SCE’s VP and managing director for the UK and Ireland Fergal Gara exudes an easy kind of confidence as we sit down to discuss PS4’s launchplan. UK preorders are strong, stock will be tight but shouldn’t be too scarce and Sony continues to present itself as the people’s platform holder. Here, we quiz UK boss Gara on the PS4 and Xbox One’s launch line-up, discoverability on PS4, stock concerns and how it’ll be positioning PS3 once its successor arrives.
In our latest issue Phil Harrison says Xbox One is winning the games race. How do you feel about your software line-up going into launch?
I feel incredibly strong about our set of games. I’d pick out a few things that are quite significant – first of all we’re bringing to market the only FPS that is developed only for the next generation in Killzone Shadow Fall. We’re bringing out the first demonstration of a truly socially connected game in Drive Club and we’re also launching with 18 digital titles – roughly half of which are independent titles – on day one or certainly in the weeks around launch.
Actually I’d pick out another one which is the most hotly anticipated next gen game at the moment, Watch Dogs, and of course that comes with a significant PlayStation difference both on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. And then if we look down the line I’d pick out Destiny as a title that’s enormously anticipated and again we’ll have exclusive experiences to PlayStation.
So while respecting the view of others we feel very confident in our line-up both at launch and beyond. I think we set our stall out very effectively as a broad church, that is, we’re for big publishers and we’re for tiny publishers and everything in between. I think right from day one we’ll be illustrating that – there are many games and experiences coming out that are PEGI 3 and 7 rated ranging from Knack and FIFA to the Playroom experience, which is a great example of what the PlayStation camera and DualShock 4 controller together can do. So yeah, we’re feeling in pretty good shape.
One of the big concerns indies have is how difficult it is to actually find smaller games on consoles. What are you doing to remedy that?
The route into the PlayStation store on the PlayStation 4 will be much more flexible, and I think it’ll encourage a hell of a lot more impulse buying and impulse exploring of games. So the fact you can see what’s popular, you can see what your friends are playing – that’s one of the ways that people will introduce others to games. Another way to get into digital titles is to pick up a PlayStation Plus subscription because on day one you’ll get not only an instant game collection for PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3, but you’ll get the same for PlayStation 4. What we are providing on day one is Drive Club PlayStation Plus edition and Resogun which is an in-house digital title. So there’s one of the ways we can introduce digital titles and indie gaming and you can expect more indie games to come through PlayStation Plus. I’d also pick out another example of something we’re still learning on and we’d still like to get better on is that we sell digital content in physical retail now – for example, Journey went from being a digital-only title to being at retail as a disc-based product. I’m looking forward to seeing more products like that.
Will the average player be able to stroll in off the street and get a PS4 on day one?
Quite possibly not. We’re right in the fine detail of volume planning right now. What I will say is that over the launch window of the first two to three months there’s going to be ample stock and we’ll catch up. Pre-Christmas is huge and anyone that has preordered a PS4 now is almost certain to get it before Christmas, and there will be more on top of that – barring any problems with ships sinking or whatever else that could go wrong that’s out of our control.
There is a very significant volume in the market on day one, but shipment two is within days of that so what we’re expecting is a big surge and then lots of follow up volume. Our advice to gamers is that if you want one, that’s fantastic, we’re delighted, but get your name on the preorder list of partner retailers because that puts you first in line for any delays and any follow up volume. So it’ll be a bit tight prior to Christmas but there will be ample PS4s in those first few weeks.
Do you have a figure on how many you’re shipping into the UK this Christmas?
I do have figures but they’re subject to change, and hopefully change in a favourable direction rather than in a negative direction. So we’re not quoting those externally because frankly we’re still working on them and we’re still monitoring factory output and exact placement in the market. There’s a plan and it’s being refined and adjusted so it’s not appropriate really for me to quote the numbers just yet.
How does that process work internally? Is it your job to ensure the UK gets priority over other EU territories?
The two focused regions for launch and North America and Europe, and then of course within that the specific SKU that lands in the UK is different to the one that goes into Europe.
So yes, we’re engaged in a bit of prioritisation – a key benchmark that we use to drive that are the pre-order numbers which are incredibly healthy in the UK. UK gamers really want a PS4 and we’re honoured and privileged and flattered by the demand, but we’re now chasing hard to fulfil it.
Can you put a figure on UK preorders?
I have got a number but I’m not giving out the UK number. You heard from Andy House at Gamescom that we had surpassed a million preorders in the world at that stage and the UK is a heavy lifter in that number. It’s a substantial proportion.
It’s a familiar way of ordering product here in the UK. If you look at GTAV for example – the enormous pre-orders numbers have converted into enormous sales. It’s an established habit and a very good indicator of demand.
What about PS3? With such a huge existing install base and so many cross-platform games being released it feels like this transition will be slower. Will you be repositioning that console a little?
Well, we as a first party publisher aren’t bringing out any games for both platforms – all of the games we’re bringing out are either for PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4.
Of course if you’re a third party publisher, a good example being EA, they’re bringing FIFA out on five of the six PlayStation platforms – PSP, PS2, PS3, PS Vita and PS4 – so there’s a brilliant example of a publisher who is exploiting the install base across all of the platforms.
So we want people to buy PS4 and actually demand for PS4 is not really a concern at the moment. It’s managing the continued performance of PS3 and keeping the messages clear and distinct so that there’s no confusion. PS3 has got a much bigger catalogue of games, much more appealingly priced, still fantastically capable, still does Blu-Ray and all of those things. PS4 clearly offers a lot more longevity, brand new experiences that push boundaries – a smaller catalogue of games at first, but it’s more future proof. The ‘which PlayStation is for me’ question is an important one that we need to articulate clearly.
We expect that some markets come in harder and faster [with PS4] and the UK is one of those, so it means we’ll exit a little more quickly, but PS3 is certainly going to be around for several years to come.
What happened last time was that PS2 kind of became the more casual Buzz and SingStar box. Will you be doing the same with PS3?
At the moment we don’t have the kind of experiences that hit that nail on the head to be honest. But we’ve got a broad church of games and thirdparties do too and we don’t see that drying up soon. We’ll see less of the leading edge experiences on PS3 going forward but there’s a huge interest from publishers to keep the games coming because of the install base. So it’ll be less Buzz and SingStar this time around, but it’ll still gravitate toward the younger age groups.