Sony Computer Entertainment Europe senior vice president Ray Maguire opened the Edinburgh Interactive Festival yesterday with a presentation on 3D gaming. His message: This time it's not a fad. It's for real.
But with his clear enthusiasm and optimism for what Sony believes drastically improves the gaming experience came caution. Maguire admitted €100 shutter glasses present a “cost issue”, revealed that five per cent of people can't see 3D (but there are “no health issues”) and predicted that 3D “won't be an overnight success”. Food for thought.
Here, in an interview with Eurogamer conducted minutes after the end of his presentation, Maguire goes deep not only on 3D but PlayStation Move, PlayStation Plus, PlayStation Network and, of course, the PlayStation 3 itself.
Eurogamer: You mentioned during your presentation that shutter glasses are €100. Is that too expensive for 3D gaming to be mass market?
Ray Maguire: It's an early adopter market, without a doubt. You have to find someone who values the 3D experience enough to buy a new television set, a new screen and then also fork out for some glasses.
How much are people willing to spend to get into the new technology? If you take new technology, whether it be an Apple, their products are probably three or four times the price of a comparative PC because the experience is better and more intuitive.
If you looked at them and said, will anyone ever spend £2000 on a laptop, the answer would be no. In reality, it's yes. But the numbers are still relatively small compared to £400 laptops.
So, is it going to be mass market at that price? No it won't. Will there be a sustainable market at that price? I believe there will be. It's just a question of how long it takes for that technology to get cheaper. The installation rate will grow as soon as the product becomes slightly cheaper and more affordable.
Eurogamer: How long do you reckon that will take?
Ray Maguire: The truth of it is I don't really know. We've been surprised with PS3, which was a highly specced machined. It stood right out there as the most expensive console on the market. Everyone said it wouldn't sell the numbers. But it sold.
People value the technology we put into it, to the stage where we sold getting on for four million units over £250. That wouldn't have been achievable on PSOne or PS2. And it's literally because there is so much more technology in there, giving a wider and more depth of an entertainment experience.
So, I'm not sure what the number will be with 3D. But it will certainly be more than people think it will be.
Eurogamer: At Gamescom, Peter Moore told me 3D isn't right for FIFA. id Software told us the price of a 3D telly needs to come down before developers will invest in it. What feedback are you getting from third-party developers who have to take time, development costs and their genre into account?
Ray Maguire: That's two questions, really. The first question is, is 3D right for every game? The answer to that is, maybe not.
There are things that don't actually add to the experience. I went through some of the genres, discussing where Mick Hocking [director of Sony's 3D stereoscopic team] and his team found there was benefit. Some of those benefits are greater than others.
Really, it will be about where 3D enhances the experience. Definitely about how it immerses you into the game. If you get more immersed into the game and it adds value that way, then the answer is yes. If it's just nice to have, then maybe not.
The second question is, for a third party developer, at what time do I enter this market, which is about how much capital I invest in creating 3D versus how much return I get from it? That's a totally different question, because then you start getting into the situation of, do I develop games with 3D in mind from the get go, or do I look at my existing portfolio of product and decide now is the time to do a 3D version of the existing 2D game?
For the first part, products that we're developing now will always have a 3D element to them. In other words, they were designed from a production side with 3D in mind. That's really important when you start to do some of the technical things.
With a racing game you have a different effect pushing a car into a corner in 2D than you would in 3D in terms of the camera angle. All these things have to be thought about when you're starting to create the game.
If you're starting to convert a game, then making good 3D is actually quite difficult. Making 3D is easy. But making good 3D is quite difficult. You've got to go back and re-work that and try and test it until you've got something that works. Otherwise, you're going to have a disjointed 3D experience.
So, from a third party point of view, they always like to see us create a platform before they start to think about how much investment. Some have want to be first and want to get large market share by being first into the marketplace.
Others are more into, well we'll wait and see what happens and then we'll create something learning from the experience of the people who were first to market. So it depends on where you are in your risk analysis.
Eurogamer: You've sold 38.1 million PS3s globally. But how's it doing in the UK?
Ray Maguire: It's done really well. A lot of people thought the price was not sustainable. Re-designing and putting it out as a Slim gave it a boost and it's stable. So it stayed at the boost level, which is an increase. This year, as you'll see from Chart-Track, we're on a positive growth yet again.
When we look at the business from a Chart-Track basis or from a retail basis we see one story. When we have a look at the whole package, when we look at the entire spectrum of PlayStation services, it's absolutely clear we're doing something right and people are either enjoying our product for an entertainment experience as opposed to just a games experience.
Eurogamer: Are PS3 exclusive games better now than they were when the PS3 launched? Would you agree with that?
Ray Maguire: Yeah. There's a huge amount of technology in the PS3 and that gives games designers choice. It was reasonably difficult at the beginning to decide on how you make those choices. But it's been around for three years now, and what we're seeing is people have got used to what choices they make.
We've seen some true innovation from the studios, whether it be first party or third party. That's what we're enjoying now.
I also think there's been a reference to how people play their games and what they like out of games as well. Something like LittleBigPlanet, truly innovative game in the first place, but with true references to user generated content. It's an important part, whether it be creating or using.
Eurogamer: Some PS3 owners complain that the European PlayStation Store isn't as good as the US PlayStation Store. Is that something you're working on?
