Last month, Sony Computer Entertainment held a special event in London to launch the new PSP in Education initiative.
It's designed to promote the use of Sony's handheld as a learning tool. In trials, students have been listening to audio files, viewing images and watching videos relevant to their school curriculum via PSP.
In this interview, Sony UK boss Ray Maguire talks more about the aims of PSP in Education, and discusses how Sony plans to make the scheme accessible to the widest possible range of schools and students.
GamesIndustry.biz: Why get involved with education - what's in it for Sony?
Ray Maguire: On a very basic level, the more people I can get using PSPs, the more people I can sell games to. But also, I think the fact that we make so much of our money from younger people on the entertainment side - that's an area where we invest a lot of money and make profit, and I think if you've got the devices that just happen to fit in education, why not do that? Why not make people's lives enriched in other ways when it's not a big investment in money, just in time and resources? And I think we can make a difference.In your speech at the PSP in Education event, you talked about why it wasn't right for Sony to do something like this before, and how you tried to position PlayStation as an anti-establishment brand. What's changed? Is PlayStation no longer anti-establishment?
No. I don't know if you remember the very first advertising campaign for PlayStation 1 - it was called the Society Against PlayStation, S.A.P.S. We were there as a company that had no credentials in games whatsoever; we were the new boys. Everyone said, 'You've got no idea, you're not in gaming.'
We exploded this whole idea about where we were - we went to an older marketplace than the existing 16-bit marketplace was at the time, and we approached it in a way where it was about relevance. We introduced games which had current and contemporary music, we had sampling in clubs with titles like WipEout, and it was very much an older experience.
Our consumers are quite rightfully cynical, as I am as well. They don't want to be preached at. So we try to present everything to people as, 'We think it's quite good, you make your mind up. If you like it, great; and if you don't, we'll try harder.'
So we did that for a year, that was our first year of sampling, and then we started to build the PlayStation brand. I think after ten years in the marketplace we've got people who a decade ago knew nothing about us, but now we're a part of their everyday lives. We're no longer totally special and new. For many people they've grown up with PlayStation, it's what they do, and it's normal.
Now we're at that stage where we don't rely on specialness - we can open up our sights to a much broader audience. We're not going to upset anyone, because we're not taking away from the values they thought PlayStation only stood for.
Now some of the people who were our target market ten years ago have kids of their own, and they feel quite cool with the fact they can have a GTA at one end of the spectrum and also have something right at the other end in terms of age and relevance, and it's not going to upset anyone. After ten years, we've built a brand that's sustainable enough to go across more than one market.The focus seems to be very much on Sony's involvement in education with the PSP and PS2, but there's no mention of the PS3. Do you have any plans to look at that?
Clearly anything we do with PSP and PS2 can be used on PS3, but one of the fundamentals surrounding any device which can be used in education is that it's not an either or situation - it's an and situation.
Whatever that is needs to be really simple to use and very, very affordable, and I think what we have on our side - with the PSP especially, when you think of all the functionality it has in terms of wireless connection, all open standards, RSS - when you have a look at that in a package that's only 150 quid, that's very, very affordable.
Obviously many people have already got them so that's 20 per cent of the user base. It's easy sometimes to look just at the middle classes and the upper classes - well, the truth is we have to educate everyone with every kind of pocket as well. It needs to be affordable and it needs to be accessible.But what about schools in poorer areas, where they're struggling perhaps even to buy textbooks - how are they going to afford PSPs?
This is clearly not an issue for Sony to deal with; it's a question that needs to be asked of some of the local education authorities. I think there are schemes where there could be some investment from schools to get some loan PSPs. Obviously the people in schools that have got them have got them - and it's not fair to say those on a lower income don't have them, because they clearly do - but it's a question of what happens to the ones that don't.
Maybe there could also be a system where the parents and the school could have some sort of partnership where, for a pound a week or whatever for the first couple of years, they're putting money in and the school puts a little bit in as well.
So I think there are many ways you can crack the nut, as long as the overall cost of the device is reasonably small. It's not going to work on a Â£500 PC.Or a Â£425 PlayStation 3...
Probably not, no. But in time all those things will come down and maybe that will be the next step. Certainly, right now, I just think it needs a bit of creative lateral thinking to get those devices into everyone's hands.So are schools paying a lower price than the high street price?
There is an education price, yes, which is obviously slightly less than the high street. But what's more important for the schools is actually getting the training and the one-to-one tuition.
So our guys here at ConnectED, some of that retail margin is there to fund the training that goes to the teachers - because many teachers are not necessarily digital natives. They're digital immigrants, and that makes it slightly more difficult.In his speech at the PSP in Education event, the DfES minister said that research shows kids who use games technology in the classroom perform better educationally. But he also said that kids who just play games, and don't the technology use it as part of their education, actually perform worse at school. Is that a concern?
I think he was saying that in the same light as kids who play football for 20 hours a day don't do very well at school. It's about obsession and focus, rather than about the actual use or not use of the technology. Putting it in context, yes, there are benefits and sometimes there are negatives to every part of the equation.
Ray Maguire is the managing director of SCE UK. Interview by Ellie Gibson.