Gamescom 2013 is in full swing and now open to the public with publishers and developers sharing the latest on current and upcoming titles. Our very own Stefan is there and, after meeting with Sony Computer Entertainment’s UK Managing Director, Fergal Gara, was able to extract more info on the company’s next-gen console, the Vita and the directions Sony are currently taking.
TSA – I think it would be good to start off by talking about the Vita and how you think it has done in the market so far?
Fergal Gara – Since launch we’ve been fairly candid in saying we haven’t hit all of our expectations with the PlayStation Vita. We still remain very committed to the platform and I think there’s loads of reasons to believe it’s going to be a significant part of our future.
Whether that be the fact that it’s going rate in the UK market has improved significantly since the start of the year, and particularly into the summer period it has gone back into year on year growth. Two major points from last night are that there’s the significant price move, and the second thing was how the first live demo of Remote Play looked fantastic.
So it may be about to find its niche a little more clearly. Another thing I’d add is that the value proposition around games. The Mega Pack initiative is already proving itself, and we will continue with it, so you can get much greater value content. [The console] has a fantastic companion role alongside the ps4, meaning that it’s by no means over for the PS Vita.
TSA – Aside from the price drops, how are you trying to raise awareness of the platform and what it can and will be able to do?
FG – Well there’s a number of ways we do that. We have a number of channels out there through which we communicate with PlayStation enthusiasts. There’s clearly loads of work we can do with our retail partners to educate those in stores to understand what they can do and to demonstrate that to consumers in stores and to show that at major events like Gamescom or Eurogamer Expo . Then, of course, there’s working with guys like yourself, who can expand upon the story and explain it to your readers.
Life after Tearaway
TSA – With regards to the catalogue of games, it feels like, after Killzone Mercenary and Tearaway, there’s not much coming out of Sony’s stable of franchises and studios…
FG – With stand alone games? Yeah, not that we’ve fleshed out right now, that’s a fair point, so there’s more we will need to reveal down the line. But I think there are several very strong strands in the short term.
Both of those titles you referred to, the value within PS+ -which is definitely going to become a much bigger thing- and the PS4 story gives us the rest of the year quite nicely tied up. Do we need to continue to work at it? Of course we do, but I think as we demonstrate more success, as I’m sure we will, it will become more interesting to more developers. There was also a big Indie slant to last night, with a lot of those titles coming to PS4 and PS Vita.
So we’ve got to continue to push this content, but I think it’s incredible that titles like Watch Dogs, like Call of Duty Ghosts, like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, are all effectively coming to the Vita. Not some trimmed down, poor man’s version, but the full game. So anyone that says there’s s lack of content for PS Vita is mistaken. Practically every PS4 game will be playable on the PS Vita, the only reason it might not be is if there’s an interface vitally important to game play that we cannot replicate on the Vita. That could be something using the DualShock 4 and the camera, but the core launch titles, I think, don’t have that reliance. So in other words, I think every day one launch title is playable on PS vita, which is very exciting.
TSA – Is that the only get out clause that developers have?
FG – It is a complicated interface requirement, correct. So if you can, you will, basically. That is the direction and in the vast majority of cases, the answer to that will be yes. It’s very, very easy to do, and it’s not some cumbersome and labour-some tech requirement, as you know there’s some Gaikai technology at play in there, and their chip is fundamental to it so that is simply encoding your gameplay and outputting that, and that is then able to be streamed via wifi and of course, then the only controls we’re sending back are the inputs which substitute for the DualShock. So, just because of the architecture of the PS4, it’s quite easy to do.
The indie revolution
TSA – You mentioned Indie games, and the strong focus they have had from Sony over the last year, where did this impetus and move come from?
FG – Well I think it was explained best on 20th February -when Mark Cerny said that he spent five years talking to developers- so its not a five-month project, it’s five years of trying to understand what would make life better and easier for developers, big and small. What sort of playground could we create for them, that would give them the flexibility they would want and need and allow them to bring more diverse experiences to PlayStation. So all you’ve seen over the last few months is that conversation come to fruition, with examples . So it’s not a short term strategy, it has been a long term strategy, and last night was a great moment showcasing what was actually coming out of the initiative.
