John Koller On The PlayStation Brand

SCEA’s Director of Hardware Marketing, John Koller, has already given us plenty to talk about recently and he continues to talk up the PS3’s two stablemates, the PS2 and PSP.

He has been speaking to Ars Technica about PS2’s evolving place in the console market.  Like myself, I would guess that many of you were PS2 owners before splashing out on a nice shiny PS3.  With the gaming fraternity having moved on, Koller reiterates that Sony does not see the PS3 competing with the Wii for gamers and seeing the PS2 and its recent everywhere-but-the-UK price cut occupying that place in the market.

Of the PS2 he said “At this stage of its lifecycle, the primary audience centers on casual and social gamers, skewing more towards families who want to play as a family, and individuals who enjoy [it] for its wide variety of games and its capabilities as a DVD and CD player”.  With Sony having said at the end of March when they announced the PS2’s price cut that by the end of the year PS2’s “gaming library will grow to nearly 1,900 titles” there certainly is something there for everyone.

While for every ICO or God of War you can find a Crazy Frog Racer 2 or Little Britain: The Video Game, the PS2’s game library is pretty strong.  Of the almost 1,600 PS2 games listed on Metacritic, 320 (or 20%) score 80 or above.  For someone looking to get into gaming on a budget, especially given the current economic conditions, the PS2 remains a strong option.  Koller recognises this saying that the PS2 “provides a ton of value to those who want a gaming system that feeds into family night or other social activities, considering the low cost of entry for the hardware as well as for the games themselves.”

He also goes on to suggest that another reason for the recent price cut was to keep new PS2s selling in the face of competition from the increasing numbers becoming available on the second hand market.  While acknowledging that there are many used PS2s out there, he is less worried “now that PlayStation 2 is $99. Generally speaking, consumers prefer ‘new, works for sure’, over ‘used, hope this works like I want it to’—and the price point makes this decision even easier.”

Meanwhile, he has also been interviewed by to elaborate on Sony’s plans for the PSP.  With regard to all the recent talk about Sony abandoning the UMD and switching to a purely digital distribution of PSP software, he says it is all about giving us choice.  He highlights the music industry as one that perhaps did not listen to its customers well enough, continuing to cling onto its established practice of selling discs, while consumers were indicating that they were growing increasingly interested in going digital.

Of Sony’s current thinking Koller says, “we want to provide the content and at least allow the consumers to make that choice. We’re going to be fairly democratic and open and if consumers want digital they can wake up and download it, if they want UMD they can go to retail for it. We want to provide that content opportunity.”  He later adds, “we still look to actively support UMD”, restating Sony’s continuing official stance.

2009 is “going to be the best software year the PSP has ever had, there’s no doubt” he enthuses.  The upcoming big-title PSP releases that we already know about are the result of Sony working with developer and publishers to convince them of the continued and strength of the PSP.  Of that work he says “the fruits of the labour is pouring out this year, and we’ve been talking about it a lot, but we’ve only mentioned about the first half of the line-up.”  So what about the rest?  “There’s another half to maybe three quarters that we’re going to be announcing in the months leading up to E3. There’s a lot of big franchises to come.”

Given that we are already in mid-April and E3 is at the start of June, it sounds like we should be getting news of many more titles based on familiar IP making the transition to PSP over the coming weeks.  The PSP getting more of its own big-name titles he puts down to Sony listening to its customers again, “they haven’t demanded as much new IP, they have demanded larger franchise games that are unique for PSP, and they don’t want ports.”  That does sound good to me and I look forward with eager anticipation to finding out what is going to keep my own PSP from gathering dust.

Of the various Sony execs we are used to hearing from, John Koller has certainly been the most communicative of late.  It is a shame that he speaks only for SCEA as it leaves us guessing how much of his comments also apply to those of us over here in Europe.  Now that David Reeves is leaving SCEE and being replaced as President and CEO by Andrew House, who has worked his way up through Sony’s corporate communications divisions, eventually becoming Chief Marketing Officer of Sony Corporation, it will be interesting to see whether SCEE becomes better at communicating to all of us and the wider gaming market.

Obviously the first thing we would like to see the newly-helmed SCEE hurry along is the EU Blog as we now know there will be a “period” between the closure of ThreeSpeech, this coming weekend, and the opening of the EU Blog, which is now just slated to appear “this Summer”.