Ray Maguire - Part Two

Sony's UK MD talks PSP - what went wrong, what's now going right, and what is the future of the UMD?

In the first part of the interview with SCE UK's senior VP and MD, he talked about the company's plight in the current economic conditions, the success of the PlayStation 3 in the UK despite its premium price point, and the importance of first party innovation and risk-taking.

Here in part two he looks to the PlayStation Portable and identifies how Sony is going about reinventing the platform, talks about the future of the UMD, and underlines why BAFTA is important to the games industry in the UK.

Q: It's been said that the PlayStation Portable has been somewhat under-supported by Sony in Europe over the past 12-18 months. Is that something you'd agree with?

Ray Maguire: It has been, yes. It was slightly under-supported, mainly because a lot of the energy was going into stuff we're doing for PlayStation 3. There was an added complication in that the UMD model wasn't brilliant for third parties, either.

But I think as the installed base has grown - we're now at 50 million globally - the PSP has become one of the best-selling formats ever, and I think people are seeing that they need to get back into it. I think we had a bit of a barren year last year, and this year we seem to have a bumper crop.

I think it's one of those formats which has just, almost silently, grown and grown and grown. Now people are looking at 3 million installed base in the UK, and seeing it's a healthy number - that they can sell product against that.

Retailers are looking at it as well, realising that they haven't supported it as much as maybe they might have done, and they're also thinking about how we almost reintroduce the PlayStation Portable into the market place, with the confidence that we should have had last year, but didn't.

We do have that confidence this year - many things are happening with the PSP. The online side of it is developing nicely, and there are clearly lots of great games for it this year, but also we're introducing new colours - so it starts to become much more desirable for a wider range of consumers.

This year is the year that PSP puts its head up proudly. You know what, no one in the games industry has really been a serious contender in this market place, whether it be the GameGear, the Atari Lynx, or Gizmondo... but 50 million later the PSP is pretty strong.

Q: Clearly there you'd argue that the PSP isn't targeting the same market as the Nintendo DS?

Ray Maguire: Yes, clearly they're completely different devices, and different markets, which is great because it's just expanding that whole handheld market. It's in the same way that the PS3 expands the console market into areas that we've not seen before, and one could argue that the Wii did that in terms of more social and older markets.

So overall the whole marketplace for games, both console and handheld, is expanding nicely - which is what we have to do. Gaming is not now the domain of a niche market, it's something that everybody can get into and I think we're starting to prove that now, which means that the kind of targets we'd have been looking for five years ago, now we have to expand as our horizons get bigger.

Q: What are your expectations for the impact that the PSP-3000 will make on the marketplace?

Ray Maguire: The biggest change we had was when we went from the 1000 to the Slim-and-Lite. It was actually quite amazing, it was a third lighter, which meant you could put it in your pocket without it weighing your jacket down.

Of course, we have to remember that most handheld devices are predominantly used in the home, but at least with the Slim-and-Lite, I see them in the morning when I'm coming in on the train, and people are using them as a portable device.

Q: So what do you see the impact of the change from 2000 to 3000? Will it prompt new sales?

Ray Maguire: I think the hardware specs are probably the lower part of the decision-making process now. The hardware does what it says, so that's great, but people don't buy hardware for hardware, they buy it to get to content. The content was where we were weak last year, but it's where we're strong this year, and the services around it are getting better as well.

I think people will buy into it because of the overall package, rather than just because it's got a brighter screen than it had before.

Q: What's the future of the UMD?

Ray Maguire: It still represents a reasonably cost-effective way of getting data to the consumer. My gut feeling though is that people are looking for more snack-type content, and the downloads side of it will increasingly become a bigger part of its future.

It's also something that development can get into at a much, much lower entry cost, and I think we can see this everywhere, whether it be iPhone applications, whether it be mobile phones - there is an appetite for smaller, snack-type games.

The beauty of the PSP is that the chipset is powerful enough for people to create good quality content, with a good quality screen and great sound. Just because it's smaller in length time-wise doesn't mean that the quality has to suffer.

So - great quality, snacking content, delivered online... absolutely great for the handheld market.

Q: Are we past the age of proprietary formats now? Consumers across the board, whether it's music or videos, want something that works across platforms.

Ray Maguire: Yes, indeed, and that's why we have open standards supported by the PSP as well, so whether it's MP3s or M-PEG 4s, it's the perfect playback device. But if you want something with some reasonably powerful data-crunching, then use the PSP's chipset.

Q: You're chair of the BAFTA Games committee - what made you want to get involved with that?

Ray Maguire: I feel that if you take film and TV, and you look at what surrounds them in terms of the awards, you see the glamour. It gets media coverage - the consumers, the media, the public look at that and see an environment they want to be associated with. They'd love to go to those awards - it's entertainment, and it's special.

