The big interview: Sony's Jim Ryan on PS4, DRM and the next-gen console war

Gamers come first, but it's a long road to Christmas.

After last night's triumphant E3 press conference Sony is on a high, but, according to senior executives, it won't rest on its laurels.

As Sony Computer Entertainment US boss Jack Tretton announced gamers will be able to swap, loan and trade their PlayStation 4 games without restriction, and that the console itself will cost a surprising 349 in the UK - nearly 100 cheaper than the Xbox One - the internet breathed a sigh of relief. But Christmas is a long, long way away. Much can happen in six short months.

Sony knows Microsoft may respond to the battering it's currently taking and change its controversial, restrictive, some say abhorrent Xbox One policies. It may even drop the price of the console before its release now it knows what it's up against. And if it does, the next-gen landscape may change significantly. The console war will be as turbulent as it is long, but right now, the morning after the night before, we can forgive Kaz Hirai and Andrew House and all the Sony suits whose livelihood relies on a successful PlayStation 4 launch a wry smile - and perhaps even a sip of champagne.

And so we come to Jim Ryan, the boss of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and Jack Tretton's opposite number on these shores. As a former accountant you'd think Sony's decision to ditch Online Passes for first-party games, leave the second hand market to its own devices and avoid DRM of any kind for PS4 would have him tearing up his spreadsheets. As Eurogamer found out today, not so.

Eurogamer: Congratulations on your quite spectacular end to your press conference. What was the mood just after it ended amongst the team?

Jim Ryan: Happy and positive. We're still six months away from launch of something that's going to have a life that's going to be close to 10 years. We kind of just navigated from base camp into the foot hills and the summit is way ahead. We had a job to do yesterday and Jack [Tretton] and Andy [House] did it in an exemplary manner.

Eurogamer: How are you managing to sell it at the price you are? Are you making a loss?

Jim Ryan: It's our policy not to disclose the details of the stuff that makes up our P&L, but believe me we're very focused on the financial decisions we take, particularly with Sony having some well documented difficult times at the moment. I suspect that you can sleep easy in the knowledge that that price point is consistent with a buisness plan that we've constructed which allows us to hit our short-term stuff and hit our medium-term stuff and hopefully the long-term stuff.

Eurogamer: It's significantly cheaper than your competitor, the Xbox One - were you expecting that to be so expensive? And what does the fact it's significantly cheaper in the UK mean for PlayStation?

Jim Ryan: To be quite honest we had no knowledge of what our competitor was going to say yesterday. We speculated, obviously, as everybody else speculated. It was probably at the high end of our expectations, but it wasn't - it was certainly in the ballpark. We're just pleased at having started the last time round with a Christmas disadvantage in terms of timing and a significant price disadvantage to go into this cycle with parity and perhaps a bit better than parity.

"...we would rather have the 349 price point and have the camera as a peripheral for those who want those type of experiences..."

Eurogamer: Well, a lot better. But how significant do you think that will be at Christmas when people are thinking about getting a new console. Is that 70 or 80 significant at this stage?

Jim Ryan: I certainly think it's a factor but it's only one factor and obviously without games you're just a brick under the television, so the games are really important and we feel good about that side of it, whether it's the first-party stuff we're working on or the support we're getting from the third-parties. That and obviously some of the policy stuff that we announced yesterday - we were very heartened by the reaction to that, which was quite extraordinary.

Eurogamer: I haven't seen anything like that at E3 for a long while.

Jim Ryan: No, I don't think ever actually!

Eurogamer: The console in the UK specifically, will it come bundled with the PlayStation Eye camera or not?

Jim Ryan: It will not.

Eurogamer: That's another big difference between you and your competitor - what's the thinking behind not bundling it with PS4?

Jim Ryan: It's called PlayStation Camera. At the February thing it was called the PlayStation 4 Camera and it was subsequently renamed.

We feel that at launch we would rather have the 349 price point and have the camera as a peripheral for those who want those type of experiences, whether it's at a system level or an individual game level, than trade that off for a higher price point. That was basically our call.

Eurogamer: It follows then, since it's not being bundled, that there's no mandate from Sony to developers that they must include functionality for the PlayStation Camera in their games?

Jim Ryan: Not at all, no.

Eurogamer: Will it be out in the UK this year?

"I'm happy to go on record saying we'll launch in the UK before Christmas."

Jim Ryan: Yes.

Eurogamer: Just because traditionally, perhaps we haven't had the console as...

Jim Ryan: Based on history a certain amount of nervousness would be justified, but no, we're going to release in - the phrase that was used was holiday 2013, which...

Eurogamer: Can sometimes....

Jim Ryan: I know - it was a phrase tailored to the audience in this particular part of the world [US], but I'm happy to go on record saying we'll launch in the UK before Christmas.

Eurogamer: One slight negative was that you now have to subscribe to PlayStation Plus in order to play multiplayer. Can you explain to our readers why you've made this decision?

Jim Ryan: Obviously the last time round, multiplayer gaming on PS3 was free. Certainly at the beginning of that cycle the online experience on PS3 was somewhat rudimentary, and it's evolved, it's got better with various firmware upgrades. But we definitely - and some of these features have been highlighted yesterday, some of them February 20th - we're going to make a step-change in our online experience, and there's going to be a whole new range of stuff that people can do and enjoy.

