Sony Computer Entertainment UK managing director Ray Maguire is in charge of everything PlayStation in good old Blighty. He’s the man responsible for the PS3, the PSP and all the gaming goodness Sony has to offer on these shores. So, with the crucial Christmas period coming up, and with Sony under pressure to cut the price of the PS3 to combat recent price drops from Microsoft, we thought it would be a good time to sit down with the big cheese himself at the recent Games 3.0 conference in London to get the low-down on how the PS3 is doing in the UK and what fans can expect in the future.
VideoGamer.com: How is the PS3 doing in the UK in terms of sales?
Ray Maguire: It’s obviously selling extremely well in the UK and it’s the third largest single territory in the world. In the UK it’s absolutely on line. Obviously actual sell through is always relevant to price point. Now the price point we’re at, with the features we’ve got that we obviously have to charge for, it’s absolutely on target.
VideoGamer.com: With the recent Xbox 360 price cut and the current price of the Nintendo Wii, is there any pressure to cut the price of the PS3 this Christmas?
RM: Well the pressure comes from the consumers obviously and so therefore there’s always pressure on price, but you know we have a business to run, and we have to make sure we’re doing the right thing for the shareholders as well. At the moment there’s a marketplace for PS3 and I think for this particular Christmas, with the kind of quality of games we’re seeing coming out, I don’t think the price of the console is going to be an issue at all. I think that the fact that we’re seeing games like LittleBigPlanet, which starts to use some of the power of the processor and starts to give the consumer a completely new experience in terms of being able to be totally creative and upload and share their creativity, it’s going to be just the sort of product that PlayStation has been waiting for.
VideoGamer.com: I wanted to talk to you about downloadable content. Some of our PS3-owning readers have expressed frustration regarding the fact that they won’t be able to get downloadable content for games like GTA 4, Fallout 3 and Tomb Raider: Underworld. Is there anything you can say to your fans who are looking at Microsoft tying up these exclusive DLC deals and feel left out in the cold?
RM: One thing to remember, nothing is ever exclusive. Things get wrapped up for a period of time for a large amount of money and if it’s a strategic decision by competition to do that then we have to live with that. Obviously, what we have to do is make sure that our business plan is adhered to and we have the amount of money to invest in games rather than investing in stopping other people making games and progressing. So I would much rather that we were investing money into making sure that we’ve got great R&D and we start producing games like LittleBigPlanet rather than paying other people a huge amount of money to stop people playing their product.
VideoGamer.com: You say nothing is ever exclusive. Might the DLC that’s exclusive to Xbox 360 owners eventually come to PS3 owners?
RM: You have to remember that most third-party publishers of course have a business proposition that covers all platforms. With our own of course it’s different because our investment would purely be on our own platforms, and that’s the same as any first party. That’s a small part of the overall offering nowadays, and the days of big exclusives, I think they were over a couple of years ago but they’re certainly over now.
VideoGamer.com: Regarding PlayStation Home, the open beta is planned for the end of this year. Do you have any idea at this point how long that might last?
RM: Well basically open beta is basically it, that’s the launch. The whole premise of Home is that it’s something which evolves. And we’ve taken step by step, we’ve added more people in to test the infrastructure, now we start bringing it open to consumers. They come in, they start building the actual spirit of Home if you like and they start using the spaces and they start using the game launches and the trophy rooms. It’s now, in the same way as they started to experiment and be creative with LittleBigPlanet, we have the same issue, or the same opportunity with Home.
VideoGamer.com: So you would consider when the open beta launches that that can be considered Home actually launching properly?
VideoGamer.com: But that won’t be available to everyone…
RM: We’ll just bring them on bit by bit by bit by bit, making sure that the servers all stand up, making sure the service we’re offering is consistent all the way through, so it’s a constant roll on now and it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger.
VideoGamer.com: Home is a massive free update for PS3. Are you planning anything as wide ranging in terms of changing how people use their PS3 following the release of Home?
RM: I guess it’s up to consumers really. We will listen to them and see what they want. It starts very much as a game space, but there’s nothing to stop it becoming much more than that, and much more becoming a social network in itself, with game and also non-game activities, whether it be movies, music, shopping, there’s no reason why it can’t expand into anything that consumers want. But again we have to focus on what we need to deliver first which is a great game launching experience, a great communication experience, a great networking experience and a great trophy room experience as well.
VideoGamer.com: How are trophies going in terms of the vision you had for them for this point compared with the reality?
RM: What do you expect when you get points, when you get power ups, when you get trophies? You actually think of a visual representation of that. The feeling of pride, if you go to a sports day and you win best of something and you hold up that trophy, it’s actually holding up a trophy and getting the recognition from everyone else, that you’ve got something that’s personal. Being able to put that into a personal space which you can invite people into just delivers that same experience. Now we need third parties as well to make sure the trophy systems that they’re putting together are able to live up to that dream.
VideoGamer.com: Would you like to see more support for trophies from third parties?
RM: Yeah. We’ve built the space, now we need people to fill the space.
VideoGamer.com: How do you think the PS3’s Christmas software line-up compares to the Xbox 360’s?
RM: I think we’ve never been in a stronger situation. This is the first year for me that I can sit back and think, ‘yeah we’ve got five super strong titles’. Some of them ground breaking by creating almost a new genre and the others starting to really use the strength of the Cell chip and the graphics. When I look at LittleBigPlanet, when I look at Resistance, when I look at MotorStorm, and then I look at things like Abba on SingStar, before we even get into Killzone next year, I think we’ve got a line-up really to be proud of.
