Console gaming’s over? Not so fast. SCE UK boss Fergal Gara tells Patrick Garratt demand for PS4 is “spectacularly” above that seen in the current generation. Ready for November?
“[Pre-orders are] spectacularly up on the last generation. The number was greater than 1 million units and the UK represents a big chunk of that. Pre-orders are incredibly healthy. I think there are some naysayers out there who think console gaming’s on the way out: if you look at the pre-order numbers you’d come to a very different conclusion… If you go back a few months, the sheer level of demand wasn’t really anticipated. It’s the biggest we’ve ever seen. A level we’ve never seen before.”
Fergal Gara, MD of SCE UK, is not a worried man. Sitting in the lobby of Sony’s evergreen gamescom hang-out, the Raddison opposite the Kölnmesse, the exec is grinning in the knowledge that British PS4 pre-orders are high enough to make November’s launch a guaranteed success. PS chief Andrew House announced fixed release dates for the US and Europe the previous evening, and demand is so high Gara’s main problem is being able to keep up. Every member of the UK PlayStation team exudes confidence as they trot around the various software and hardware showings in the hotel, but none of them is as relaxed as the boss.
Gara speaks to Patrick Garratt on launching, Vita, bundling, broadband and more.
VG247: Can you give us any details about how PS4’s going to be marketed in the UK for launch?
Fergal Gara: We’re right in the process now of shaping the marketing plan, and while we’re very confident of a strong day one off the back of very, very strong pre-orders, we are investing in a brand for many years. It is important that we launch big and show our intent for the years to come. The UK’s clearly a very important market for us; it’s not been our best in recent years, and therefore it’s a key moment to assert ourselves. Expect PlayStation 4 to have big marketing, a big launch plan. The product deserves investing in, not just in day one but for the years to come.
In the press conference yesterday there was a massive focus on indie games, even more so than at E3.
While a lot of core gamers completely get that, as we’re immersed in it and understand what indie is, do you think there’s going to be any kind of issue messaging it to the general public? Will indie be included in the general marketing?
We’re creating the best place to play. That’s the vision we’ve outlined, and if you want to be the best place to play you want to have something for everybody. Something for everybody last night was incredibly broad. At one end of the scale you have the family-friendly and accessible Playroom included and pre-installed on every PlayStation 4, and at the opposite end you have some quite eclectic and in some cases really cool-looking indie titles. That’s the vision: the broadest church we possible can be. We can and should be for everybody.
Will it be marketed to them? Of course it will. But which channels do we choose for which messages? That’s where the sophistication of the marketing plan comes in. Are they going to be front and centre in some big TV ad? Perhaps not, but we leverage lots of different channels to communicate.
You revealed the date last night. Are you happy with it?
Would you maybe prefer it to be a week or two earlier?
Possibly, but we’ve got a good run into Christmas and we’ve hit the month we’ve wanted to hit for a long time. That means the efforts of many people across the organisation – the planning, the design, the engineering, the software development – have all got it together to launch on time, to launch in 32 countries in November 2013. I can take no credit for it, but I think the teams have done a stunning job. I’m delighted.
There was a 1 million pre-order figure in the presentation. That was global. Are the UK pre-orders well up on the last generation?
They’re spectacularly up on the last generation. The number was greater than 1 million units and the UK represents a big chunk of that. Pre-orders are incredibly healthy. They give us every confidence that this generation will get off to a stunning start. I think there are some naysayers out there who think console gaming’s on the way out: if you look at the pre-order numbers you’d come to a very different conclusion. There’s a certainty it’s going to start with a big bang.
We’re very pleased with that, although there is a downside. How much stock to fulfil how much demand is now the game we’re playing. If you go back a few months, the sheer level of demand wasn’t really anticipated. It’s the biggest we’ve ever seen. A level we’ve never seen before.
I was going to ask you about the allocation and the ability to keep up with demand. Hardware manufacturers can struggle to cope, especially around launch. Do you anticipate having problems?
There can be trouble keeping up, especially if demand is higher than you anticipated, and it is very much going in that direction. The downside of it being very popular is that there is a risk of disappointing some people. The guidance we’re giving to retailers and gamers out there is to get your names on that list. Get on the pre-order list. We’re confident of satisfying all the pre-orders on day one that were executed before August 5. We might do a bit better than that, but the earlier you’re on the list, the earlier you’re likely to get a PS4. We’ll do our damnedest to meet that demand as quickly as we possibly can.
