On Wednesday night Sony unveiled a new video on demand service for PlayStation 3 for the UK and Ireland, which also extends to PSP, a range of "Go!" branded services for the PSP, new versions of the Slim and Lite and a release date for the revised PSP hardware. We sat down with David Reeves, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, to pick through the aftermath.
Eurogamer: You said last night that PS3 is primarily a games machine, but you didn't announce any new games last night. Are you just focusing on 2007 or holding things back for TGS?
David Reeves: Well, we did announce GT5 Prologue.
Eurogamer: That's true, but we did know about that didn't we?
David Reeves: We announced the launch date. I think what we want to do is just to make sure that people are focused on five or six games that we're bringing out, and showcasing also things like Metal Gear Solid and FIFA as we did yesterday.
I think it's going to be Phil's job then, when he's sure that all the other games are absolutely polished, he's going to bring them out on the high-definition screen [laughs] and everyone's going to say 'wow'. We've learnt that from the way that Konami has done it with the slow build of Metal Gear Solid and to some extent the way Take-Two have done it with the GTA series.
So we're not going to try and overload - I'm not trying to escape the question, I'm just saying we're not going to overload the consumer with too many new ones. Because if you think about it, Uncharted - which you knew about - is a new IP, and that takes a lot of marketing. Eye of Judgement as well - a good game, but quite a complicated one to explain, especially with the cards and things like that that we're doing with Hasbro.
We've found in the past maybe sometimes we've tried to do too much for Christmas. We're now finding - maybe you find this too - that sometimes if you get a good window in February or March, that's actually just as good as putting it out at Christmas.
It's important to get a window so that someone's played a game and they're ready for the next one, because they don't have huge wallets and they can't go out and buy five games at 59 Euros all the time. So we're trying to do pillar titles every month. It's rather like the way that the movie companies do it now. If they're competing, they might have Shrek 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean 3 out at the same time, but they're very good at making sure that there's time between, and that is what we're trying to do now, rather than just putting them all out like a boys' school soccer match.
Eurogamer: You told us at E3 that you expected people to want something more for October, so why not announce a PS3 price cut during Leipzig? It seems like the perfect time and place.
David Reeves: Well, we only announced the start of the Starter Pack three weeks ago - August 1st. We're actually very happy with the way that's gone. Ray [Maguire] in the UK went a bit earlier, because he did soft bundles, and as you know what he's doing is he's not just using Resistance: Fall of Man and MotorStorm - he's allowing people in GAME and some of the other stores to be able to do more of a pick-and-mix, for want of a better word, whereas in Europe they kept the date - August 1st - they did the hard bundle, the Starter Pack.
What we're going to allow, and it doesn't need an announcement, is simply that we'll probably put out more hard bundles than the Starter Pack. But you've got to realise that you've got to try and balance an 18-plus against another game - you can't put 18-pluses out to everyone, you've got to wait until we've got more software there so that we can balance these Starter Packs, and we're going to refresh.
We're not making any pricing announcements at Games Convention at all. There's none. And we don't have any plans in that regard. We're really happy with the way that things are going for the PAL business. We really are. It's on track. If you ask all the MDs right through the industry, they will say exactly the same.
Eurogamer: Why wait until now to do PVR? Why not build it in at launch, because it must have been the plan for a while?
David Reeves: The PVR - it looks simple, but within it there's a lot of licences that you have to obtain. Sometimes you're just not sure if you're going to get that licence. There's also things that are very complex - you're Eurogamer, you know what Europe is like - we have to get safety compliance on a thing like a black box from, I don't know, fifteen or sixteen independent bodies, and this has then to go to Sony in Tokyo and it has to be tested for heat and breakage and all sorts of things, so it doesn't have sharp edges.
We were not confident when we launched PlayStation 3 that we would be able to pull it off. We are now, and we decided that rather than launch it with all the software in peak going into November-December, we'd build up the installed base to Christmas, and then we'd put it out in January-February, which is what we're going to do, and people would then be able to buy it.
Eurogamer: What sort of Digital Rights Management are you and Sky going to exert over the content distributed via PVR?
David Reeves: Initially we will be using a proprietary Sony DRM solution, and then we're probably moving to another proprietary Sony DRM solution. At the moment, I could tell you - I can't give you the names, but initially it would be Device DRM, and moving to Domain DRM.
Eurogamer: Sorry - I was thinking more in terms of the practical limitations on content for the users.
David Reeves: Well of course it's a rental. It's rental. So that it will be restricted currently as we have on the DRM [on PSN], which is a local DRM solution to PS3, so at the moment we allow five users with the IDs, and that's exactly how it will be. But it will be time-based, being a rental - we might be as short as six hours, we might be as long as four weeks. It's not a sell-through model. You understand EST? Electronic sell-through model. It's not that. It's - for the moment - just a rental model on PSP.
