18 Interviews

Interview: Sony's Fergal Gara on PS4's final push

By Rob Crossley on Thursday 26th Sep 2013 at 1:33 PM UTC

There's a mantra going around PlayStation's UK business right now: don't over-promise and under-deliver.

It's peculiar for two reasons. The first: PlayStation was once an institutionally arrogant business, describing its graphical synthesisers and Cell processors with unparalleled boastfulness. The second: PS4 has shot past one million pre-orders already, a fantastic figure which, surely, gives PlayStation executives reasons to speak a little more confidently about its new console's chances.

But care and attention got Sony into this position, and as UK managing director Fergal Gara demonstrates, it's the path they plan to take going forwards. CVG met with Gara at the Eurogamer Expo to discuss the future for PS Vita, Vita TV, and the PS4's final launch plans.

In August Sony announced that PlayStation 4 had achieved 1 million pre-orders. Can you provide an update on how this has progressed?


What I will say is that it has continued to march ahead strongly, and there's no signs of it slowing down either. That's hugely encouraging, we know there is a huge desire out there for new consoles, and that people want a PlayStation 4.

At Gamescom the global number was over one million units, that's "over", and the number has grown substantially since then.

Do you believe PlayStation UK is facing a PS4 stock shortage problem?

Well, it depends on time frame. Within the first two to three months from launch, we will undoubtedly have ample volume to service any forecasts we have on sales. However, there may well be tight supplies at Christmas, I can see a bit of a pinch point around that time.

The metric that we use is the pre-order demand curve, and we've used our past five console launches as a reference point. Everyone who has put down a pre-order so far will definitely get one before Christmas, as long as nothing goes terribly wrong.

In August Sony put a deadline on day-one pre-order guarantees, but you're saying those beyond the deadline will still get it before Christmas?

Yes and if things keep going well we'll delight even more people on day one. We don't want to over-promise and under-deliver, we want to do the opposite.

And how about the first several months after Christmas?

Well based on what we know now, we will be in free supply at the start of the year.

PlayStation US director Jack Tretton said the manufacturing yields are very positive, how much confidence does that give you?

It's absolutely crucial. So the fact that it's going well, and is at least in line with expectations, means that I'm trying to get as many systems for the UK that I possibly can.

Any stories of flying consoles in on giant planes this time?

No I don't think so - the PlayStation 4s are on ships and coming this way. Air freighting gives a very short advantage, but it's an expensive drug and hard to get off it.

Xbox One launches seven days before PS4 in the UK. Is that a concern?

Well, would you rather have seven days or sixteen months? [laughs] I think it's a moot point really, we're effectively launching at the same time. I don't think seven days is going to have an advantage or disadvantage.

One suspects both Xbox One and PS4 will sell out in the first few months anyway, so I suppose the analysis on market share at the start will actually be about supply issues than anything else, right?

Retailers are probably best placed to answer that question, but I think the feedback we've got from them has been very encouraging. But you're right to say, this is not a sprint, this is a marathon.

How much of an advantage is the PS4's lower price point over the Xbox One?

Price isn't everything. It's an advantage, but it can move over time. Value to the consumer is everything, which is price and quality of content for that price. We feel in very good shape on that front. We're really pleased.

Microsoft has said its Xbox One indie games initiative won't yield any games until early 2014 - how does this compare to the PS4's indie games at launch?

There's about twenty indie games coming to PlayStation 4 during the launch window. We're opening the doors to indie developers and I think you can already see the results of that.

"Price isn't everything. It's an advantage, but it can move over time."

At Gamescom you announced a PS Vita price drop - how has that affected sales?

Well, we're very pleased with how PS Vita sales have picked up this year. I must say, in the UK we were promoting it hard before the price drop, so actually the difference before and after Gamescom isn't that noticeable in the UK.

The difference between the start of the year and now, however, is much more noticeable. We also believe that the rise in unit sales since Gamescom, considering there was no major Vita games in stores, is the result of our Remote Play announcement.

That's what we think. I think Remote Play is a new weapon in our armoury - it gives the PS4 a unique advantage over anything else, and it's an attractive new feature for the PS Vita.

But I will add that PS Vita is forecast to hit its sales target in the UK, and games like Killzone Mercenary were well received, so we really need to press on with sales now.

The new PS Vita is currently planned only for Japan.

Even though PS Vita sales haven't exactly been fantastic, we do notice on CVG that a lot of people who own the handheld swear by it. How crucial has that positive owner feedback been for Sony?

Oh yes, I mean, if that wasn't the case I think we would have good reason to lose confidence in the device and shelve it. We're nowhere close to that decision now.

