The mainstream press may be all excited about Wii U, but listen to developers, publishers and important business types talking at the LA Convention Center this week and it's PlayStation Vita which is mentioned again and again.
Why? Because of that price point: $249 / €249 for the Wi-fi-only model and $299 / €299 for the Wi-fi and 3G version. Pretty much everyone expected the powerful portable to be more expensive.
Here, in an interview with Sony Computer Entertainment Europe boss Andrew House, we discuss the Vita pricing strategy, the European release date and Sony's hopes for the handheld. Plus we quiz him on how PS3 is performing and that big elephant in the room: the PlayStation Network hack.
Eurogamer: The Vita price is cheaper than expected. Was that a deliberate move?
Andrew House: I characterise it as a very strong push from the marketing and publishing arm within the organisation. If we were to build not just a core gamer audience for Vita but to move, I would hope very swiftly, towards more of a mass market proposition, having a strategic, aggressive price was clearly a key part of that equation.
I'm really happy we were able to achieve that. Our engineers have done a stellar job of delivering a great product, but also allowing us to hit a price point we feel is attractive.
The strategy, in essence, is we want phase one to appeal to the core gamer audience, technology and entertainment enthusiasts, hope they validate the experience, but then move more swiftly than with PlayStation Portable into a much broader audience.
Price is important. But a lot of the experiences are designed with connectivity from the ground up. We think that's an absolute essential, particularly for a younger audience. Certainly based on the experience of my own kids, they view connectivity and connected devices as a birthright. That is a key part of the proposition.
"£230, £280 is a really good starting point."
Eurogamer: You announced a US and Euro price. We've seen some UK retailers go with £230 for the Wi-fi model and £280 for the 3G and Wi-fi model. Do you anticipate a price war?
Andrew House: It's probably not appropriate for me to comment on retail partner strategies. Clearly they have to manage their own business.
£230, £280 is a really good starting point. We've got some time till launch. We haven't released launch timings. In the coming months we'll hone in on that and have more specifics.
Eurogamer: Kaz Hirai was quoted as saying it'll be sold as a loss with a view to making a profit in three years. Is that just the way it has to be these days in order to build an installed base?
Andrew House: We have operated by and large very successfully around a model that works on what we call a blended margin. We have very low margins or possibly negative margins on the hardware, offset by a much more attractive margin structure on software and peripherals.
We'll manage the business very much in that same way for Vita.
Eurogamer: There seems some confusion over when Vita will launch in the various territories. When will it arrive in Europe?
Andrew House: We're not in a position to talk about specific launch timeframes right now. Just to clarify, it's for one very good reason. Sony was significantly impacted by the events of 11th March in Japan. That has led us, as our parent has also discussed as well, to undertake a very broad assessment of impact on our supply chain and on our procurement of components, and we're still in the process of going through that full assessment.
Once we've done that and we know exactly where we are in terms of production quantities and the robustness of the supply chain, then we'll be in a much better position to talk about specific launch timeframes and specific geographies.
Eurogamer: What battery life are we looking at for Vita?
Andrew House: I haven't seen specifics on battery life. But I would say the absence of a disc-playing mechanism is very helpful in terms of conserving battery life. And then an OLED screen. Beyond the beauty of the screen itself, one of its prime attractions is it's extremely energy efficient.
Eurogamer: We're five years into the PlayStation 3's life cycle, and it's sold 50 million units globally. Is that good enough?
Andrew House: It's tracking very well. It's particularly a strong performance if you look at the relative price points at which those units have been sold, and certainly in comparison to PlayStation 2, where we sold significantly fewer units at similar higher price points.
So overall it's tracking extremely well. The goal with PS3 was to build a very powerful device for the long term. We've done a good job not only of things like cost reduction and passing those benefits onto consumers, but adding new services and different features into the device through the life cycle to improve the value.
Eurogamer: During your E3 press conference you showcased a number of PS3 exclusive games. How important are exclusives to Sony and the PS3?
"The goal with PS3 was to build a very powerful device for the long term."
Andrew House: They're very important, but it's less about exclusivity per se. It's about unique experiences that are only possible with a particular console. For those people that have bought into PS3, for which we are very grateful, it validates that purchase for them, keeps them interested and keeps them engaged.
For new users it's an opportunity to differentiate our console based on being able to do things that are just not possible elsewhere, whether that's around Blu-ray, or increasingly whether that's around 3D. Those are all key.
But I don't think it's so much about, this game only exists on this console. It's about, this experience is only possible with this console. That, to me, is what's really meaningful for gamers.
Eurogamer: What about exclusive downloadable content, map packs and extras?
Andrew House: It's all great. Anything that helps us to better differentiate the console is clearly a positive thing. Though, for me, I'd lay more emphasis on the fundamentals of the entertainment we're offering, whether it's Blu-ray movies or 3D experiences, those are what we point to as being core to the offering.