TSA – Do you feel we’re over the hump with seeing existing games being ported, and that developers will target PlayStation platforms for day one?
FG – Well I absolutely hope so. I think that any barriers as to why not, have been very significantly reduced or removed, so you’d have to challenge yourself, “why would you not?”
I think that’s a good problem to have as a developer. It’s going to be easy to bring this to PS4, you’ve got creative freedom, flexible commercial models and support programs to help you do it, so why wouldn’t you?
How PS4 is ‘way ahead’
TSA – Naturally I can appreciate the difficulty of addressing competitors directly, but where do you think the PlayStation 4 is in terms of public perception and stature?
FG – Well first of all, versus our own metrics, the demand for the PS4 is unprecedented. [Andrew House] gave us a number last night for PS4 pre-orders, which I think was a low end number, actually; he said greater than 1 million. What I would say is that in the UK we’re a big chunk of that number; an absolute groundswell sea-change, in terms of demand.
Retailers tell us that means PS4 is way ahead, and we’re very encouraged by that, but we’re also conscious of managing the demand on day one and satisfying as many gamers as possible, and we’re not overpromising on the deliveries, so we’ve had to make some moves with retail to try and manage that situation.
But this is a multi-year project, and it’s not all about the 29th of November, so we are undeniably heading into a fantastic launch, and that’s absolutely tremendous. The nay-sayers who think console gaming is over, well, the numbers I’m looking at tell me that it’s going to kick off harder and faster than ever before, so that’s great for the industry over all.
We need to keep going, we need to keep our eye on the medium term and not get over excited. So that’s the plan, start strong and continue.
TSA – Where do you feel that you can still improve the PlayStation 4 down the line? Do you have a development plan for features you want to bring?
FG – There’s loads of things on the list, of course, and what I hope to see is that we continue to innovate and try some things. I think it would be good if we tried some things that don’t work, because that means you’re pushing some boundaries.
So already, you see that we’re working around the business models. So, how much does a game cost? If the perception of a game is £40-50 or nothing, you can already see that model kind of breaking down, so there will be some fantastic games at a blockbuster budget, but you’ve seen Freemium games and lots of indie titles that won’t necessarily come in at the top end.
So you’re going to see this rich breadth of content and a rich breadth of price points, so that there’s something for everybody, whatever your taste and whatever your budget. You also see PlayStation Plus, where you can subscribe and get lots of great content, wrapped up in a great value package.
They’re examples of playing with business models that we think will work for us, that we hope work for the gamer, most importantly, and not every strand of that will be hugely successful, so I hope we try plenty other brave things, because that’s how you find the next best thing.
Why Sony aren’t focusing on timed exclusives
TSA – As a company you don’t seem to have indulged in the practice of timed exclusives with third parties. Is there a particular reason for this?
FG – Timed exclusives? What do you mean by that?
TSA – Well, as a recent example, EA spoke last night of how some games like Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare were coming first to Xbox One, feeling like a timed exclusivity, with a monetary deal between Microsoft and EA to get that period.
FG – Well, what I’d say is that there’s no doubt the content battleground is hugely important. You can’t have a box if you’ve not got great content for it, and there are various allegiances and various agreements that differentiate what we have and what competitors may have.
It starts clearly, first and foremost, with the output of the first party studios, and that’s all exclusive. I think that this year, almost better than any other, we’re proving what our first party studios can do, with The Last of Us being an amazing current example and loads more to come from the PS3, PS4 and PS Vita this year. So that’s a big company strength.
The second things is what you can do with third parties, what agreements you can make, and what shape do they take. I’d say that what we’ve got in the pipeline is at least as good as where we were a year ago; it’s just evolving.
I’m tremendously excited where we are with, for example, Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, but possibly even more so looking forward to titles like Destiny, where we’ve clearly started to develop a relationship, a better and stronger relationship with Activision and Bungie. It’s a very ambitious and potentially next-gen defining title.
So the details of where the PlayStation’s points of difference will be in Destiny haven’t been outlined as yet, but we will continue to work to bring differentiating experiences to the PlayStation, whatever shape or form they may take.
We’d like to thank Fergal Gara for taking the time to speak to us.