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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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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