And it's only UK and Ireland at the moment, Sky might do Italy because they have a foothold there, and to pre-empt your next question, yes, we are working with at least four other countries including Australia. We are working with them.
You will appreciate that the key to this is content aggregation. This is not our skill-set. We are Sony, yes, and we have Sony Pictures and BMG, but Sky are the past-masters at content aggregation and they're very good on customer service, and these are the two skills really that we're going to use with them. If we had to do it ourselves, people would want minimum guarantees and all sorts of things and it'd bankrupt us. Sky are a perfect partner for this, so we're very happy about that.
Eurogamer: What sort of sales boost are you expecting off the back of the PSP Slim and Lite launch? Will it have the same sort of impact as the Starter Pack did?
David Reeves: We are. Actually, at the moment we have stock-outs on PSP. I don't see it frankly as explosive as DS, I think we're in kind of a different demographic, but we do expect with the Slim and Lite to see it to be quite a nice accelerating curve going into peak.
The research that we did showed us that actually PSP wasn't so mobile - people were maybe using it at home. There were two reasons for that - one is they didn't want to use it outside because they were afraid that it would be stolen, particularly in the UK. And there were reports of that. You laugh, but it was true. The other reason was they said - particularly females - they said it's a little bit heavy, and the males said it won't quite go in my top pocket or inside-jacket.
Last night I took it out of the inside pocket and it is slim enough and they are light enough to be able to do it without it bumping around. What you may not - I didn't mention it again last night but you probably picked up on it at E3, but it does have video-out, which is actually quite a good feature for some people.
Eurogamer: A lot of people were keen on that, certainly.
David Reeves: There you go [David hands us a PSP Slim and Lite]. It is slimmer, and you can actually, if you try it in your top pocket, it goes in.
Eurogamer: It is much lighter, certainly.
David Reeves: It is, and it actually makes a difference. It took a lot of work to do - it's not just cutting down. We cut down a little bit on the battery size, because that's the major thing, but we haven't cut down on the battery capacity - we've just put a new chip in, which has a faster CPU that takes less current from the battery itself, so the battery life is the same or even perhaps a little bit longer.
Eurogamer: I look at charts all over the world and the DS is all over them and PSP hasn't had that same kind of impact. Wouldn't it have made more sense to invest the Go! brand money in securing more top drawer games or cutting the price?
David Reeves: We took the view, when we launched, that rightly or wrongly it was also a media device, but actually 80 to 90 percent of the people just bought this to play games on. And we didn't have the services, so we took this decision maybe a year ago and said what we'll do now is we'll bring out more services because we know that the games are coming.
Honestly, probably we should have had more original PSP games, and there were some PS2 ports of course, but what you're going to see now is - on PSN there are a lot of good, original games, so the situation you might be seeing in the future is some of those games coming onto PSP. They might be shorter, but they would be far more original.
So you're going to see that our next thinking is, yes you're exactly right, we now have to go back - don't forget the services, the services will be put in place and rollout will be coherent - but we now have to go back and think more about the games because if we lose that advantage - well it's not really an advantage, it's the advantage Nintendo have on DS - that is what we now have to say. It's like in the circus - you've got to keep all the plates up, you know? So the plate we'll be working on now will be the games on PSP.
Eurogamer: So you see PSN as potentially a feeder service for PSP and vice versa?
David Reeves: Yeah, it will be. On PSN you get an instant reaction - 'Calling All Cars, great game, okay, can I have it on PSP?' Okay, why not?
Eurogamer: The more content you pump onto PSP, obviously the Memory Stick sizes only go so high, and you mentioned at E3 that you were considering a hard disk for the future. Have there been any more thoughts on that front?
David Reeves: I think that it certainly is not ruled out. The only thing I would say is that the flash memory is simply so cheap - you can get an 8GB Memory Stick for under 100 Euros, and on 8GB you can get a lot of content.
I think the big debate is - there's a point in time when you have to put a stake in the ground and say we're going to go with flash memory or we're going to go with hard drive. I don't think they've put that stake in the ground just yet. So they're thinking about it - I think they'll get through Christmas and think about what the next step would be. You might hear more later.
Eurogamer: At E3 you made a comment on the Sony America price cut initiative that was interpreted as a bit of a faux pas. I was wondering how you feel communication is between Sony Europe and Sony America - whether there's a problem or anything you feel you need to work on?
David Reeves: I don't think it's a problem. I think Kaz Hirai and myself were on the same page. All I would say is I still think we made the right decision to go with Starter Packs in Europe. We're very very happy with the uplift and we're still communicating with SCEA.
David Reeves is president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. Interview by Tom Bramwell.