What’s in a system update? Generally a few security tweaks, the odd bug fix, and a jaunty sprinkling of DRM. With software version 6.20, however, the PSP received an invite to Mega-City One and Spider-Man’s Manhattan, as Sony launched its new Digital Comics service.
With its elegant ‘AutoFlow’ system, which imitates the way that a reader’s eye moves through layouts of the original books, Sony’s designers have built a viewing application that strikes a careful balance, preserving the sense of a comic as a physical object while squeezing its images and text on the confines of its screen. Meanwhile, the PlayStation Store already has a decent range of both classic series and more obscure offerings available, with more coming in every week. Take a browse at playstationcomics.com.
There are still a few gaps in the service, of course. Ironically, for the platform-holder currently transforming the DC Universe into an MMO, Batman, Superman and friends are notable by their absence, allowing Marvel to occupy the role of tent-pole publisher while the likes of IDW and 2000AD make the most of their moment in the limelight.
We sat down with Sony product planning manager Mayumi Donovan and producer Adriana Eyzaguirre to discuss the origins of the service, the company’s plans for its future – from DC to subscriptions – and how the spaces between panels inspired PSP’s distinctive take on e-Reading.
Where did the idea of putting comic books on the PSP come from?
Adriana Eyzaguirre I work for Sony’s London Studio and we were going through a stage of concept development, coming up with new ideas and new things to do on the PlayStation Network. We started looking at comics, and it sort of struck a chord: as well as a lot of our people just being fans of comics, it also seemed an interesting challenge from a storytelling perspective and from a digital art perspective.
Digital Comics producer Adriana Eyzaguirre
From a business perspective does Digital Comics have much potential to bring a new audience to the PSP? This is something of a generalisation, but the market for videogames and comic books seem to overlap fairly closely already.
Mayumi Donovan That’s right: the profile for PSP owners and comic book fans are actually pretty close. But if you want to get across that the PSP is not just a gaming device but an entertainment device, comics are quite a good source of additional content to do that. Our business objective was both to broaden the range of things we offered PSP owners as well as to take the world of the PSP to comic book fans. I think it’s also true that comic book characters becoming increasingly important thanks to blockbuster films, and comic books themselves are becoming more mainstream. It’s not niche anymore.
At what point did you start talking to comic book publishers?
AE We started very early. If they didn’t see the potential, it didn’t matter how much of the concept we had developed and how promising the idea seemed to us. We wanted to talk to them about a number of things, really: we wanted to know what they thought of it, we wanted to understand their industry better, and we wanted to know what they wanted. We needed them to help us make something that would be in tune with comic book readers.
Marvel has its own digital service, Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. Was it hard to convince the publisher to sign up to another distribution channel as well?
AE I don’t want to speak for Marvel, obviously, but I think something that was positive for all the publishers was that we have a very specific audience on the PSP. That and the fact that you can make your comics really portable makes it a very different experience. It’s about giving the audience choice rather than creating competing services. I personally don’t view it like a competition, and I don’t think Marvel does either.
Unlimited – at least in its early days – was criticised for leaving annoying gaps in series as it brought books across. The publisher also had to make deals with comic book distributors and retail to leave a certain amount of time between the release of the physical comic and the digital version. How are you managing the release of content?
AE This applies to all our publishers, not just Marvel: we’re building the service up as we go, updating on a weekly basis, and so we’re bringing things to people over a period of time rather than on day one. We have a roster of publishers, and different publishers have different objectives from their catalogues. Some publishers definitely don’t want a day-and-date publishing system when it comes to digital, but other publishers do. From our perspective, bringing publishers online, even if it’s not on release date, is still useful. There are many consumers who will have their first experience of comics through digital means: we can compliment the physical media. Digital comics are pretty new anyway. Maybe, going forwards, publishers will change the way they think about release dates.