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71 Interviews

Sony's Jim Ryan interview: 'We don't need to buy exclusivity'

By Andy Robinson on Thursday 14th Aug 2014 at 11:45 AM UTC

PlayStation Europe boss Jim Ryan has many reasons to be cheerful, and it's easy to see why.

At Sony's Gamescom conference this week, he revealed that the PlayStation 4 has now sold 10 million consoles in less than nine months. A remarkable sales record that establishes the PS4 and the clear frontrunner in the next-gen console race.

Yet despite this, when we met with him at Gamescom, he assured us the figure could have been even higher had it not been for the stock shortages that followed the console's launch in some regions.

Though Sony may be enjoying the dream start with the PS4, there are still some issues to address. The apparent lack of first-party support for the Vita continues to linger, while the release schedule for PlayStation 4 games this year is looking thinner than expected.

Meanwhile, the company is still tinkering with PlayStation Now and trying to develop the best strategy - something which Ryan admits that Sony is still trying to get to grips with. In the interview below, CVG asks Ryan about these challenges, though the best place to start is with that headline sales figure.


CVG: The big news is the PS4 install base growing to 10 million. Were you surprised you'd reached it that quickly?

RYAN: Yeah. I think if you'd offered me that at the start of November I'd have bitten your hand off. If you'd have told me that I'd be standing up on the stage at Gamescom giving that number I'd have been very surprised. Particularly given that we'd had some pretty severe stock shortages... less so in the UK - although certainly before Christmas in the UK, but in continental Europe it's been quite difficult through the first few months of this year, so it would have been faster if we'd had sufficient supply.

In terms of momentum, where does that position PS4 in terms of all-time hardware sales of all PlayStation consoles?

Oh, way, way out in front. Way out in front. It's significantly ahead of anything we've done on any other PlayStation platform. I wouldn't be able to rank it against competitor platforms, though I'd imagine we'd show up pretty well in that too, but certainly way ahead of anything we've done before.

Zoom

One of the announcements that caught me was Tearaway. I'm a massive fan of the Vita version and had an inkling it'd come to the PS4, and it's looking fantastic.

Yeah, it looks great and got a lovely reaction. I think there's a lot of affection towards the game from people who've played it on Vita and the thought of being able to bring something that special to such a massively wider audience is great, and I think some of the stuff they're [Media Molecule] doing with the controller, such as the stuff on the touchpad, is really cool and fun.

Media Molecule has been teasing its PS4 projects for a while now. How significant is this title in terms of their resources?

It is a Media Molecule game, and it's a wholly Media Molecule game, it's not like LittleBigPlanet 3 which is being done elsewhere. So it is a significant commitment from them. But the game will launch next year, which will leave them free to do other things.

But for the fans who are waiting for the next big thing from Media Molecule, what can you tell me in terms of how much of their workforce is on this? Are they still working on other things?

Well, I'll say that not all of their mindshare is on this but I'm not going to say anything more at this stage.

Tearaway's unique in that it's a Vita title coming over to PS4. Considering the Vita sales, does that make this move more about giving the game a bigger audience?

Well, I think Media Molecule have got this lovely, wonderful game that was made for Vita and just saw an opportunity to do something different, but basically using the same game concept, for PS4, and that's what they've gone and done.

With a team like Media Molecule it's the creative process that dominates, it's not a suit like me saying "we've got a commercial opportunity here to take something that was done on one platform and do it again on a different platform", the genesis of the thing was creative rather than commercial.

"If you'd have offered me PS4's sales figures at the start of November I'd have bitten your hand off"

But you must be hopeful that a game that's very critically acclaimed will now find a bigger audience.

Oh yeah, yeah, and come whatever point next year the game releases the install base of PS4 is going to be a lot bigger than 10 million units so we're absolutely thrilled that a property like that will be made available to an audience that big.

It's very exciting for PlayStation fans to have Media Molecule back around again. How much licence do they have as a studio for experimentation? Obviously, we saw a lot of demos at the PlayStation Meeting last year with the PlayStation Move prototype.

They get a lot of licence and I think if you're going to work with a studio like that, trying to constrain them to go down a particular path is probably a pretty unwise thing to do. And having people whose minds work in unusual and very creative ways is particularly exciting at the start of a platform.

One of the things I think we did right that we did wrong last time round with PS3 was to get some of the creative minds of games creators, people like Shuhei Yoshida, actually involved in some of the key platform decisions with PS4. And I think that's one of the reasons that we're doing rather better this time around.

It was quite impressive to hear the number of PS4 exclusives, whether that's timed or not, the majority of which were smaller indie titles. Obviously one of the big stories this week was the announcement from your competitor regarding Rise Of The Tomb Raider. What's Sony's stance on securing triple-A exclusives going forward?

Zoom

Well, you know, we've got a very large and very powerful network of studios on our own, all of whom are working on games that will be fully exclusive to PlayStation, and we feel that this on top of partnering with third parties where it makes sense. I think the partnership we have with Activision on Destiny is a good example of where it makes really good sense for them, it makes good sense for us and it benefits our consumers - when you complement those two things we think that gives us a pretty complete position in the market.

So do we feel the need to go out and buy outright exclusivity? Probably not. You saw last night [at Sony's press conference] that before the media briefing we showed updated videos of games that we had revealed at E3. That's because we wanted to keep the show itself full of new, fresh things. We think that gave us a good, strong, convincing portfolio of exclusive stuff and we're happy with that.

Does Sony actively engage with the indie studios to secure exclusive games and content or is it a case of them approaching Sony?

