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Out to Launch

Part 2 — Ray Maguire on US sales, third-party launch titles and PSP connectivity

The first part of our interview with Sony UK boss Ray Maguire covered European pricing, the bumpy road to launch and the head start for Nintendo and Microsoft's home consoles.

Here, Maguire discusses the "luxury" aspect of PlayStation 3, and whether there is a real consumer demand for a machine claiming to be much more than 'just' a game console... Do consumers want an entertainment machine that hopes to be more than a videogame console? If you look at the recent NPD figures in the US, it seems the Wii and Xbox 360 are outselling PlayStation 3...

Ray Maguire: This is about how you interpret those figures. The truth of the matter is that we've stopped the supply to the US because we're making PS3s for our launch. The reason sales are low is because I've just put in loads of product to the UK in order to have the largest launch of a console in UK history.

If you ask me, 'Are people prepared to pay for it?', I think we'll see within the next couple of days whether they are. If they won't, there won't be any queues. But that's about a launch - launches are about vanity rather than sanity. It's one day in time. It's about seeing how much the PlayStation brand means to consumers.

Now, it's about getting the console to people who haven't seen it yet. Once they play on it and tell their mates, that's the second part of the cycle. We've been bold enough to get over 220,000 units to make sure there's enough at retail. I get frustrated when I walk into a store but can't pick something up because the supply chain, quite frankly, is inadequate. We're shipping constantly after the launch so that we don't get a massive drought for months on end. Hopefully we'll get a situation where we'll get some great sales and consistent numbers when Chart-Track put the numbers out.

In Italy, some retailers broke the street date by selling the console before the Friday launch. How did you manage to stop that wave going across Europe and into the UK?

That was a specific issue in Italy where someone who's not a big player in the marketplace wanted to disrupt the launch. Thankfully, in the UK the retailers have been absolutely brilliant. Because things like that are very short-term. What we're trying to do here is build a long and sustainable platform for retailers and publishers alike. Consumers don't need that confusion, they need to have a product put in front of them in a simple and easy way so they can pick it up.

Virgin has said they expect to sell out by midday on Friday. For those retailers that have sold out, how soon after that will they get new stock?

We're shipping every week. I'm not promising that everyone will have stock but we're trying to get a situation where if you're a consumer and you want a PlayStation 3 somewhere you'll be able to find it.

Is there any preference when it comes to independent retailers versus the bigger specialist chains?

We look at everyone individually.

Howard Stringer went on record last week comparing the PlayStation 3 to a Mercedes, saying that it's a luxury machine, and if it fails it will be because of price. Do you agree with that?

I think that was snippet of a conversation reported without the rest of it. Price is a factor in anything and there's always a certain amount of people that will buy a product at a certain price. A Bentley is not a mass-market motorcar, even though it's a beautiful one. If it was the same price as a Ford it would sell in huge numbers. I think the comments were just to demonstrate that we've put our heart and soul into a product that is by far the best the world has ever seen. As we've said before, sometimes your ambition to go a step further carries its risks. He was just being honest that every product in every company carries risk.

Did the delay to the PlayStation 3 launch in Europe make it harder to maintain excitement about the console?

It seems to have flown by. Maybe it's because we've been working really hard but it seems like only yesterday when we were considering how long we would have to wait.

What's happened is it's enabled us to get something a lot better — our supply and logistics, for example, have been much better than with PlayStation 2 or PSP. It's been a benefit also to launch with MotorStorm and Resistance: Fall of Man and to have a really concrete PlayStation Network offering. Those things have definitely been in our favour. On the minus side, people having to wait causes frustration. But I think that going out there with a better offering will go some way to cancelling out the frustration of the wait.

What would you say to European consumers who feel that they're always the last in the queue - and then, they're asked to pay more money for their console?

It just causes a lot more issues when you're looking at 102 territories, 14 languages and compliance issues across the territories. That's totally different to one language for Japan and one language for the US. I'd love to be able to say that it's as easy in Europe to put product out into the market as it is everywhere else but quite frankly, it isn't. As a global company, to get the most amount of product to the most amount of people it's natural that you go for the easiest first, where you can get volume. The UK is a disproportionately successful little island. But at the end of the day there are more people living in the United States than there are in the UK.

What about software — do you think the PS3 launch line-up is strong enough?

Yes. If you remember the launch of the PlayStation 2, our only first-party product was Fantavision. But to be able to launch with something like Resistance and MotorStorm is just awesome — they're next-gen and using all the AI that you'd expect from the Cell chip. That's a massive step forward from the PlayStation 2 and that's where we're starting at.

When you project five years down the line, with the Cell architecture that we've given to developers, the limitation is not technology; it's our own thought processes and imagination. It's a really exciting time. There are some great titles out there from third-parties too. The launch line-up is really great, but what enhances that is the fact that we've got some really cool online experiences as well. Downloadable games are not small, rubbish games. They're fully fledged titles but short — some in 1080 as well. We've got great production values in them.

With the third party line-up, a lot of the games have already been available on 360 for quite some months now — do you wish third-party publishers had more of an effort to create original titles and PS3 exclusives?

We would always wish that, but it's our responsibility to the third-party community to build a base from which they can develop. We will do that. As we see the lead development focus being the PlayStation 3 and then a downgraded version of that to go on other consoles we'll see the distance and the gap enlarging all the time. Because of the power of the PlayStation 3 the gap will get wider and wider on a monthly basis.

With regards to the PSP, would you like to clarify what the situation is with the next iteration of the PSP?

As we sit here today, there is no next iteration of the PSP. If you're referring to what was reported some weeks ago, I was referring to the fact that that's what we do as a company. We R&D everything. You only have top look at PlayStation and PlayStation 2 to see that's always in our mind.

As far as the PSP is concerned, it's quite an exciting time for us. Now there's a relationship between PS3 and PSP. When you download the 1.6 firmware and you start to see the remote play aspect — access to all your media in another room — you'll start to see that there's this connection between the two devices and this is going to increase quite dramatically. That kind of technology in going to be used in the future to enhance gameplay. And it gives the PS3 another leg up into where it should be as a multimedia and games playing device.

Do you accept the criticism of the PSP in that it's very high-spec but it just doesn't have the games, and that's why the DS is doing better?

They are two different devices for two different markets. It's comparing apples and oranges again, but because they are both portable it's probably a natural thing to do. The marketplace that we need to get into is the PS3 connectivity market. Again, we've only just installed a base for people to get serious about that development.

From a PSP situation we have a wider split of third-party versus first-party than our competitors do, who are very much first-party developers. We've been putting quite a lot of energy behind PS3, now we'll be able to split some of those resources and go back to the PSP to make sure we've got some compelling games coming. As a criticism, yes, perhaps part of that is true. But we have a solution in place.

For a lot of consumers 'PlayStation' is games — it's the mass-market gaming brand. How significant is the PS3 launch in reinforcing that brand and the PlayStation message?

We need to recognise that we're entering a high-definition world. PlayStation puts us into that world. I would says that PlayStation 2 is as relevant today as it's ever been and now we have a product that is for consumers who just want to get into gaming, maybe for the first time. It's a real low cost and the best value of anything that isn't in the high-definition world. That marketplace is still doing great numbers every week.

But PlayStation 3 represents the future. It's the ultimate in gaming for those that want the ultimate experience. Something that is about high-definition, about Blu-ray movies — we've now got the product that they can enjoy.

Ray Maguire is managing director of Sony Computer Entertainment UK. Interview by Ellie Gibson.

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Ellie Gibson avatar
Ellie Gibson: Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.