Jim Ryan, president of SCE Europe, is ready to launch PS4 with everything at his disposal. He speaks to Patrick Garratt on always-on, DRM and the most explosive E3 press conference for years.
“We’re going to go for it. We’re going to go for it… No messing around. All guns blazing.”
Sony’s 2013 E3 press conference has already passed into legend. The crowd of thousands whooped as hard as it’s possible to whoop, delighting PlayStation bosses Jack Tretton and Andrew House as they delivered a message of openness and cheapness to a core infuriated by Microsoft’s Xbox One policies. The PlayStation executive team had a good day.
Thus, SCE Europe president Jim Ryan was in buoyant mood today, promising a full-power PlayStation 4 launch and facing direct questions about DRM and pricing policy to the games press. He spoke to me about on why Sony avoided always-on, why you’ll have to pay for PS4 multiplayer and more.
VG247: The PlayStation exec team had quite a good day yesterday. Did you expect it to go as well as it did?
Jim Ryan: I think we were pretty confident that we had a good story to tell. I have to say that we were slightly surprised it went as well as it did [laughs].
Yeah. I’ve been in a lot of those press conferences, and I’ve never seen that kind of reaction.
I’ve been coming 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Obviously, you’re significantly cheaper than Xbox One. Did you suspect that would be the case?
We really didn’t know. Obviously, we’re quite happy with the way it’s played out. At least for now.
Sony has experience of being the more expensive machine.
Plenty of experience. We’re good at that.
[Laughs] How important is it to be cheaper?
I think it’s one of the factors, and it’s obviously a significant factor. Obviously, without games it’s just a brick underneath your television. Just talking about the UK; I’ve gone on record as saying the UK is a market in which we have under-performed over the course of three or four or five years, and this generation is the time when we have to put that right. This price advantage is going to be helpful in giving us a shot at doing that.
Is the need to be more aggressive a PlayStation-wide thing across America, Japan and Europe? Is this is a policy across the entire exec team?
I think in order to survive in this industry you have to be aggressive, even if you’re doing it from a position of market dominance as we have in somewhere like Spain. Even there, you have to have a pretty aggressive stance to business if you’re going to retain leadership. So, yes. You can take these things too far, but yes, we intend to be aggressive.
If we can talk about DRM a little. Personally, I had no idea it would be such a hot issue coming into E3. Was that the same for Sony?
Obviously, there’d been a fair bit of chit-chat online over the preceeding two weeks, so we were aware that it was something people quite strongly about. All that said, our policies in this space, whether it’s with regard to used games or whether it’s with regard to having to be connected or not, those policies have been set well in advance of the last month or so. We felt it reasonable, given all the chit-chat there’d been over the preceeding couple of weeks, to highlight our stance on these matters. I think the audience reaction vindicated that decision.
How important is it to be seen as less restrictive to the core? It’s fair to say that you exploited an opportunity in the press conference. Do you think this DRM issue is restricted to the core user-base, or does it have potential to bleed out into the wider market?
“If we consider the issue of an online connection being required; I look after a very large number of territories… where internet connectivity is not all that widespread in the home. If you’re talking about a mass level, an issue like that is very fundamental.”
There are various dimensions to this. If we consider the issue of an online connection being required; I look after a very large number of territories, including lots of places in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India, where internet connectivity is not all that widespread in the home. If you’re talking about a mass level, an issue like that is very fundamental. We take a long-term view on those markets, and we invest heavily in them. In those places it isn’t a core gamer issue: it’s a fundamental issue.
There are various levels on which you can look at these things. The gaming eco-system in the UK is a somewhat fragile one. That’s another factor. We all know just how difficult it is for retailers, and while we’re never going to make a policy decision to cushion the lives of video game retailers in a particular market, it’s a factor that we need our retail partners to survive and hopefully prosper. That very fragile ecosystem is one I feel shouldn’t be lightly tampered with.
I want to be clear on this. If a publisher dictates it, will PS4 not play a used game? Say, for the sake of argument, EA says that Battlefield 4 can only be played with a new license: will PS4 actually stop a used copy of that game being played?
It’s a very fair question. They’re allowed to do something like the Online Pass feature, which doesn’t block or stop it…
It just gives an option to pay.
It gives an option to charge. I don’t think they can block it.
PR: If it involves system changes to PS4, then they can’t do it.
Ryan: Can we check that?
Ryan: It’s a fair question, and one I should know the answer to. Basically, what we’re saying is that there’s no change from current-gen to next-gen. That’s basically all we’re saying. And very much the way the tide is going on current-gen is that people are not pursuing the Online Pass thing. It’s being dropped. I mean, some publishers have gone bankrupt and others are dropping it. We’re dropping it ourselves. It’s a fair question, but I view it, maybe naively, as somewhat hypothetical.
I deal very specifically in the core space, and there’s just general concern, especially as it’s become such a prominent issue. But if it’s a hypothetical situation, then it isn’t a real one.
It’s a diminishing phenomenon and I don’t see any reason why that should reverse itself.
With PS4 coming to market, are we likely to see price movements on PS3 and Vita this Christmas?
Absent of us having announced anything yesterday, I can’t really comment on that.
Why do you think the time is right to start charging for online gaming on PSN?
“The amount of people that engage in online multiplayer on PlayStation 3 is very considerable, and it’s important that they feel comfort that they’re not going to be charged for something that’s hitherto been free.”
The first point I want to make is that we’re not charging for PS3 or Vita customers. It’s purely a PS4 issue, and it’s a very important point to make. Obviously, the amount of people that engage in online multiplayer on PlayStation 3 is very considerable, and it’s important that they feel comfort that they’re not going to be charged for something that’s hitherto been free. The online experience on PS3 has got better, but at the beginning it was rather rudimentary, and the investment associated with it reflected that.
We are going to make a very significant step-change in the online experience with PlayStation 4. Some of that functionality was spoken about yesterday, and some on February 20, and that’s all great and we’re really happy that we’re able to make our online experience much more competitive, but the flipside is that this stuff comes at a cost. When you’re trying to achieve a £349 price-point and trying to deliver all this functionality, the money has to come from somewhere.
It seemed to us that the most appropriate way to do this was to put online multiplayer into the existing PS Plus package, and, like some other platforms, for something like €5, or whatever the sterling equivalent, per month, yes, there is a charge for online multiplayer, but there’s also a pretty damn strong package of content and services in there. As you’ll know, it’s pretty good.
I think we’ve done it in a reasonable and fair manner, and I don’t feel defensive in sitting here and looking at the whole package. Yes, we’re charging for online multiplayer, and we have to be quite straight about that and not hide it at all. It is part of PlayStation Plus, and all the good stuff that goes with that. Set that against the competitive offering and the overall value proposition that it’ll provide UK consumers, and I don’t feel bad about it at all. I don’t feel apologetic.
Finally, then, will PS4 be a front-heavy launch? Will you be pushing it very hard this holiday? PS3 was probably a little soft in the first year and then ramped up.
We’re going to go for it. We’re going to go for it. These UK guys will tell you, we’re going to go for it. No messing around. All guns blazing.