extremely challenging. But I am so happy and so proud that we've been able to get to 10 million sold through faster than we've ever done before. There's tonnes of demand out there, but to actually build the machines, get them over from China, get them into stores and sold through, that's been a heroic effort.

One of the things you've been doing is the Play At Home initiative, where you've been giving away free games to occupy people during the lockdown. I see that's still going. How has that gone?

We did two waves. It struck us as everybody was struggling with the first lockdown, we thought this would be a nice thing to do. We were able to do it and we were very happy with the reaction. And then we got through Christmas and we started lockdown again, and everybody... it was a bit miserable. We thought it would be a nice thing to reprise. So we did it again, this time spread over a period of a number of months, and now actually 60 million games have been redeemed as part of that activity.

Is it done now?

Well, it depends if COVID's done. It is one of those things. We will see how the world evolves. If lockdown, heaven forbid, if that should continue into 2022 and beyond, who knows? We might feel we have to do it again. We'll wait and see.

Well, part of this session is about looking at your career. Because there isn't a lot out there about it. You were with PlayStation since the very beginning, what were you doing back then?

I was hired in 1994, the year before the launch of the first PlayStation. And my assignment was to set-up the PlayStation companies in Continental Europe. So we had maybe 20 people in this building in London focused on the UK, but we had absolutely nothing in Europe. So my task was to go out, find offices, hire people, put systems and processes in place, get sales forces, organise distribution... It started with Germany, and then it was France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Scandinavia... it was a really tasking and challenging, but ultimately fulfilling couple of years.

Did I read somewhere you were literally going to get the furniture?

I took a lease on an office in Frankfurt, and we realised that there weren't any desks or chairs in there. So, there wasn't much money lying around at that time because we hadn't sold anything. So there was no cash. So we ended up going down to IKEA and buying the desks, and after that trying to work out whether we had any money left to pay someone to assemble them, or whether we'd have to do that ourselves. Happily, given my skills as a handyman, we found the cash to have somebody assemble them, and those desks actually served us well for a number of years. I was quite proud of those desks. IKEA, I'd recommend it to anybody.

Do you remember when you first played a PlayStation game?

Yes, the first game, and you may or not remember this game, was Jumping Flash. It was a platformer from our Japan Studio, and I was amazed at delighted at this platforming in 3D. If you remember Jumping Flash, I am impressed with you. It was one of the launch titles, so that was my first one.

So after you set up those European offices, what did you do next?

So we did that, and that was obviously pretty all-consuming for a couple of years. And then after that I ran the finance function for the European organisation. The business was really regional in those days. There was a kind-of fully self-contained European business, a fully self-contained American business and a fully self-contained Japanese business. And I ran finance for Europe. And then went through the PS1 cycle, and then we got to PS2. Which was... a different experience.

Yes, well, PS1 was a huge success. But it was PS2 that went on to be the most successful console of all time.

It ended up being the most successful, but what people actually forget was that in Europe it was really difficult at the start. We're talking 1999/2000. European economies were in a mess, and there was no Euro, so we had £299, we had 800 Deutsche marks, we had 2,100 French francs, 2,000 peseta, 40,000 lira, so it was really messy and really difficult. The US was going well, Japan was going well, but we couldn't sell anything in Europe.

The leadership, which I was part of, was summoned over to Tokyo to sit with Ken Kuturagi, the father of PlayStation. Ken is a sort-of very imposing figure, personally and at an industry level. And he sat us down and just said: "Please change your inefficient business". So we were like 'Yeah, Ken, that's great advice, we'll go ahead and do that.' So we returned and resolved to do better. And the rest is history, because Europe ended up the lead territory with PS2.

One of the things that I am proud about there is that we kind-of pushed the envelope. We opened up markets that had never had any gaming culture ever. Middle East... people had never played games before PlayStation in the Middle East. Russia had a tiny gaming industry before PlayStation. Spain had a very small gaming industry before PlayStation. So we really pushed the envelope geographically.

And then one of the things we concluded was trying to broaden the audience, and then we had the social gaming phenomenon of SingStar and Buzz, which really shifted the demographic to places that we'd never been to before, and I don't think gaming had ever been to before.

What do you think have been the key moments during your time with PlayStation?

That [Ken] moment was pretty formative, and pretty character forming, actually.

I would have to go back to the PS4 launch. We had obviously struggled our way through PS3, which had a number of well documented challenges. And I think we were all kind-of weary and exhausted, and then the big moment was at E3 2013, but that was a big moment. We thought: 'Wow, we can do this' and that maybe PlayStation was back.

That was one, and the other one would be the PS5 launch last year. In odd, almost surreal series of events for all sorts of reasons. As I say, doing this launch from a dining room table in North London, with most of my colleagues on the West Coast of America many thousands of miles and eight hours away. And the other colleagues in Japan the same number of thousands of miles away but in the opposite direction and in the opposite time zone. I learnt an awful lot from that.

You then went from being behind-the-scenes to being a public figure when you became head of Europe. How did you find that transition?

I am actually naturally quite a shy person. I am fairly introverted, so public speaking is something that has never come naturally to me. But after a while, you forge relationships with people like you, we've seen each other a number of times, and I enjoy that, and it's actually quite a fun part of the job now.

