[In this interview with Gamasutra, SCEA CEO Jack Tretton talks candidly about April's PSN security breach and outage, and how low-priced mobile titles aren't necessarily "training people to pay $5 for games."
While Sony would probably argue otherwise, the rest of the world tends to agree that the company's public handling of April's data intrusion was a textbook example of PR fumbling. After waiting what many consider to be too long to address the problem, the company finally apologized, but the sentiment seemed rehearsed -- and less than sincere to many.
But when Jack Tretton stepped on stage at this year's pre-E3 press conference and addressed the issue
for the first time, he did so without a script or teleprompter, choosing instead to speak from the heart.
And by wryly acknowledging the elephant in the room with a dash of humor and what seemed genuine regret for what users had to go through, he managed to do what no other company executive before him had: Convince people to accept the apology and begin to move beyond the incident.
It was an awkward few weeks leading up to that. Tretton, the public face for PlayStation in the U.S., was forced to remain silent while Sony corporate handled the fallout of the hacker attack. Gamers wondered why the guy they knew and trusted wasn't speaking to them -- and Tretton admits it was a bit frustrating for him as well.
"There's the person and there's the job," he says. "And sometimes the two aren't completely tied together. You have personal opinions and a corporate structure you have to work through."
Now that he's off the leash, Tretton was able to more freely discuss the data intrusion that resulted in the compromising of personal information from over 100 million accounts, in a conversation with Gamasutra at E3.
At its press conference, Sony said traffic to the PlayStation Network is already at 90 percent of the pre-hack levels. And Tretton says he expects to surpass the numbers in the coming months as more games and services become available. Some of that will be due to restored consumer confidence, but ultimately, he says, it's about the games.
"It will be [partially due to] restored faith, but probably equally affected by having compelling content," he says. "We could have the most secure network in the world, but if our content isn't compelling, our login rates would drop -- like a stone."
Though hackers continue to penetrate other divisions of Sony, the PlayStation unit hasn't seen any troubles since its relaunch. And while Tretton says the company remains vigilant, it's focusing on future challenges -- specifically the launch of its upcoming next generation handheld system, the PlayStation Vita.
Like Nintendo, the company faces a challenge it didn't have to worry about with its last handheld system: Apple. Nintendo's Satoru Iwata was quite vocal about his concerns about app store pricing practices at this year's GDC, so I was curious if Tretton shared those. Specifically, do 99 cent and free games on the iPhone represent a threat to Sony and the gaming industry at large?
He didn't seem too concerned.
"If I open a movie theater next door [to a theater] and start charging 50 cents per ticket, but I'm showing you things I filmed with my camcorder, I don't think it's a threat to the theater charging $13 per ticket," he says. "It's about people having reasonable expectations. I don't think we're training people to pay $5 for games. ... The cream always rises to the top."
And while he acknowledges that smart phones and tablets might be winning over some gamers, he doesn't see those people as lost customers. In fact, he says, those platforms can potentially make his job easier.
"For every consumer you lose to a tablet or smart phone, there are three consumers that became interested in gaming in a simple form," he says. "And those people might be able to be migrated into a sophisticated gamer. ... We look at that as being the opposite of a threat, but an opportunity."