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Catching Up With PlayStation: Peter Dille On Sony In 2009

April 21, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 6 Next

Sony is the company that perhaps popularized the post-cartridge console generation with the PlayStation and PlayStation 2, both astoundingly successful. And yet it's had somewhat of a hard time of it in this console cycle, trailing the runaway hit of the Wii and -- at least in the West -- running into competitive issues from the PlayStation 3's pricing versus the Xbox 360.

Yet the company is hardly down and out, with the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, and PSP -- which even Sony admits was teetering on the edge with regard to Western software support before a renewed push -- all on the market and selling hundreds of thousands of units monthly.

But how does the company itself view its progress? How does it see its business? To get those answers. Gamasutra spoke to Peter Dille, senior vice president of marketing at Sony Computer Entertainment America, with additional commentary from SCEA corporate communications manager Julie Han.

To start, I want to get sort of your perspective on how things are going right now with all the platforms, not just the PlayStation 3. You just had your price drop with the PS2 as well.

Peter Dille: This is our new fiscal year; we just finished our last one. We had record revenues last year. PS3 had a healthy increase in business. PS2 is chugging along obviously into its latter stages towards that 10-year lifecycle, and the PSP hardware platform continued to go to close to 50 million.

Yet despite all those good things going on, some of our competition had even better years, particularly Nintendo, and that tends to overshadow some of our success. The other thing that sort of colors our performance is, from a corporate perspective, we were marching to a different drum than it appears Microsoft at least -- Nintendo maybe didn't have to worry about it as much.

But at Sony Corp the message was "Let's try to eke out a profit," which took certain cards out of our deck. We're not going to make a price move for PS3; we're not going to be packing five free games into a promotional strategy.

Again, we grew the PS3 base 40 percent, in selling a premium-priced game console in a tough economic environment, all things that we're very proud of, and yet I think we've got better things in store for the next fiscal year.

We've got just a fantastic line-up on PS3; PlayStation Network is really coming into its own and is going to enter a new phase in its life and help us sell hardware in its own right. So we've got big things planned, and we've got a lot planned to make clear at E3.

One thing that I've been curious about in terms of the PlayStation Network: Sony has a fairly high emphasis on getting original games and fostering interesting game development with thatgamecompany and stuff. At present, I'm not sure those games drive a lot of revenue. But is it a halo effect in the sense that having those interesting games draws people into the platform, or is it a pure revenue driver?

PD: I think it's more the former. From a revenue perspective, maybe an important point to make is that a lot of those games are profitable for us and for the developers that are making them right out of the gate.

As people talk about the games business maturing and how tough it is to make money, I think they're talking about how do you recoup investments in games like Metal Gear Solid, and obviously that's well-documented.

People can talk about how they can crack that nut and the importance of game quality and just massive releases on the scale of Hollywood. But a game like Flower or PixelJunk [Eden] --- these games are profitable the day after we release them.

They're made by small, boutique teams that are very creative, which breathes new life into the development community and gives us a chance to get closer to those folks.

But to your question, we see it as an extension of the core strategy of this business, which is exclusive content is what helps make people's minds up to buy a platform. That's the Uncharteds or the [Gran Turismo]s; it's the God of Wars. But everything can contribute to that, so it's also the platform where you can get Flower and Pain and all sorts of wonderful titles on the PlayStation Network.

I think it's kind of an interesting point. Because of the scale of the business with hardware manufacturing and stuff, those costs are not going to be offset by selling a couple PSN games per hardware unit or something. But at the same time Flower created a great deal of buzz; that's kind of where I saw the strategy.

PD: Absolutely. And again, there's a lot of downloadable content on Live Arcade. A lot of it is older, kind of rehashed games that have been around on other platforms, and there's a role for those types of games.

But what our studio organization and what we're doing as a company -- back to Flower or flOw before that -- these were games that were made specifically for the PS3, so they're made to show off a high-definition gaming experience that only the PS3 can offer.

They're not retreads; they're not experiences I've had before that are nostalgic -- and again, there's a role for nostalgia in this category -- but they're things that are new and imaginative and show off the technology under the hood in the PS3 in ways that other games just can't.

And when it comes to the PlayStation 3, you are selling units, but how do you see the battle to sell units of hardware? How do you see your performance relative to where you want to be, or do you look at it relative to your competitors? How do you balance that?

PD: Well, let's go back to something we talk a lot about. I hope that people know by now that we are serious when we talk about 10-year product lifecycles. I don't know; maybe sometimes guys in your business think that it's spin. If it were spin, you wouldn't have PS1 and PS2 doing it; we're the only company that's ever done it.

So when we say we take a long-term view, we firmly believe that the PS3 will not only be around in 10 years but it'll be driving the business -- driving this industry. I don't know if our competitors' platforms will still be viable in 10 years; I do know that the PlayStation 3 will be. So we're off to a strong start, I think; you can look at our PS3 sales versus the 360 after two years, and I think in that measure we're ahead of them.

Again, we look at our performance last year with PS3 sales up 40 percent, and we're happy with that -- and yet we're accustomed to being the leader in the business, so we're not happy enough. We have our sights set on bigger victories ahead and believe that we've got the plan to make that happen.