We, on the other hand, have many internal awards but they're not facing the consumer. In a time when it's tough out there, what we really need is the consumers to look at the games industry and see that it's all about art, creativity, innovation and great entertainment. We need to be proud of what we do, and we need to be proud of it in front of consumers.

What better way of doing that than to look at the people who create the games, and award those that create the best with BAFTA masks. Imagine what it would be like to hold a BAFTA mask, if you were part of that team to get that award - that's the kind of spirit we need to capture.

We do very little that faces consumers - this is the best way of doing it. And also, I think we have every right to eat at the same table as film and TV with pride. Many years ago I would have felt embarrassed, that we weren't actually worthy of it, but now we certainly are.

Commercially we're as successful, technology-wise we have some ground-breaking technology, and the crossover is immense in terms of post production. So therefore I think we have every right to be part of it, and every right to be proud of the creativity we have. To reward it is exactly where the industry needs to be.

Q: Does the industry need to support BAFTA more?

Ray Maguire: I think historically there's been a lot of doubt as to why BAFTA were even in this. Why do BAFTA want that, and by the way it doesn't even say 'Games' in the title?

The reality is that BAFTA understands that gaming is now a major part of entertainment, but maybe there was some confusion as to what that actually meant, maybe some people thought it was about revenue? But they didn't know, and actually people still don't know, that BAFTA is a charity. It's not about revenue, it's purely about educating the public on excellence and innovation in the moving image.

So I think we still need to get some more process into BAFTA from people within the creative side of our business, and that's why I'm asking for more members as well, to help shape this.

For those people that have been through the judging process over the past few years they'll notice there's been a big change - those people who are actually judges will appreciate the kind of levels that people went into in going through the games and understanding the nuances of them. The discussions on them have been deep and in some cases very heated - which is great, because it means people are talking about the games and the areas they were judging with some depth. I think if that's the case, when that award goes to someone, you know it was a well-deserved award.

But people do need to support BAFTA more - I'd like to see people come to us with ideas on things to do, because it's not all about one night of awards, it's about 365 days of educating the public about what we do.

So maybe it's in line with the Paddington Academy, teaching kids what it's like to get into TV, or games, or film - there's loads of stuff people could do in going down to the academy and doing masterclasses.

Ray Maguire is senior VP and MD of SCE UK, Ireland & Nordic. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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Latest comments (5)

Ronan Price Assistant editor, Irish Independent13 years ago
So people don't buy hardware for hardware's sake? I agree but doesn't that laregly negate Sony's argument for the PS3?
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Phil Elliott Project Lead, Collective; Head of Community (London), Square Enix13 years ago
Well, yes and no - I think the point Sony would make is that the PS3's hardware enables a strong content proposition. The Blu-ray drive enables Blu-ray movies and very large files for game discs, the processor etc enables high-quality games, the wireless card enables networking, and so on.

You could argue it either way, I guess, depending on which side of the fence you stood.
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Mat Bettinson Business Development Manager, Tantalus Media13 years ago
There's always talk about how many devices have been sold, be it PSP or DS. However the only thing that really matters is what the sofware demand is. The PSP doesn't perform like a unit that has 50 million active users because it clearly doesn't. There's millions gathering dust in desk drawers.

The good news is that it's still a desirable gadget and sells well. The challenge is figuring out how to maintain the software demand. What stops people from using handheld? Hopefully online capabilities will help. As opposed to needing to make a concious decision to go to a shop and buy a new game, if you just need to switch them on and go to the online store and buy something instantly, maybe that lower barrier to (re)entry will help.
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Phil Elliott Project Lead, Collective; Head of Community (London), Square Enix13 years ago
That's a good point - but it's easier to rebuild a buzz (no pun intended) around a platform that's got 50 million out there, even if they are kicking around in drawers.

All that's really needed is a few good games to give people the 'need' to dust them off and charge them up. After all, it doesn't have any competitors in its field (the DS can't really be classed as a direct competitor I don't think), it's still compelling tech, and it's not even that old a platform.
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Eduard Pandele Senior Game Designer, Electronic Arts13 years ago
There's no mystery to why the device sells and the games don't. Most people use their PSPs as media players, piracy is a child's play, and there are very few must-have PSP exclusives with commercial appeal (you can experience God of War / Tekken / Disgaea / GTA etc. on the PS2). Locoroco and Patapon are very interesting, but can't be described as being "mass-market".

What the PSP needs is a game experience that can't be found anywhere else, that only the PSP can provide, and which is interesting for the wider public. A good example would be the Japanese Monster Hunter MMO-lite games - allowing busy commuters to play each other on the Tube; still, this success was the result of a very specific social situation, and can't be replicated easily.
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