I remember seeing you just before your first Gamescom speech. You seemed a little nervous.

Andrew House had been running Europe, and he was promoted back to go and run PlayStation, then based out of Tokyo. I was kinda given that Gamescom with two weeks notice, so I was a little bit nervous.

One of the weird things with the PS5 launch, is that all the equivalent events were done digitally. I probably did it in this room two or three weeks before the launch, and then actually watched the launch event on TV at home with my family. Out of the many surreal events last year, that was probably the most surreal of the lot.

I did an awards event the other week that was pre-recorded. There's something nice being able to sit back and enjoy a big moment.

Yeah, but when you've got your children laughing at you on the screen, that's kind-of sobering.

What is PlayStation to you? What do you think defines it and makes it different?

I always bring this back to three things. Obviously, the most important is the games. But the second, and I think this is a phenomenon that grows with each year that passes, is this sense of community that people who enjoy PlayStation are able to participate in. And then third it is our brand. PlayStation has always been cool. And I think that one of the things that I enjoy most about these formative months of PlayStation 5, is that we are still right at the cutting edge of something that people really want to be associated with. And I think that's great.

So what do you think makes PS5 'cool'?

It is, first of all, the games. You have to come back to that. I said this at the time, and I stand by it, the launch line-up of games was the best we'd ever had, and I'd submit probably the best any console platform has ever had at launch. I think the work that we've done since then with Returnal and Ratchet & Clank, and also MLB: The Show in the States, which is a fine game. And the pipeline of games that we have coming is just fantastic. It's by far the strongest that we've ever had for any of our consoles, and I can't wait to see these games starting drop one after another. Horizon, God of War, GT7... I think that is ultimately what defines us.

What's been one of your recent favourite games?

Ratchet & Clank. I love the game. And I think as something that defines what PlayStation 5 is capable of doing, it is the first great example. And there's going to be many more to come over the coming months and years. But you look at that and say 'wow, you couldn't do that on any other console'. It's a beautiful game and so great to have Insomniac now part of our family. Those guys have been knocking it out of the park, they've been busy.

Predicting the future can be a fools game. There's a lot of talk around cloud, streaming, VR, subscriptions, metaverses... what do you think is the most exciting development?

When you stand back, the thing that really excites me the most is that gaming is becoming more ubiquitous. And that ubiquity increases with every year and each generation of consoles. You can see it, gaming is approving to an older demographic, it's appealing to a younger demographic, gender parity increases with every year that passes, depth of engagement increases, and geographically, there are people in markets without any gaming culture who are starting to be able to access gaming. And I think that phenomenon is so exciting in terms of what it means for people who make games, in terms of a massive expanding audience. I stand back, and this may have quite some timespan attached to it, but I see no reason why gaming can't be as ubiquitous as music, movies or TV shows. When you think about the implications of that for the people who make games and the people who play games, that's potentially really amazing and really powerful.

How do you think we can accelerate that? Or will it happen naturally over time?

It will happen organically. There will be people like you who started with PlayStation One in the 1990s... people who were 18 in 1995 are now in their mid to late forties, and so many of them are still with us. And that will continue. Those people are going to carry on playing games. Different sorts of games and different play patterns. The passage of time is going to organically assist that ubiquity.

One of the things that I like about what we're doing is that we appear to be resonating extremely well with a very young audience at the same time. Which is one of the reasons that I am really positive about PlayStation 5. But this isn't a PlayStation phenomenon, it's an entertainment phenomenon.

And I also think that technology will help. This is an area that we are particularly well placed to enjoy. As each generation of technology comes along, processing power increases, graphics power increases, which in the abstract is absolutely meaningless. But to the extent that they empower the art of storytelling and the empower the ability to portray character, portray emotion, portray personality, particularly the high-end gaming experiences are going to become more and more lifelike, they're going to become richer, more emotionally engaging. And I think that will lead to an increasing convergence with other forms of entertainment, particularly cinema. And I think that will accelerate this process of ubiquity.

And it looks like the pandemic accelerated some of that ubiquity

It certainly did. We spoke about play at home, which was very instrumental in helping secure the engagement of the community. But, every gaming company by and large experienced considerably interest in the games that they're making. Some of that will persist, and we welcome it, and we are happy to try and give these people as many games as we possibly can.

Finally, for all of gaming, what do you hope for the future of PlayStation?

I hope that PlayStation 5, and I really believe the PlayStation 5 will be Sony's biggest and best and most loved PlayStation yet. I hope that will happen.

I would also like to see a world where the games that we make at PlayStation can be enjoyed by many tens of millions of people. Perhaps hundreds of millions of people. Right now success with the current console model, a really great PlayStation hit you're talking ten or 20 million people being able to play that game.

We're talking about games stacking up against music, we're talking about games stacking up against movies. Music and movies, they can be enjoyed by almost limitless audiences. And I think some of the art that our studios are making is some of the finest entertainment that has been made anywhere in the world. And to kind-of gate the audience for the wonderful art, wonderful entertainment that our studios are making... to gate the audience for that at 20 or 30 million, frustrates me. I would love to see a world where hundreds of millions of people can enjoy those games.

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