Interview: Ray Maguire

Interview: Ray Maguire

At a press briefing held today to mark the rollout of PS3′s first stereoscopic 3D games, we had the opportunity to talk to Sony Computer Entertainment UK boss Ray Maguire about a number of pressing PlayStation issues, including the potential of 3D gaming, the company’s plans for E3, its ongoing PSPgo experiment and corporate smack talk between rivals.

With each of the platform holders set to have their own motion controllers on the market soon, do you view 3D on PS3 as the biggest differentiator between the console and its rivals?
It’s part of it. We’ve got two pushes this year. One of them is Move, which is obviously very important to us because it gives the gamer a completely different way of using PS3’s technology. And the strength of Move is that, not only can it do the stuff that the SixAxis and other type motion controllers can do, but because it’s got the light source which can accurately detect where you are, we haven’t really seen yet some of the new things that we’ll be able to do with motion control, and I think you’ll see and experience some of this stuff at E3. We’re right at the beginning of a journey with this and when the development community, especially our first party developers, who have a mantra to really innovate with this stuff, start to get to grips with how this actually enhances your gameplay and how it allows you to do things that you couldn’t do before, then we start to see that we’re on another journey.

Then you overlay that with 3D, and my perception of 3D is that we see in 3D. When we watch a [2D] TV screen that’s not how we see the world. You change that, and put it in a situation where what you see is what you get, it brings everything into a new real environment. And I think there’s a massive job to be done in development because, what development have to do is to create a 2D image to trick you into thinking that you’re seeing it in 3D. That starts to go out of the window, so it allows them to do other things. When you think about a 3D environment that you can walk around and creep round people it’s just amazing what we’ve been able to do.

Really we’re at the early stages. When you think about what we created three years ago with the PS3, all that technology, people said, ‘We don’t need that technology, what you need is a cheaper device.’ How wrong was that? Now, people understand where that technology was and where it was hidden. Ken Kutaragi was a genius, it’s as simple as that. And what we’re seeing now is people starting to integrate the latent power of PS3 into a way where the processor is big enough to develop and actually to put that kind of stuff on screen in a way which is easy to view.

How are PS3 sales tracking this year and do you expect 3D to be a big driver of console sales?
If you have a look at Chart-Track we’re the only console that’s up year-on-year. Everybody else is down, so we’re having a good year because what we’ve done is we’ve added functionality to the PS3 all the way along. If you have a look at you XrossMediaBar now compared to when you first switched on your PS3 you’ve got PlayTV, iPlayer, VidZone and more one after the other, so we’re expanding the experiences consumers can get on their PS3. And we’re still building on those, there’s plenty more of those coming, so we’re maybe one third of the way through the journey of where we’ll get to with PS3.

With regard to content or lifecycle?
Both. This will be nudging on a ten year lifecycle as we had with PS2.

PS3 hardware’s performing strongly then, but how do you feel first party PS3 software’s doing? Microsoft’s Aaron Greenberg suggested yesterday that Halo 3 has outsold a large number of PS3 games – including the Uncharted and Resistance franchises – combined, based on NPD figures.
Well I’m really happy with them because as I said, we’re selling more than we ever have done before. Secondly, I’m not too fussed about the competitive bits or people’s comments because at the end of the day, I’ve only got my focus, and that is giving consumers a great experience and great content and I don’t care what anybody else does. If we are doing that and if we are measured by the enjoyment and the engagement that we have with our consumers and we can have a successful business then that’s what it will be. Our DNA is about innovation and giving people technology that they didn’t even realise they needed at the time and about pushing the envelope.

Do you expect your competitors, and specifically Microsoft, to follow your example and get into the 3D space?
I would say that they have to. Whether they can is a different matter, but of course everyone will have to get into 3D because it’s the natural way of viewing the world. So why would you stay in a 2D world if you have the ability to do 3D? We have the ability to do 3D right now with the devices consumers already have in their living rooms. So what I need now is lots of people to go out and buy 3D TVs.

What are your expectations for E3? Are you expecting 3D to steal the show, as opposed to motion controls?
I think it’s a combination of things. We’re going to see the potential of the next few years because what we’ll probably see with 3D is us retrofitting 2D games to 3D, there’ll be some pure 3D development which you’ll see in some of the games that we’ll show, but I think the real creative juices are starting to flow now, and that will be apparent maybe next year and the year after and it will just grow. I don’t think any one element is a show stopper. I think what we’ll show is that we have confidence and the ability to move forward and grow the experience for the consumer.

You’ve announced a number of major PS3 titles in the last couple of months, including LittleBigPlanet 2 and Killzone 3, but I imagine you have some major PS3 software reveals left for E3. Are those likely to be 3D related?
You’ll have to wait and see at E3.

Will there be major PSP announcements at E3?
Again, you’ll have to come along to E3.

How do feel PSPgo’s faring? The sales aren’t publicly released apart from in Japan, where the device is selling about 1,000 units a week, in contrast to PSP-3000 which regularly tops the weekly hardware chart.
The PSPgo is quite an interesting one because we were first – again – out there with an online machine only. I think what it’s shown us is that the iPhone and apps-type marketplace has changed people’s perception of how they see downloadable content.

We’re just making a change to the way we look at PSPgo because we’ve learnt from that experience. We’re just about to launch a promotion offering £200 worth of content free when you by a PSPgo. What we’re really saying underneath this is that we’re changing the way that we perceive the value between hardware and software on portable devices. The handheld market across the board is down year-on-year, and I think it’s because consumers now think of low price, app-type prices, even though they want a device like a DS or PSP that has greater crunching power to create better images. So what we’re not quite sure about – and I think the consumers will tell us – is what is the right price for software, and can we create that kind of content that they want to meet that kind of price.

I think this promotion is an interesting experiment and that it’s great value for consumers because they’re getting £200 worth of content for free, and if you have a look at the attach rate that’s probably enough content to keep them going for maybe a year or two because they’re all great games. But then we’ve got the PSP Essentials sitting underneath it and we’ve also got the products that people probably don’t know too much about like Minis and comics. All of this stuff is snacking type price content, so I’m going to have a look and see what happens to the uptake of these, and also how consumption changes because we’re giving them a better kind of quality at the prices that they’d expect a reasonably low-grade app at.

So this promotion has been designed to help you decide whether to continue to pursue your current path of supporting a shared strategy between boxed and digital content for PSP?
I think that’s what we need to learn. We’ll put the product out there, see what happens, listen to our customers and act accordingly. I think we’re in a transition in terms of the handheld market with regard to what people want and what they demand from us. It’s a two-edged sword because they always want better content but they don’t accept that that costs. So it’s something that everyone has had to deal with in terms of price erosion and the cost of manufacturing going up. We’ll play with different variations and see what works for us.