Interview: PS4’s Jim Ryan on Sony’s E3 and winning in Europe

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 12:20 GMT By Patrick Garratt

PlayStation’s European chief on killing the E3 crowd, chances of a PS4 price cut this year, the arrival of Morpheus and much more.

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“I don’t think that we ever set out with the statement of intent of whipping people into a state of frenzy. You just show good stuff, stuff people want to see and hear, and the reaction will come.”

The day after the night before, Sony’s E3 2015 PlayStation team wore a universal grin. Despite Microsoft’s best efforts, Sony laid waste to the Los Angeles big stage, pulling out some of the most spectacular reveals in show history and eliciting the sort of crowd reactions normally reserved for DJs and pop stars. Final Fantasy 7, Shenmue 3 and The Last Guardian ensured tears all round.

We spoke to PlayStation’s European boss, Jim Ryan, the following morning in Downtown LA. Unsurprisingly, the mood was light.

VG247: How did it go for you last night?

Jim Ryan: I enjoyed the whole thing, actually. I obviously don’t get invited to the Microsoft one. I went to EA, Ubisoft and ours. There were plusses and minuses across the board, but I think my abiding take-out is a sense that developers are really starting to feel comfortable and confident with next-gen. It’s arguably taken a bit longer than people thought it would, but, genuinely, and not just at our conference, there was several moments when I just went, “Wow, that looks great.” And it’s nice when you have that sort of day. It was good.

You certainly showed a lot of fan favourites last night. Was it always the intention to keep hitting the big logos?

The intention was to focus on games. We were very pleased to have a number of new things to announce, and we were very pleased to have a couple of surprises, a couple of rabbits to pull out of the hat. Trying to gauge the reaction in the room was very hard to predict, I must say.

Who’s idea was it to Kickstart Shenmue?

To be honest, I actually don’t know. It’s a big organisation. A lot goes on and things move very fast. It was a very interesting and quite a bold thing to do on the stage. It helps the guy and he’s raised his money. Can that in any way be a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Obviously, the first big headline was The Last Guardian. Was it a relief to finally date it?

Not least because now I don’t have to field questions from people like yourself [laughs]. It’s been going on for too many years now. So yes, a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

It’s been a long time coming. Has it been difficult for the upper management team to remain committed to the project?

I think when something has such a considerable gestation period, anyone who’s been around the industry for some time knows from experience that can be indicative of problems. This developer has such a great track record with us that we all crossed our fingers and kept the faith.

There was a real air of shock around the Final Fantasy 7 reveal. How much importance do you place on it as a corporation? I’m thinking specifically in terms of Europe. Do you see it as a key title, or just as something to serve the old-school?

This is definitely not some sort of HD upgrade. It’s a remake of the game. Yesterday wasn’t held in Europe, but you saw the reaction. It was quite remarkable. We know, because we published that game way back in the day, exactly how well it sold and exactly what level of passion and enthusiasm existed then. It was apparent from last night that it continues to exist. I’m not sure if anything like this has actually been done before, and it’ll be interesting to see how it shakes out.

Can you give us any information on any exclusivity surrounding FF7? If I recall correctly, it was said it’s coming to PS4 first.

Yeah, and I think that’s all we can say at this stage. That statement speaks for itself, and that’s all we can say for now.

The Media Molecule game looks completely original. I’ve never seen anything like that before. Are you excited for it?

Any time those guys do anything it’s exciting for us, but this could potentially be something really quite different and quite special. Last night was only a tease. The unveiling of what form the entertainment experience is going to take, as we said on the stage, will come later this year in Europe. We’ll all, including me, know a lot more about what it’s exactly going to be then. With guys like that, you just have to give them some slack, let it go where it takes them.

Do you feel comfortable experimenting in this way now?

Yeah. And one of the really nice things about the relative success that we’re enjoying right now is that it does removes certain constraints. You have a little bit more freedom to be able to try things that are speculative and don’t follow the tried and trusted publishing route, which I think is a very healthy thing for everybody.

Nothing was said last night about hardware apart from Morpheus. Are we going to see anything later in the year, maybe in Europe, related to price-cuts?