It's a bit of both. We worked really hard this time around just to make the platform accessible to smaller developers - it's not having silly rules and procedures and bureaucracy, keeping the paperwork to a minimum, facilitating access to development kits, having a development environment that's fundamentally a whole lot easier to work with than it was last time around...

It's that approach, which makes us friendlier to indie devs, and on top of that, the icing on the cake is that we will go out and look at a small number of games and seek to help the developer make those games as successful as they possibly can, and that support can take a whole range of forms.

It can take the form of financial support, it can take the form of having Sean Murray from Hello Games on the stage at E3, there are many ways to do it and we try not to be prescriptive and say "this is the template you have to follow, this is the path." We just talk to each of the indies that we really want to work closely with and find out what presses their hot button and see what we can do to help them. Sometimes we can, and sometimes we can't.

"Do we feel the need to go out and buy outright exclusivity? Probably not"

It's good to see Journey coming to PS4 as well. As well as being appealing to consumers seeing these PS3 titles remastered, it's obviously also very convenient in the first year of a platform. How much does the recent success of The Last Of Us Remastered in particular leave you open to considering continuing that going forward, beyond the first year?

I think we'll look at it as and when it makes sense. To take a game like The Last Of Us to PS4 and end up with an extremely high Metacritic score on next-gen just as it did on current-gen, I think that made a huge amount of sense.

And one of the things we've seen this time around is that people have transitioned from a competitor platform last generation to PlayStation 4 this time around, and to allow those people to be able to experience a game like The Last Of Us, which they weren't able to last time because they were playing something else, that's just common sense.

But I think it's got to be looked at very holistically, you can't have too many of these things otherwise next-gen just looks like rehashed last-gen and we certainly don't want that. I think the balance is just about right but you know, there are other games that could be looked at, but there'll come a point where next gen will have moved on and rehashing old-gen will have passed its sell-by date.

What have you learned, if anything at all, from the PlayStation Now beta in North America?

We're learning about all sorts of things and technical stuff, tons of data about the number of people who use the service concurrently and measuring that against install base. So all of that stuff is new to us and we're learning every single day the beta's ongoing.

We're learning about what the right model for consumers is: we're starting off with rental, and [figuring out] what's the right period to rent, what's the right price for the rental, playing with these things. We haven't got them quite right yet, but we will do, and we'll just take learnings from it and do stuff differently as appropriate.

One of the things we're learning is that rental is one model and it's attractive for some people, but others may be more interested in some sort of subscription approach, and that's also something that we're looking at. So, you know, the list is kind of too long to fit into this short chat. 'Learning' is the right word, because this is a new business for us and we have to be kind of humble and accept that we don't understand it yet, and learn quickly.

You touch on the pricing considerations there. There was a pretty strong statement from Sony recently concerning the EA Access service offering, saying that it didn't give consumers great value. Does that offer a hint into perhaps the sort of value you're intending to offer with PlayStation Now?

No, I don't think the two are related. Whether it's rental or whether it's subscription, we'll figure out what's best for PlayStation Now.

You've got to realise that the beta is just the tiny little shoots of what's going to become a big, big thing down the road and when you're looking at a service that's streaming content to multiple devices - some PlayStations, some Sony devices that aren't PlayStations, such as televisions, and before too long non-Sony devices, where you're talking about offering the PlayStation experience to people who won't have to buy a PlayStation in order to get into it - this whole conundrum is way bigger than a subscription service on a competitor platform. So no, the two are not related.

Close Close

We're another press conference along and once again there was a notable absence of PlayStation Vita. What can you tell me about future support for the platform?

We continue to support it. We like Vita. As we said at E3, there's over 100 games in development. You know, it wasn't featured last night because there's only so much time for these things. PS4 is the priority, we had a ton of stuff to show on PS4 and we just wanted to focus totally on that.

If you start talking about Vita and PS3, the show's two hours long and everybody's unhappy about that. So we kept to the PS4. I will say that every single one of those games you saw last night is playable on Vita using Remote Play, and that feature is very valued and the incidence of it is way greater than what we expected.

The other thing is - and this sort of goes to that higher strategic level - we see the days of the closed vertical platforms of the past as ending, and the kind of silos of yesteryear have been broken down and everything's getting connected. People, whether it's with music or video, want to buy it once and play it on multiple different devices in multiple different places.

We agree with that. Whether it's PlayStation Now or the ability to consume PS4 content on a portable device as well as a television, we think it's the way of the future and that's the strategic path we're following, and Vita remains a fundamental part of that.

"You can't have too many remastered PS3 games on PS4, otherwise next-gen just looks like rehashed last-gen"

With the strategy of positioning the Vita now as a companion to the PS4 there was talk of a potential bundle, and the last time we spoke you mentioned that there was a boxing problem. What's the latest on that?

Yeah, it's still being looked at. The other thing is that when we last spoke - and it's still the case in some part so the world - we have had situations of supply shortage.

What we were really determined not to do was to force consumers who wanted a PS4 to buy a bundle with a Vita as well. We felt very strongly that we must not do that. So as the supply situation alleviates itself this will come back into play and I think you'll probably see some movement in that space before too long.

What are your aspirations and expectations for PS4 going into the Christmas period?

Well, you know, as regards the UK, to continue to do better. We basically lost in the UK the last time around and I've been pretty public and pretty vocal that we've needed to raise our game and I think the team led by Fergal Gara has done a great job so far and that demonstrates itself in the sales results that you see and I just want to keep that going.

The UK is one of the key markets in the world and we're going to focus on that, and just do the very best job that we can. I think the guys are doing terrifically well so far and we want to keep that up.