Relative to where the PlayStation 2 was at the same point in its lifecycle, do you make those comparisons, and have you made those comparisons?

PD: Well, sure. It's our data; it's our platform, and we're always mindful of what the PS2 accomplished and what the PS3 is doing to date. That's the bar that we've set very, very high. So again we're two years into this; a lot of folks want to write the last chapter. There's at least eight good years left ahead, so.

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steve roger
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"The fact that every PlayStation 3 has a hard drive, and the DLC -- our competition doesn't have that type of environment where every unit has a hard drive. Those types of differentiating factors are a big deal when we're talking about some of the co-marketing."

Does he think that everyone is so stupid that we would find such an argument persuasive? Let's see, a lot more 360s have been sold with hardrives than PS3s. There are many more users of Xbox Live than PSN. So how is the fact that EVERY PS3 has a hard drive and the DLC a big differentiating factor? What an a**hole.

Christian Nutt
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@Edgar -- Maybe you shouldn't take it so personally.

Rob Bergstrom
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Completely unreasonable flame comment, Edgar. What's the big deal? We're talking about videogame systems, my friend, intelligently, if at all possible.

Roberto Alfonso
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It is just marketing speech. Company representatives speak the truth only during earnings release. Also, the PSP is a great platform, but Sony never cared too much about it, and third parties left the boat once it was clear the NDS was getting the software and hardware sales. Right now it is in a N64 state, poor hardware sales and poor software sales, although of high quality.

Curious about how Rock Band for PSP would play. Music games are fading away. Also, the fun of those games is sharing it with others... having to bring four PSP together when playing... I am skeptical.

Doug Poston
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@Alfonso: You don't need four PSP to play Rock Band Unplugged, it is a single player game, like Frequency. See for details.

Roberto Alfonso
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Interesting. So they basically took away what makes the Rock Band experience unique (bring four friends together to play) and printed the game. Why I feel there is something wrong there...

gren ideer
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"So how is the fact that EVERY PS3 has a hard drive and the DLC a big differentiating factor?"

Games created for systems usually must adhere to the lowest common denominator. So a 360 game engine cannot assume there is a hard drive to help optimize performance, while a PS3 game can. That's not to say a 360 game can't make use of performance if a hard drive is available, but it is more difficult.

The point that is trying to be made is that there is a lot of value to a PS3 console, whether that comes from a built in hard drive, internal wifi, free live play, etc., and he wants to educate consumers on that fact.

If you are personally a 360 fan and don't like the PS3 then there is nothing wrong with that.

Yannick Boucher
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thanks gren ideer, that,s more constructive. Devs have to factor that even if ONE SKU unit of 360 doesn't have a harddrive, they can't count on their game using the harddrive, that's how it works.

Tom Newman
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I am hopeful that Sony will make a comeback. Personally, I feel that the PS3 exclusives are high in quality, but few in quantity, and both are important. Cross platform releases always look better on the 360 on my tv (56" 1080p Samsung DLP projection set). This can be argued (especially the 360's 1080p sometimes being not "true" 1080p), but with my personal setup, I've yet to see a PS3 title that looks better, so with all cross platform titles, I go for the 360 version.

I still play a lot of PS2 games (which look great upscaled on the system - THANK YOU Sony for that!), and what I am hoping to see are more 3rd party exclusives, especially the niche titles like all the JRPGs and SRPGs that make the PS2 library so unique.

...also I feel Sony needs to bring back backwards compatability. They did a great job with the first-gen PS3s, and one close friend of mine is holding off on buying a PS3 until this feature returns.

steve roger
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Sorry about popping off. I will check myself, as they say.

I do understand the single SKU consideration for developers, but while they can't count on every single solitary 360 having a hard drive, they can count on the lions share of them having one. And they can count on having more 360s with hard drives than the raw number PS3s. This makes his claim that "Those types of differentiating factors are a big deal when we're talking about some of the co-marketing." seem spirious and disengenious. (By the way I actually favor the PS3 as a better value than the 360, if I could only have one, I would have the PS3).

However, he uses a qualifier with his differentiating claim of being significant in terms of "co-marketing." However, what does he mean by co-marketing here? Why is this important when the numbers themselves don't support his premise? I am baffled by the use of co-marketing here.

Bob McIntyre
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Tom, I agree. They definitely need the BC, and their console is actually really good, despite their best efforts to make everyone hate them and avoid buying it. I'd love to see such a good piece of hardware enjoy the same success as the previous two consoles from them.

Harold McNew
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I cannot comment about the PS3, as I don't own one, but Sony has disappointed me with the PSP. I love my PSP but at times I almost regret buying it. It seems like Sony has been more interested in touting how great the hardware is than making sure that there are games that people want to play. Microsoft has succeeded, when few thought they would, by concentrating on content. I know that Sony is trying to turn this around but that does little to make up for years of rarely seeing any PSP games that I was interested in buying. Sony's promises of great games in 2009 does not garner much enthusiasm from me; I'd like to see them do something that makes me feel like they really appreciate their customers. The current strategy doesn't accomplish that, all they are really doing is what should have been done three years ago. It feels like someone expecting you to be excited about getting a birthday gift that is 6 months late.