It's been almost a year since we had a proper chat with SCEE boss David Reeves, and a lot's gone on. PS3 has apparently overtaken Xbox 360 in Europe ("We know what the figures are," says Reeves, no doubt aware of Microsoft's response), and just prior to our discussion at E3 Reeves announced that the 80GB PS3 would launch in Europe on 27th August for GBP 299 / EUR 399.
However, the intervening period has also seen the cancellation of Eight Days and The Getaway, repeated delays for the ambitious multi-user Sony-world of PlayStation Home, the exit of Phil Harrison as head of Worldwide Studios, and Microsoft declaring it will win the entire console war - something it believes is backed up by its success with Xbox Live, Grand Theft Auto IV and key third-party exclusives.
Naturally then, we asked Reeves about much of that as we stood by a pool in Santa Monica sipping Sony beer. Read on to find out what Sony is doing for European gamers, what aeroplanes and swords have to do with the console war, and why Reeves says Microsoft should stick LittleBigPlanet in Powerpoint.
Eurogamer: Why do the 80GB PS3 in Europe now?
David Reeves: I think the honest answer is that the 80GB hard drive hit a price - a procurement price - at a point where we said "yes, we'll take it now". Hard drives are commodities not just for PlayStations but for Vaios and everything else, and you hit that thing where they say, "okay, 80GB - we'll give it to you at the same price as you can for a 40GB" and that's what's happening right now. It's just fortuitous.
They're already being produced. In fact, most of the European ones have already been produced and are on the boat. We'd probably go a little bit earlier but we just want to build up a bit of stock so we don't have shortages in the European markets.
Eurogamer: How does the console war look from your perspective in Europe?
David Reeves: We actually don't think about it too much. I think we've only made one - I would say - controversial announcement and that was to say that we have a higher installed base than Xbox 360 and we stand by that. We know what the figures are.
But I think - and I keep repeating this - that the more important thing is the growth in the marketplace is just absolutely phenomenal. Not just in Europe either. I was just talking to a guy from New Zealand - in Australia the videogames business is now worth 1.5 billion dollars and five years ago it was like 200,000. The same thing is happening in Europe. I'm talking here about an extended Europe - in Russia and Poland, people are moving from PC gaming to consoles.
I prefer to talk about the fact that, yeah, we're competitors, but the competition really has made people so much sharper, and if I can use this analogy, if you're fighting in a war that's, say, Boeing versus Airbus, it's almost like battleship against battleship and you're fighting from 15 miles away; if you're fighting in the car war, it might be that you're fighting in tanks and you're one kilometre away; in the videogame industry, if there's a war, if there's competition, it's almost like hand-to-hand fighting, but it makes you sharper. You want to have a sharper sword, you want to have a sword that feels just about right, and everyone is very sharp, and what they're doing is they're looking for high ground, low ground where they can get an advantage.
The winner is the consumer, and I think that's great. That's why we are not going to slag off Microsoft or Nintendo at all, because again it's rather like the trainer market: one year it's Reebok, next year it's Nike, and then suddenly it's Adidas; it's cyclical, but in the end everyone wins in five to ten years.
I think we should just celebrate the fact that the videogame industry is growing. I don't say it's recession-proof - it's not - but it's close to that.
Eurogamer: Are you worried at all about Microsoft's attempts to gain ground in Southern Europe where you're traditionally strong?
David Reeves: I have to say it's not top of mind - we don't really think about it. We look at our numbers and we see our numbers growing. I think that Microsoft got some impetus from GTA IV. They got some impetus but they've fallen back since then, and I think they will continue along that strategy of trying to get exclusives from third parties and promote that. We anticipate that, but we still feel that we have our own IPs that we call our "landing lights" that people are just going to go for.
Eurogamer: Do you feel at all hamstrung by SCEA launching English-language content that immediately puts your localised European content a few weeks behind? Do you think PSN could do with launching things simultaneously to see off some of the PR problems that causes?
David Reeves: In an ideal world I think you're right, that we've got to get more to day-and-date. When the US launch, we could launch in Australia and we could launch in New Zealand and the UK, but if we did that then our colleagues in Italy and France and Germany and Spain would not be very happy, so we've chosen to stick to the strategy of doing it pan-European and pan-Australia and New Zealand.
But I think that we're going to find with some of the ones that I announced tonight that they're going to be much, much closer. There might be two of three days between them but we want to get them closer on pricing as well.
Eurogamer: Phil Harrison has left now. Some of the games that were commissioned during his tenure as head of Worldwide Studios - Eight Days and The Getaway - have now been cancelled and Home is dragging along. Is there a feeling that maybe you're trying to undo some of the things he put in place that have become problematic?
David Reeves: Not consciously, no. I don't feel it. I think that some of these things would have gone exactly the same way if Phil Harrison had been there.
Phil Harrison's legacy is very, very positive. He pioneered SingStar, EyeToy, Buzz, and when he saw LittleBigPlanet for the first time he said "we've got to have that", so I would say Phil is 99.9 percent positive in terms of his legacy.
Some of the games that you talk about - Eight Days and things like that - I think he would have said it's gone on too long as well. I think it's just coincidence that that's happened.
Eurogamer: With PlayStation Home, what do you think's taken so long?
David Reeves: As Jack [Tretton] said yesterday [during SCEA's conference], it went down a track that maybe had too high a set of ideals relating to non-gaming and we've come back now and said we're going to focus now simply on games.
If we're going to focus on games launching from Home, building some really good Trophy systems, then we have to involve the third parties. If we're going to involve the third parties, they have to have an SDK. That meant we were really taking one pace back, two paces forward all the time, and we had to take a pace to get the SDK out, to involve the third parties, to make sure that when it came out with gaming it was 100 percent on the open beta.
I've seen it over the last 2-3 weeks and I'm happy that it's going to work.
Eurogamer: One of our guys [Eurogamer hero Dan Whitehead] has been playing it because you were doing some presentations earlier today.
David Reeves: Yeah, it looks a lot better than it did. I shouldn't say it "looks a lot better"; it now is for gamers, where gamers can hang out and can launch things, and they want to be able to launch third-party titles as well, and that meant going back, doing a lot more programming and getting the SDK out.
Eurogamer: And LittleBigPlanet's definitely on for October? Obviously you had it doing the graphs in the conference yesterday.
David Reeves: Yep. We thought we might sell it to Microsoft to put it in Powerpoint.
It's a way to do it, isn't it? You never know. It's the kind of crazy thing that Microsoft might say, "Yeah okay Sony, we'll do that." Considering how much we pay for all the stuff we put onto Vaios for them.
David Reeves is president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.