And yeah that's great and yeah we're very happy about that, but the flipside of that of course is that these things come with a cost, and we do have to recover that cost, so the decision has been taken to place online multiplayer behind the PlayStation Plus firewall.

One of the points I do want to make is that unlike some of our competitors where you pay your money and all you get is online multiplayer, PlayStation Plus, in our opinion, represents and extremely attractive package of services and content. We've had the instant game collection now running for just over a year - it's a fantastic deal. And that will continue into PS4.

So yes, we are charging for online multiplayer, but I'm quite happy to contend to your readers that for that money - that €5 a month or whatever it is - not only are they getting the ability to play online multiplayer but they're getting games and they're getting additional services. I feel perfectly comfortable sitting here conveying that message.

Eurogamer: So your position is it's entirely justified because of the value that it offers?

"Every design decision but also every business policy decision has been taken with the gamer in mind."

Jim Ryan: Yeah. And the other point to make is that we have the 349 price point on the hardware.

Eurogamer: I'd like to talk about this second-hand, always-online authentication that Xbox One is obviously doing but Sony made a point of saying it's not doing. First off, what specifically is motivating that decision not to do that? I was expecting you to follow suit in some regard because it just seems like a business sense thing to do, especially at time when development costs are going up and teams are getting bigger and all the rest of it.

Jim Ryan: The point of view you're expressing is entirely rational. If you sort of wind it back and look at some of the statements Andy [House] made on stage that we are - and hopefully it's a manifestation of that, it's not just words - we've really designed the platform with the gamer in mind. Every design decision but also every business policy decision has been taken with the gamer in mind. And we've been fairly uncompromising with that. Some decisions which might have appeared unpalatable to an accountant like myself - no, I'm going to do that, because that's not what the gamer wants.

You can tell by the reaction yesterday that that decision's probably vindicated.

Eurogamer: I know that Sony isn't restricting what third-party publishers do, like it did with the PS3 - nothing has changed in that regard. And you're dropping Online Passes altogether. But what happens if a major publisher decides they want to block second-hand trading of PlayStation 4 games - is there nothing you can do about that, because that would not tally with your philosophy?

Jim Ryan: Our philosophy remains unchanged, so don't worry about that. We will not be implementing Online Pass or any kind of variant of that for our own self-published games. If a third-party publisher wants to do something server-side with their own content, there's not much we can do about that.

From what I'm hearing, the tide, certainly on current-gen, is moving away from that Online Pass - I know two or three publishers that have dropped it.

Eurogamer: What's the feeling within Sony - what are the third-party publishers going to do? Do you think they're going to risk a backlash among hardcore gamers by restricting second-hand games on PlayStation 4, or do you think they're not going to do it at all?

Jim Ryan: I don't think that they will do it, but that's an opinion - I can't speak for the publishers, I certainly wouldn't do that. I don't think that they will do it.

Basically what we're providing with PlayStation 4 is the same environment that existed with PlayStation 3, and that model - that Online Pass model - hasn't been particularly successful, either in terms of the impact on the relationship between the publisher and their consumers or, from what we understand, in financial terms.

Eurogamer: Do you think publishers, and I guess Sony has got it, that it's not good business to try and restrict the second-hand market? Do you think it actually benefits the sale of new games in the long-run - promotes a healthy industry?

"The video gaming ecosystem is a complicated and really rather fragile one, and it's certainly the case that second-hand games play a really important role."

Jim Ryan: The video gaming ecosystem is a complicated and really rather fragile one, and it's certainly the case that second-hand games play a really important role. Look at a market like the UK, which remains our biggest market in Europe, and a very, very fragile retail environment. Those guys need [owned] games to - they're a critical source of revenue and of cash and profit.

But if you stand back, the key thing is just to grow the installed base as big as possible, and if you do that, then everybody can make money. I can't speak for anybody else, but if you start putting constraints which might make a small piece of the pie more lucrative to certain stakeholders, that means that the overall pie is only half the size that it might have been. And that's a pretty dumb thing to have done.

To wind it back: our philosophy is to do what's right by the gamer.

Eurogamer: The cloud service is coming to PS4 in early 2014 - can you tell us when our readers in the UK might expect to make use of that?

Jim Ryan: I can't. It's certainly on the roadmap, but at this stage we're not in a position to make any announcements about the UK.

Living and working in Europe is typically a delight because of the diversity of cultures and languages and places is just great to have to deal with. But when it comes to implementing something like the Gaikai-type streaming service, the European landscape makes it rather difficult because it's complicated and different in the regulatory stuffs. So we're working at it - it's definitely going to come, but at this stage I'm not in a position to give you a date I'm afraid.

Eurogamer: You've been asked this before and you'll be asked this again: what's going on with The Last Guardian? Jack Tretton said it's on hiatus. Has it been cancelled? Please be honest. Our readers want to know.

Jim Ryan: I don't believe it's been cancelled. Had it been cancelled, some sort of announcement would have been made. I think the watch-word is patience.

Eurogamer: PS4, is that another word?

Jim Ryan: A ha ha ha ha ha!

Eurogamer: It also begins with p!

Jim Ryan: Ha ha! PR: So does PS3.

Eurogamer: Ha ha. Fair enough.

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