Eurogamer: Now we've had a few 3D-enabled games launch for the PS3, what's your honest assessment of 3D gaming? Has it met your expectations?
Andrew House: You have to put it in context. 3D gaming on PS3 exists in a broader context of 3D adoption in general. In past discussions we've had I've always been frank in saying we think 3D is a long-term proposition. It won't be accomplished overnight.
I think our step of announcing the PlayStation-branded 3D monitor is a bold move in the right direction. It allows us to lower the barrier to entry with what is a very aggressively-priced product.
At the same time it demonstrates tangibly what we believe, which is gaming and interactive entertainment can be a huge driver for 3D adoption in general, coupled with good, aggressive price points and good value for money for the consumer.
Eurogamer: Having to wear glasses is a barrier to entry. Will it take glasses-free 3D TVs before 3D gaming reaches the broad audience you hope for?
Andrew House: From my understanding of the technology there are significant challenges in delivering glasses-free, full 3D experiences in the near future. We'd have to say time will tell.
Perhaps as a counter to a perceived challenge around glasses, the dual play mechanism we showcased is potentially a key driver. It goes back to that point of uniqueness – that almost magical idea of having your own view on screen and being able to dispense with split-screen is something that will lead people to overcome any resistance to glasses. There's a clear gaming benefit to be had there.
Eurogamer: What message do you have to gamers who are worried about using their credit cards to buy content from the PlayStation Network following the hack?
Andrew House: We've learnt some very painful but important lessons through the PSN experience. I don't want to lose sight of the fact we were the target of a pretty much unprecedented sustained criminal attack that caused this situation.
That being said, we will do our absolute utmost to develop a sense of what I would call hyper vigilance. We are absolutely humbled and grateful for the faith consumers have continued to show in us, and we'll do everything in our power to be worthy of that faith and to provide our consumers with not just an entertaining and engaging experience but one that's also secure.
Eurogamer: Did you adequately protect gamers' data?
Andrew House: Based on the knowledge we had at the time they were, in our view, appropriate. The scale of the attack we underwent was pretty unprecedented.
But clearly we now live in a world where, not just for gaming companies, but any company that has a digital network business or part of their strategy has had to learn they need to invest huge resources and time and effort into protecting their consumers' data.
"The scale of the attack we underwent was pretty unprecedented."
Eurogamer: How long before the PS3 no longer seems future-proof?
Andrew House: I've always said we looked at PS3 as a ten years-plus lifecycle. The question mark for me is how big that plus is. Something we perhaps don't mention as much as we should is we're still selling PlayStation 2 in the millions around the world, 11 years after it launched.
Now, they're in different markets than they were and different profiles of gamer. We've with our US colleagues had a significant push into Latin America. We're working in India with local game developers for local content largely for PS2.
The reason I point that out is we've got some credibility in saying there's a possibility of at the very least a ten year lifecycle.
The goal is to keep searching for new experiences, whether it's PlayStation Move, which is only a year into the market and still showing huge potential for different experiences around that, but also just great content.
Eurogamer: There's been a lot of talk about the next-generation of home consoles and the PS4. Is it a bit premature?
Andrew House: From a Sony perspective, we're very comfortable with PS3 and the way that market's developing. We're highly focused on launching Vita as a next-generation portable now some seven years after PSP was launched. We're really not looking at anything beyond that at this stage.
Eurogamer: You announced 8.8 million sales of PS Move at your conference. Has it proven as successful as you'd hoped?
Andrew House: If I look back at our initial estimates it's tracking well beyond our initial expectations. We were perhaps a little bit conservative in our forecasts. It led us to be supply challenged during a large part of last year. We've addressed that now and we're in good and full supply.
We're particularly pleased with the success of Move in Europe. European consumers seem to have embraced the product. The reason for that is there is a heritage and credibility around lifestyle gaming on PlayStation, whether it's SingStar or EyeToy, that made it easier to build franchises and that connection with the European consumer.
But overall, globally, we're extremely pleased with the success. The goal now is to show this is not just about casual or lifestyle gaming experiences. We showed with Killzone that Move can be powerful when applied to a core gamer experience. The goal of the studios now is to focus on that and continue to deliver that great road map for consumers going forward.
Eurogamer: I was surprised to see Ken Levine on stage during your conference to announce Move support for BioShock Infinite and BioShock Vita. How did you convince him to change his mind about Move?
Andrew House: I would not be the best person to answer that question. But I suspect some of my US colleagues had some good and frank conversations.
I thought it was a very funny presentation. It's so refreshing to see someone talk very frankly. I was doubly pleased because having worked in the third-party relations area, working with people who have their own vision, their own talent and creativity, you have to be in a position of persuading and showing and convincing people to come on board with you. It's great that in the case of such a fantastic franchise, that happened.
Andrew House is the president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.