Ray Maguire: Yeah. About a year ago there was a reasonable difference between the two stores. The guys have spent a lot of time over the last year making that much closer together.
The fact is we have many different languages and it's a bigger task than it is having a very large single language store. As I said, they've made major inroads on doing that. I'm sure they'll continue to do that as well.
Eurogamer: You recently launched the paid for subscription service, PlayStation Plus. How's it doing now the dust is settling?
Ray Maguire: I'm not sure the dust is settling. With all these things there's a huge amount of work that goes on when you launch anything new. One of those is trying to define user feedback and understand what people want. And then we have to tailor our services based on the information we get, which is exactly what we do.
We will be tweaking and adjusting the service and trying to get the best value out for consumers for a long time yet. It will grow and evolve like everything we do, just as everything the PlayStation's ever done has evolved.
You think about the cross media bar now compared to where it started three years ago. The same will apply to any service or any platform we bring.
Eurogamer: Some of the feedback we've seen on PlayStation Plus is that users feel they're not getting value for their money. How do you feel about that?
Ray Maguire: I'm not sure we're getting exactly the same feedback on that. What happens is that in many cases, if you're looking on blogs etc, people will post negative elements but will rarely put positive elements on there because there's no reason for them to want to. So sometimes that can be skewed.
When we have a look at the data, there's always going to be people who've got issues. We have to look at what percentage those are. Whatever it is, even if it's a small percentage, then we try and find a solution to make sure no-one has an issue. But again, there has to be some context in there as well.
Eurogamer: PlayStation Move is just around the corner. Microsoft said Kinect will extend the life of the Xbox 360 by five years, and it's akin to a new console launch. Do you see PS Move in similar terms? Will it extend the life of the PS3 in this new era of ten year life cycles?
Ray Maguire: That question almost sounds like there's a life cycle timing which is defined. The answer to that is, we've never had that attitude with PlayStation. We continue to evolve it from day one.
We haven't got to a situation where we go, right, we've done as much as we can now, what else can we think of?
Move is a natural extension in the same was as we brought EyeToy to PS2, and finding another way of interacting with the consumer in a way that takes away some of the fiddly buttons and starts to bring in a different audience.
Exactly as with EyeToy in the PS2 days, it's a product that needs to be sampled. You need to get your hands on it. You need to understand it. You need to try it.
Am I expecting a massive day one? Not particularly. We didn't with EyeToy, either. It went on to be massively successful. As people saw the value when they tried it they told their friends. Their friends bought it. They told their friends. Word of mouth grew the marketplace. That's what I expect from Move as well.
When we see people sampling it the outcome is everyone's delighted by the experience. That's the most important thing. The creativity in terms of the games being created for it, already show a marked difference from the genres we had in the EyeToy space.
It's not only about the keepy-uppy and the wishy-washy. We're starting to think about Move and how you use that in games like LBP or Killzone, some major games. With that attitude it starts becoming less of a novelty and more of just another way of enjoying the games we all know and love.
Eurogamer: You say you've never defined the PS3's life cycle. When it was first launched the impression was that it was future proof. How many years does it have in it? Can it go on indefinitely because you're able to iterate through the internet?
Ray Maguire: It's purely dependant on the content that's produced. It's not about the machine itself. It's about the content and the experience.
When you start adding in different interfaces like Move, different experiences like 3D, then it opens up another rich palette for our creative geniuses to work out brand new games and experiences for the consumer.
For as long as they can excite the consumer, the product will remain there. As soon as we stop doing that, the product will die.
With the PS3 right now, the audio is exceptional. The picture quality is awesome. Could it get better? Yeah, it probably could. But at what cost and what kind of development cost and what cost to the consumer? And would that step be the right step to make?
Well, I guess the tech guys will say, of course. But the issue at the moment is we've got a machine that can deliver ground breaking product. So we'll just keep focusing on PS3 right now.
Eurogamer: Value is very important. Both yourselves and Microsoft have announced new hardware bundles with Move and Kinect. If someone walks into a game shop this Christmas and wants to pick up a new motion sensing console bundle, what will make them decide to go with the PS3 Move bundle instead of the 360 Kinect bundle?
Ray Maguire: It'll be the content, and it'll be the word of mouth from their friends. It'll be about the experience their friends have had on the products. As always they'll make that decision by looking at the facts, consulting with their friends, and make a decision based on both those elements.
Eurogamer: Were you surprised by Microsoft's announcement that Kinect will cost £130?
Ray Maguire: I think they ceded the idea that it was going to be that kind of price a long time ago.
Eurogamer: What changes can PS3 owners expect to the front end of the console, the cross media bar and that kind of thing?
Ray Maguire: It's always being looked at. PlayStation fundamentally is a product that will grow. It will evolve over time. It will change through firmware because that was part of the DNA we put into the PlayStation in the first place.
What you see now is right for now. We're developing it and it will continue to develop. That's what the R&D departments do.
Eurogamer: Is there an official line on the PS3 Jailbreak issue? Will you tackle it with a firmware update?
Ray Maguire: We haven't seen it so we can't make a comment. I haven't come across it yet. I haven't got one in my hands, in other words.
Ray Maguire is senior vice president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.