“We’ve changed our demeanour: we’re more engaged with our partners; we’re more humble; I think we listen more; we try to respond better. I’m certainly not saying there isn’t more we can do, but I believe we’ve shifted our posture, which has come at a good time as our products have stepped up a gear as well. Put all that together and you have to feel confident.”
Which of the launch titles do you expect to have the most traction in the UK? Which are you most excited about?
From a first-party perspective I’d pick out Killzone as a stand-out title. It was good to see the multiplayer from that last night. From third-parties: from a personal view, one that stands out as one starting to shape-up the next-gen world is Watch Dogs. I’d say that’s a very cool, very next-gen-looking title. The whole theme of the game is good to have for next-gen consoles. That’s a wonderful partnership to have, but I’m not just picking it out because of that.
Further down the line, I’m very excited by Destiny. That’s a little bit further out, but it’s a hugely ambitious project and one we happen to have a nice, close association with as PlayStation. Those are just some examples. The stand-out titles can be huge blockbusters, but I’m really excited to see what are the big hits that come out of the indie development side.
One of the most interesting announcements to come out of the press conference yesterday got glossed over by everyone, I think. You’ve signed deal with ISPs to allocate specific levels of broadband to gamers. When are you going be talking more about that, and do you see farming bandwidth off to gamers as a trend?
We said we’re here for the gamer, and we put the gamer front and centre of the entire PS4 concept. The entire experience is not complete without broadband connectivity, as you’ve rightly underlined. It covers two of the key issues: one is having latency at the lowest possible level, so multiplayer is as exceptional as it possibly can be; and secondly, we are definitely into a more download-led market now, and the play-as-you-download functionality in PS4 means there are more reasons to consume big chunks of data than ever. Clearly, there’s a great brand-match. Virgin’s a great one for the UK, with a good brand-fit and a good fibre-optic infrastructure there. I look forward to getting into much more detail on it. We’ll talk more about it in the coming months, but it’s certainly exciting and you’re right to pick up on it.
Does it mean that you’re able to download games faster if you’re signed up to one of those packages? Is that the upshot? Or does it just mean you’re connected at the right level so everything works exactly as it should?
There’s plenty more detail to flesh out, but at its most basic it should mean that the PlayStation 4 experience is optimised via the Virgin Media broadband service. It could go well beyond that, of course, such as buying the two together, for example, via integrated packages. There’s all kind of things that could come out of the partnership, but what we were able to announce last night is that we are going to work together, based on directional feedback of what the benefits might be in the short-term. But partnerships are partnerships, and they should evolve. There’s loads of potential in it.
We heard a lot of chatter recently about a Vita-PS4 bundle. We called around a lot of retailers and were told it isn’t happening right now, but do you see that as a potential for the future? It seems pretty obvious Vita was made specifically to properly integrate with PS4. Is this something you can see happening a little further down the line?
Yeah, definitely. It’s not even out of the question that we can’t put the two together, not necessarily in a one-box bundle, but retail in the UK’s incredibly flexible in putting together what you call soft bundles. That’s by no means out of the question, that we can offer the consumer a package including Vita and PS4, even round launch. Now that we have a date on the table, and now that we have reasonably clear visibility on volume, our conversations with retailers are far more focused on tangibles. These are the sort of details we need to get into now.
“[It’s] by no means out of the question, that we can offer the consumer a package including Vita and PS4, even round launch.”
But do we see Vita gaining further strength on the back of PS4? Absolutely. And the likely cost of the two together is, OK, significant, but shapes up well competitively and shapes up well versus, say, the start-point on PS3. We’re excited about that.
Finally then, now the date’s been announced is there some weight off your shoulders? You said you’re talking to retailers with a lot more clarity now, so is this the best bit for you?
It is the best bit for us. It’s the most intense part for us, but the team are absolutely buoyed up, because, as you can imagine, things are going really well. Top-to-toe of the organisation there’s a fighting spirit, there’s a confidence. That’s contagious. It’s really exciting in a business to have all the troops really giving it eleven out of ten. It feels great. In the UK, I believe, we’ve changed our demeanour: we’re more engaged with our partners; we’re more humble; I think we listen more; we try to respond better. I’m certainly not saying there isn’t more we can do, but I believe we’ve shifted our posture, which has come at a good time as our products have stepped up a gear as well. Put all that together and you have to feel confident.
PlayStation 4 releases on November 15 in North America and November 29 in Europe.