What a busy year it's been for Andrew House. Less than three months as boss of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and he's already been thrust into the spotlight - taking centre stage at the company's gamescom press conference in Cologne.
The artist formerly known as David Reeves took the opportunity to show off PS3 Slim, announce a price cut, unveil PSP Minis and point at some graphs. Afterwards, Eurogamer sat down with House to find out more. We met up with him in a shiny meeting room in a shiny hotel, where a not-so-shiny PS3 Slim sat proudly on the table. Read on to find out what he had to say.
Eurogamer: So here it is, the PS3 Slim. Why did you decide to go matte with this one? Do you think shiny is a bit Y2K6?
Andrew House: I'm not sure. I don't want to speak for the designers, but it was very much an aesthetic decision. I'd like to think the practicality of finger smudges and so on occurred to them, so maybe that was a factor - but that's supposition on my part.
Eurogamer: Some people compared the original PS3 to the George Foreman Grill. Is this a leaner, meaner fat-reducing machine?
Andrew House: Haha! I'd completely forgotten about that comment. I'm sure there will be a whole set of other analogies that will come out around PS3 Slim.
Eurogamer: Is it so good you'd put your name on it?
Andrew House: It's so good we've put a different logo on it...
Eurogamer: Does the Slim have any special functionality that's still to be announced?
Andrew House: No, not really. All the capability is pretty much the same. If you dig deep there are some minor things. Linux is not available on this one. But that, to my knowledge, is the only thing that was there in the original which has been taken away.
I don't think we currently have any plans to build additional functionality in there. The critical thing is to treat your existing userbase and your loyal fans very well. It's always risky to build a new form factor then add new capabilities; it doesn't send the right message to the millions of people who have bought into the system.
There are two points which leave us feeling very excited and quietly confident about the business right now. One is the Slim, but at the same time we spend a lot of time talking about the network business. We are fully in the network services business now. That requires a new approach, a mode of thinking that is about constant improvement, adding new functionality, improving functionality.
That puts you in a much better space. You're able to add value for the existing userbase and create a new value proposition for consumers coming in. With those two pieces of the puzzle together, I think that we're in good shape for a long-term strategy.
Eurogamer: But some would argue Sony's been lagging behind Microsoft in terms of its network offering. PS3 owners are still waiting for movie downloads, for example, while they've been available via Xbox Live for ages now. Are you still playing catch-up or do you think you're on the same level now?
Andrew House: We're doing more than playing catch-up. We're seeing user data coming back that's rating our online experience as better than that of the competition. Over and above that, if you look at the video delivery service, we're unique amongst the console manufacturers to have the support of all the Hollywood movie studios.
Eurogamer: When you say "user data", do you mean people writing "PS3 is teh w1n, M$ sux" on the internet?
Andrew House: No. I'm talking about bona fide consumer surveys where we're tracking how people's opinions towards our network offering are evolving over time. We've seen some really significant changes there.
What we want to do in Europe with video delivery is ensure we don't stop with Hollywood studio content - we're working very hard to have local studio content and television content as well. We've built a very successful business historically in this market by understanding local needs and trying to meet those wherever possible. That's critical for video delivery.
Eurogamer: Is there any chance you could do a Ben Fogle TV channel?
Andrew House: You're going to have to educate me on the cultural reference...
Eurogamer: Ben Fogle was in Castaway and now he makes programmes about climbing the North Pole and stuff. He's the thinking woman's bit of crumpet. Sort of posh, rural totty.
Andrew House: So should we give him a space in PlayStation Home?
Eurogamer: YES! Ben Fogle should have an apartment where you can visit him and watch telly with him and make his tea before he goes up the North Pole.
Andrew House: I'll make a few calls after this.
Eurogamer: The news of the PS3 Slim was all over the internet before you officially announced it, and there were similar leaks before your E3 conference. Why can't you keep a secret?
Andrew House: In our defence, we did a somewhat better job with the pricing announcement and the redesign of the PS3. It's very hard when you have multiple constituencies involved in delivering millions of units of a new product ready for launch.
But against the challenges that were involved, I think we did an OK job. Some news was getting out there, but not to a huge mass-market audience.
Eurogamer: During the press conference you announced the price cut in dollars, euros and yen. Why not pounds?
Andrew House: It was just that we did not want to get into too much detail by going market-by-market. We're conscious of people's time, we want to get the main announcement out there.
I did make the point, during the press conference, that there would be specific details around dates for different countries and territories. We addressed it very quickly afterwards.
Eurogamer: So it wasn't because you were worried all the British people in the audience would go "250 quid?" and storm out?
Andrew House: No, I would hope not! Actually I've just been talking to someone who was saying it's a very positive price point...
PR Chap: That was Mr Elliott, by the way [Phil from our sister site, GamesIndustry.biz].
Eurogamer: Yes well. He represents Serious Business. I represent TEH INTERNET. Some people were hoping for a price cut to below £200 - the argument being that's an important psychological tipping point. At £250, PS3 is still the most expensive console on the market. Why not go to £199? Is it that you can't afford it, or do you just think there's no need to go that low?
Andrew House: When you make a decision like this, you have to take a number of factors into consideration. We looked at the cost down benefits we'd achieved already, and how much of that we were able to pass that on to the consumer - as far as we possibly could within sensible business constraints.
Also, we operate in a world where an exchange rate regimen is in place. It's not within any manufacturer's control. The absolute goal was to deliver the best value we could to the UK consumer against that backdrop, and that's what we've tried to do.
Eurogamer: Isn't the PSPgo also 250 quid?
PR Chap: £224.99.
Eurogamer: Still... You talk about connectivity between the two machines a lot, but you're asking the consumer to commit nearly 500 pounds to get that full entertainment experience. Isn't that a lot to ask?
Andrew House: No, because you can get the experience with the existing PSP. We're saying PSPgo is an addition to the existing PSP line-up, it's not a replacement. So I don't think that's necessarily a fair calculation.
The best we can do is deliver, in the portable space and in the home space, the best value proposition we can construct. We just made a significant move to try to improve that proposition at a fairly early point in the life cycle. We're trying to send the right message there, and by investing a lot at the same time in the network experience, we're adding value over time to what that game device represents for you.
Eurogamer: Have you had a go on the PlayStation motion controller?
Andrew House: [Long pause.] I have not.
Eurogamer: What do you make of what you've seen so far?
Andrew House: I think it's great. The aspect I like most about it is that it's about creating a new set of user experiences, but it's equally impactful on existing games. My favourite demo right now is the archery. It's a medieval thing. I've always wanted to shoot a bow and arrow in a game.
Eurogamer: I thought you were more into Hannah Montana after that press conference. Anyway, have you had a meeting about PlayStation 4 yet?
Andrew House: [Long pause.] I have not.
Eurogamer: Fair enough. I asked David Reeves the same question about six months ago, so I thought I'd ask you, just to see how it's coming along.
Andrew House: What did he say?
Eurogamer: I think he said, "Don't be ridiculous, shut up and get out of my office." Or something like that but more polite. There was some steely gazing.
Andrew House: I can't imagine David Reeves doing steely gazing.
Eurogamer: That's because you've never sat in front of him and asked a stupid question.
Andrew House is president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. Big fish, little fish, cardboard box.