Family business: Sony’s Gara on PS3, Move and Vita

By Stace Harman
2 October 2012 09:29 GMT

As Sony introduces its new slimmed-down console to the European market, VG247 catches-up with the managing director of PlayStation UK to discuss the offerings of the many members of its extended family.

“The 12Gb [Super Slim PS3] is targeted at who I best describe as the Book of Spells player, who will never need a big drive. The just need some space for some game saves and the occasional bit of install. It’s for those people that will never miss a higher capacity disk drive but who really appreciate the lower-entry price point.”

At the end of last week, Sony launched its new, 500GB super-slim PlayStation 3. From an aesthetic perspective, the new-look chassis represents a significant hardware revision, while the 500GB hard drive offers 56 percent more digital storage space that the previous 320GB premium model.

Despite its headline features, neither Sony nor its retail partners have yet begun to market the new model in earnest. Sitting down with Fergal Gara at this year’s Eurogamer Expo, I quiz him on the thinking behind launching with relatively little fanfare ahead of the industry’s key end-of-year quarter.

“We will make a bigger push at a slightly later stage,” assures Sony’s MD of PlayStation UK. “There are two models coming: the 500GB launched [Friday, September 28] and there’s the 12GB coming in a couple of weeks time. So, we’ll be making a bigger push in the UK once the two models are on the market.”

As should be apparent from the hard drive specs, these two SKUs are aimed at two very different consumers, as Gara explains.

“What you’re chiefly seeing with the new models is greater clarity in which model is for who. Previously, you had a medium and a high-spec offering, whereas now you have a specific model that’s better equipped for medium to high users. That doesn’t necessarily mean only high-gaming users but we do see download games as one of the biggest growth areas and so we’re giving them very big capacity for download games. So, it’s bigger capacity as well as being lower power consumption and a sleeker profile.

“The 12Gb model is almost the opposite and is targeted at who I best describe as the Book of Spells player, who will never need a big drive. They just need some space for some game saves and the occasional bit of install. It’s for those people that will never miss a higher capacity disk drive but who really appreciate the lower-entry price point.”

There’s also the potential for existing PS3 owners who find themselves seduced by the latest hardware revision to buy the 12GB model and swap out their existing PS3 hard drive. However, the 12GB model with its lower price point does raise a potential issue for those buying a PS3 for the first time.

The PS Plus quandary

PlayStation Plus has received a major push in the last few months, with the introduction of its Instant Game Collection initiative. Through this value-for-money proposition, high-profile titles such as Borderlands, Dead Space 2 and Red Dead Redemption have been made available for free to PS Plus subscribers. What this means is that, now more than ever, a PS Plus subscription requires a substantial hard-drive.

This translates to the potential for confusion amongst those new to PlayStation. In particular, the large number of parent-shoppers who are set to descend on retailers in the coming weeks. These are consumers who might be attracted by the allure of the excellent value for money that PS Plus represents, without fully understanding that in conjunction with the “attractively priced” 12GB PlayStation 3, PS Plus is effectively of no value whatsoever.

“I think that’s a fair challenge that we have to get across in marketing and in the training of store personnel that they know that a PS Plus consumer needs to have a hard drive, whether that’s an older model or a new model. But that’s a very fair point and absolutely right,” acknowledges Gara.

“We’re actively driving [digital development] on fronts like PS Plus and working with partners to bring the digital business into retail. So, we’re increasingly aiming at not having two silos; the two worlds are no longer separate.

“The presence of the digital proposition is a big reason to want to buy the console in the first place and the digital sales will be better if they have higher visibility with a presence at physical retail. Plus, we can support physical retail by giving them a slice of the digital action, so it’s no longer two separate worlds and we’re bringing them together.

“However, there are distinct segments of the market representing a lot of consumers – and we can see this from usage data – who do not need a drive. So, we’re giving them an easier access point and ensuring that our retail partners are well-informed of our products and services.”

Something that Gara is not able to shed light on in relation to PS Plus is the frustrating delays experienced by European subscribers who have long had to endure a discrepancy between the service’s EU and US offerings. This was highlighted most notably in recent months by TellTale’s The Walking Dead episodes. Gara acknowledges that it’s “an interesting conversation to have,” but that it falls outside of his remit as UK MD.

Could it be magic?

Gara’s earlier dubbing of the segment of the market at whom the 12GB model is aimed as “the Book of Spells player” is, of course, no coincidence. Book of Spells is Sony’s first title for its Wonderbook franchise and features original writing from high profile children’s author JK Rowling. Set to launch in November, this PS Move-centric peripheral is expected to generate significant interest among younger gamers.

Unlike its motion sensing Microsoft counterpart, Kinect, Move has not drawn the ire of gamers irritated with attempts to shoe-horn it into core titles, but neither has it been able bask in the light of any high-profile titles of its own. This is something that Gara believes is about to change, for the right crowd.

“I think that Move has found its killer piece of software a fair way down the line,” he offers. “Book of Spells is definitely the best piece of software that I’ve seen for Move; the technology is very robust. It isn’t the sole focus of our software development, but I definitely feel that as we go into Christmas that we’ve got the best piece of software and the sequel to the best piece of software before that.

“Sports Champions has been our best seller to date, so Sports Champion 2 comes this Christmas and we see an opportunity to give [Move] another lease of life. It does work very well, it’s just a question of whether we have the great experiences to put around it, and I think that now we do.”

Vita victorious

Sony’s handheld console got off to a slow start at retail and lacked a strong presence at this year’s E3. While Gara acknowledges that the handheld has had a quiet few months, he believes Vita to be well-placed in the run in towards Christmas.

“We’re generally happy with how it’s been received by consumers, we’re want to get more sales, we’re very happy with the line-up going into Christmas, we’re certainly very committed to it and will be spending very heavily to get push into Christmas,” Gara says, as he counts the points off on his fingers.

“We have been pretty quiet over the summer as there was very little software coming out on, well, frankly on any format, so in terms of a big marketing push at that time we thought it better to wait. But we have now been back on TV for the last couple of weeks with Little Big Planet, which has sold pretty well and that we think we sell much better as the installed base grows. Plus, we’ve had FIFA 13 come out today [Friday, September 28], so there’s two landmark products and as we go into the key season there’ll be plenty of others to come. We’ll see tastier bundles, tastier pricing, tastier software and our commitment to marketing.”

One of Vita’s key strengths has often been highlighted as its power to interface with its bigger, home-console sibling. However, Gara won’t be drawn on how that relationship might be developed as the inevitable transition to PlayStation 4 takes place over the next 12 to 18 months, saying only that, “I think that what we have made sure if is that they do a great job together but that they are independently powerful.”

Whether or not this will be PlayStation 3’s last big Christmas hurrah remains to be seen but as we move into the all-important northern-winter period, Sony looks to be in a celebratory mood with a number of new propositions across its extended product family. It can only hope that they find their way on to Christmas lists across the breadth of Europe and beyond.

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