VideoGamer.com: What influences a publisher’s decision to release a game exclusively on one ‘next-gen’ console?
RM: It’s a good question actually, because if we just take the last two football games FIFA and PES, although there’s not the same installed base between us and Xbox 360, we were just very very slightly under on FIFA but we were over on PES. I think an install base issue now is not so relevant. I think we now have an install base which is big enough for any third party to want to develop for. Now the decision making part of development is which do you lead your development on? Is it easier to lead with the most powerful, both in terms of AI and graphics, i.e. PS3 and then just remove part of the functionality for the processors that aren’t quite as strong? I would imagine that’s very much part of the thought process now from a studio development point of view.
VideoGamer.com: What about from a gamer point of view? What influences their decision to by a particular version of a multi-platform title?
RM: I think it depends on what they’ve got at home for a start, so that’s one of the elements. And then secondly if there are any social elements that revolve around that game then that’s another element. If you’ve got free communication then that’s fine. If you have to pay for communication or you’re already committed to paying for communication then that’s OK as well. I think it’s very much a personal choice. Our job is to make sure the choice is PS3 and we’re starting to see that choice come towards us and get even more installed base which we will this Christmas, and have compelling games which have very high social aspects to them, like LittleBigPlanet and SingStar Abba, then we should take a bit of market share just for doing that.
VideoGamer.com: I wanted to ask you about the recent LittleBigPlanet delay. How damaging is it in the long run to the potential success of the game?
RM: Clearly it was disruptive in terms of marketing plans and getting things sorted… we had to shift some TV. In the end I think for those people who have been waiting for the product it’s a frustration. It’s only a couple of weeks of a frustration but nevertheless it’s a frustration. You can do nothing other than say, ‘sorry about that’. And I hope the wait is worth it, and I believe it will be.
VideoGamer.com: Did you know immediately that you had to delay the game and alter it, or was there a feeling that you shouldn’t have to delay the game but did anyway because of sensitivities?
RM: I just think it’s about respect. We weren’t to know that a product (the track removed from the soundtrack) that’s been in the marketplace since 2006 by a Grammy award-winning artist would have this kind of effect. But I don’t want to see anyone upset by something that we’ve done and we have to put it right so we did put it right. I think it was the right move.
VideoGamer.com: I know it’s not your territory but I wanted to ask you about the PS3 in Japan. For some weeks it’s been selling less than the Xbox 360 there and indeed the PS2. Are the Japan sales a concern or is it something you were expecting?
RM: I think actually what it shows is that from a development point of view, the rest of the world, i.e. US and European development, has started to show its head and whereas traditionally in the Japanese market there were a whole raft of products which consistently used to do big numbers, I think the Japanese market has suffered by not having that depth of development because we’ve been developing on a worldwide basis. So I don’t think some of the particular tastes of Japan have been catered for as strong as they have been in previous iterations, and that’s across all games in that marketplace, all of the numbers are down. So I think it’s actually because relatively we’re up. If you have a look at the RRPs, if you have a look at the amount of units that are going into the marketplace, if you have a look at the value that’s going into the UK market, you’ll see it’s bigger than ever.
VideoGamer.com So the Japan PS3 sales aren’t of great concern?
RM: Well clearly we’d like to see it better but as I said I think on a global basis, where we are right now is where we predicted we’ll be.
VideoGamer.com: A lot of our readers want to know when God of War 3 will be out. Can you give us any indication how long they are going to have to wait?
RM: I don’t know.
VideoGamer.com: Will it be 2009?
RM: I really don’t know. I get to the products when they’re down to be released. That’s a Worldwide Studios question, if they’ll tell you!
VideoGamer.com: Do you have any message for UK-based PS3 owners who are looking forward to the titles you’ve got out this Christmas and beyond? Are we seeing the potential of the PS3 being realised right now?
RM: No we’ve got miles to go. The power of PlayStation is just awesome and we’re starting to get to grips with it, third parties are starting to get to grips with it and we’re starting to see some of that come to fruition. But when we see the next generation of games coming after these, then I think we’re going to see something even more exciting, we’re going to see even more genres come to the marketplace rather than just sequel after sequel after sequel. I think the online experience is going to change radically over the next few years. The online additions to our games, just the way we consume games is going to change massively. And using the PS3 for non-gaming activities as well, with PlayTV, using the remote play function with your PSP to extend your playing environment, there’s a huge amount more to come from PS3.
We’re not even halfway to where we need to get to. It’s all planned, it’s just a question of having the right amount of development time to make sure that when we bring it out it’s what people expect it to be, rather than rushing stuff into the marketplace. We’ve never rushed with PS3 because we wanted to make sure that we’re as right as we can be. We’re learning all the time, we make mistakes like everybody else, we’re not perfect but the talent is there, the energy is there, the commitment is there and the passion is there. And all I can say to the customers is thanks so much for the support because without them there would be no PS3 and there would be no business.
VideoGamer.com: You say you’re not even 50 per cent to where you want to be with PS3. What about in terms of graphics capabilities? Will the graphics get better?
RM: They will get better but I don’t think that will be measurable. It’ll be about the game experience that will change and it’s all about the experience. And I think that’s an area which, without saying what we will do, that’s the area to bear in mind that that’s where we’ll put our energy.
VideoGamer.com: That’s great Ray, thank you for your time.
What do you think of what Ray Maguire’s got to say about the PS3? Let us know in the comments section below.