All I’d observe, particularly in Europe, is that our momentum is still very considerable. We’re happy with the price and we’re happy with the value proposition. Consumers, equally and more importantly, appear to be happy with the price and the value proposition. We’ll leave it where it is for now. Obviously, we never rule anything out and we never rule anything in, but it feels like we’re in quite a good place at the moment.

A lot of the games we saw last night are still some way off. Much of it was for 2016. What are you most excited about taking into Christmas 2015?

I think Star Wars Battlefront looks absolutely fantastic. I’ve actually visited DICE to see it only three months ago, and the way that thing’s come on… I thought it looked absolutely stunning. We’re very pleased to be working with EA on that particular title. Obviously, now having partnered with Activision on Call of Duty it’s of huge significance for us. Destiny will continue, and in the nearer term Batman will launch next week. Our belief is that that game will go on to huge critical acclaim and will sell in huge quantities.

This is on the back of The Witcher 3, which is a great game. I’ll share this anecdote with you. I took a bunch of people to the Champions League final, a bunch of retailers, but also a few developers, including Michal Nowakowski from CDProjekt Red. We were having a cocktail beforehand and introducing everybody, and Michal got a round of applause from all the retailers in the room [laughs]. These are not people given to spontaneous outpourings of emotion. It was nice.

“We have market leadership in every country in Europe, and have very significant market leadership in continental Europe. Extremely significant. I don’t think market share’s any less than 70%, and frequently greater than 90% in continental Europe.”

Let’s talk about Call of Duty for a second, then. That’s a real coup. Microsoft has held that partnership for a long time, I think from 2007 or 2008. When you say it’s of huge significance for you, do you mean in terms of hearts and minds, or of revenue?

I think probably both. You can’t have the latter without the former in the long run. We’re working really well with Activision. We have a great partnership on Destiny, and that continues. We’re not stopping with that. Call of Duty will obviously be available on a number of platforms, but having the partnership and the benefits that it offers to PlayStation gamers is something we’re very happy to be able to offer, particularly in the UK, where last time round we struggled. We’re doing massively better now, but this will help us build on that.

How does the success you’re seeing in the UK translate to the rest of Europe? Do you see similar successes across the region?

We have a very significant market leadership. Well, we have market leadership in every country in Europe, and have very significant market leadership in continental Europe. Extremely significant. I don’t think market share’s any less than 70%, and frequently greater than 90% in continental Europe.

OK.

It’s quite different in the UK and the US.

Wow. That’s quite a good place for you to be. Are you feeling very comfortable with PS4 at the moment?

Yeah. I mean, days like yesterday make you realise you can’t sit on your laurels and you can never relax. I thought Microsoft put on a very, very decent show. I thought there was a lot to commend in that. But we’ve worked hard in Europe since the PS1 days. It’s difficult. Back in the day there were different currencies, different languages, different sales taxes, all of those things that non-Europeans find harder than we often realise, and we took the plunge and invested in infrastructure and distribution and partnerships, and those things take time. Now a lot of the emphasis is about building out into places like the Middle East, starting to build very significant businesses in places like Saudi Arabia, localising our system software and Store into Arabic, and building big, big businesses in these places.

Let’s talk about Morpheus for a second.

Sure.

I thought Andrew’s presentation of it was measured. He said that Sony understands it’s a choice. Is it an adjunct to PS4 or an integral part of it?

Initially, at least, we see it as something that’ll enhance the PlayStation 4 experience. By its nature, it’s a very difficult thing to articulate on the stage. It just doesn’t lend itself to that, and there are always way more things to show on the stage than there is time available, so if something was going to get a little bit squeezed it’d be that. We have, I think, 20 interactive Morpheus experiences dotted around various places [at E3]: let’s just let those speak for themselves, rather than trying to convey it on the stage where it simply isn’t possible.

The atmosphere in the room last night was pretty amazing. How important is it for you to get the crowd into that state of excitement? How are you going to do it next time?

[Laughs] Yesterday, in some ways, was pretty comparable to two years ago. I don’t think that we ever set out with the statement of intent of whipping people into a state of frenzy. You just show good stuff, stuff people want to see and hear, and the reaction will come.

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