There has been great positive feedback, but I want people to know that we do listen intently to the negative feedback too. We understand the drawbacks - it's a bit expensive, also people expect multi-functionality on high-end mobile and portable devices, the content is expensive and a lot of people are used to getting free or cheap apps.

But I took a look at the UK figures the other day, and PS Vita is now selling for about £70 less than this time last year, and the games are getting cheaper too, and we've got a Mega-Pack program, which is eight to ten games and a memory stick rolled in for free, and we've seen that as an attractive proposition.

So we're addressing these issues - and I should add that Remote Play will be free, and also the Instant Game Collection on PlayStation Plus gives people free games on PS3, PS4 and PS Vita.

So I think we've listened, we're working hard, and that the value proposition is better now. It's in much better shape.

PS Vita came into a very different marketplace than PSP. And of course, when we launched the Vita we couldn't talk about one of its key advantages, in that it is designed to work with PS4.

Vita does of course work well with PS3, but because of the way the handheld was designed means it offers a much slicker and more natural connection with PS4.

It's interesting you say that. Remember when the PS4's Orbis codename leaked, and there were a few news outlets that said "Orbis Vitae" is Latin for "circle of life" and that this was an implicit suggestion that both consoles worked together? Was that a tin-foil hat conspiracy, or was there actually something behind that?

Well that observation I have only ever heard in the press, I never heard it internally. [laughs]

[PlayStation PR guru Jonathan Fargher interjects: "Have you been watching The Lion King again Rob?"]

Okay, where was I?

You were talking about Disney [laughs]

So, will you be providing any more Mega Pack promotions in the future?

Yes, there's three in the pipeline, and this financial year [until April] we're looking at rolling out another two. We're looking at more thereafter too.

When is the new PS Vita coming to the UK?

No date or plans just yet, but it's really interesting to see the response to it.

I'm surprised there's no plan to release it here.

PS Vita TV has been announced for Japan

Well, no plan that we're prepared to announce today. Not everything is suitable for every market, but what I will say is, watch this space, let's get it out in Japan, see how successful it is, and take it from there.

How about PS Vita TV?

Same situation, really. Japan is a great place to launch that kind of device. PS Vita is strongest in Japan, and that brand has the most traction in Japan. Also, streaming media services are far more established in Japan than other territories, so it made a lot of sense to launch it there.

But we are delighted by the interest that's been shown by western media and the public, particularly in the UK.

There's been some talk by professionals in the industry that microconsoles, from Ouya to GameStick, will be picking at the table. Is that why Sony has developed its own micro-console? Are you competing against those cheaper TV devices?

We see the device as having three key areas of strength. One is it being a fairly affordable console with about 1,300 legacy games at launch. The other is a PS Vita games player, though there are some compatibility issues with the lack of touch screen, so we feel that's one for the future. The other is a PS4 Remote Play streamer, which at the moment we feel is its strongest feature.

But we don't decide what's going to be its key strength, it's the gamers who do. So let's launch it and take the feedback and go from there.

For the record, by the way, is Sony still producing 3G PS Vita models?

We might be for certain regions, but I know we're not planning to release any more into the UK. It was probably one of the less compelling features of the Vita, so we're focusing on the Wi-Fi models now.

"The emphasis will shift to PS4 next year. There's only one game we've announced for PS3 next year."

There's been rumours and some demand from customers about a PS4 and PS Vita bundle. Is there any likelihood this will happen?

At the moment we're not thinking about a one-box solution. If we wanted to, it would be an easy thing to do, but we're not right now.

Last time we spoke, you explained how difficult it is to internally support three platforms with software at the same time, referring to PS4, PS3 and PS Vita. So now the PlayStation 4 is ready for launch, what plans do you have for PlayStation 3?

Firstly, I'm absolutely delighted with our first-party output on all three platforms. For Vita there's Teraway and Killzone Mercenary, for PS3 there's GT6, The Last of Us, Beyond, there's the Drive Club and Killzone Shadowfall for PS4.

Now, of course, the emphasis will shift to PS4 next year. There's only one game we've announced for PS3 next year, which is Invizimals. However, the plan for PS3 is the same as PS2, which we're still selling, by the way.

So while the UK might be quick to switch to the next generation, in other countries there will still be a strong business. I think, also, third parties will play a more vital role for the future of PS3, because they will want to harvest the revenue from the console's install base.

To put it another way, will there be a marquee Sony PS3 game set for release during the next holiday period?

Honestly, I don't know yet. Possibly.