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PS Vita: Sony defends Uncharted, FIFA price, explains expensive third-party digital games, reveals larger memory cards are coming

UK MD Fergal Gara talks to Eurogamer at last night's launch.

Sony has defended the cost of Vita, its games - both digital and boxed - and revealed plans to bring larger memory cards to the UK.

At midnight last night Sony launched PlayStation's fifth major console, at GAME's flagship store on Oxford Street, London, and Gamestation in Birmingham.

At GAME around 100 gamers turned up to get their hands on the powerful handheld ahead of its general sale today.

At the launch, Eurogamer spoke to Sony Computer Entertainment UK & Ireland VP & Managing Director Fergal Gara to discuss some of the issues surrounding PS Vita, including its price, the cost of games, memory cards and more.

What are your hopes for launch?

Fergal Gara: The most important thing for us right now is we get off to a strong start, and people start to understand the device. But it's at least as important we maintain momentum and have a very strong first year, getting across how the device can be used and getting more games into the market that expand upon the possibilities of PlayStation Vita, in particular in conjunction with PlayStation 3.

That's a strong story that's in the early stages of developing, both in terms of the understanding that's out there and in terms of the games we have on the market right now. The cross-play idea is a multidimensional idea in itself.

So it's at least as important we keep it going and have a very strong first Christmas. We see this as a several year project. Week one is important, but it's not the whole story.

Is that why you've made Vita particularly powerful for a dedicated gaming handheld?

Fergal Gara: PS Vita is a start again project in many respects, in that it's been engineered from the ground up with one primary need in mind, first and foremost, which is, if we don't step-change the portable video gaming experience then it doesn't have a role.

This is now a crowded marketplace. There are many other devices out there, both as dedicated video games machines, but even more importantly, or at least as importantly, we have the smartphone and tablet market to contend with.

So if we're delivering snacking gaming or relatively lightweight gaming, then we don't have a space in that market. It had to be all about 'start from scratch' and make sure that experience was as good as it possibly could be. So yes, the pure processing power, the screen resolution and size, the innovative control, coupled with a full suite of gaming controls, were vital to us delivering that.

Vita is £230 for the Wi-Fi only model and £280 for the Wi-Fi and 3G model. Can you explain your pricing strategy?

Fergal Gara: The primary objective is to bring it into the market at an attractive price point that allows us to reach profitability at some stage in the future. We've priced it as attractively as we could afford to, frankly, for all of the technology we packed in there, in these early stages.

Can we improve upon that over time? We'll certainly try. We can't promise that today. Is it good value? It's available at quite attractive prices. With the competition we have in UK retail it's available at substantially below the numbers you've just quoted. Asda is doing it for £197, and you could argue some of the bundles are at least as good value. So there's some relatively attractive pricing out there, which pegs it in my view, not a lot above an iPod and a hell of a long way below a good tablet.

Is half the price of a good tablet too much to pay for a dedicated device packed full of technology? Consumers will answer that question for us, but that's an interesting positioning to pick rather than, how does it compare to PSP, which is a machine that's done 75 million and is far simpler and longer in the tooth.

So you won't price cut soon?

Fergal Gara: We're not in a place to talk about what happens with future price moves right now, other than we will continue to do our best to make the machine as attractively priced as we possibly can.

Another important price parameter to look at is game pricing. There's been some commentary on that. While, yes, we have some high-end games in the market at the best part of £40, the likes of Uncharted and FIFA, we also have games available below £1, and we have brand new games with cross-play available below £5.

So we're serving consumers' needs both in packaged media and digitally, and we've got a vast system of games there that really do compete well with the smartphone/tablet market, and are very price conscious.

The RRP of Uncharted is £45.

Fergal Gara: It's £45 as an RRP, but it's available cheaper here tonight. One of the great things about UK retail is it's competitive. But yes, that is the top end of the tree, and yes, we're not a million miles off PS3 level pricing here. We think the experience justifies it. Consumers will tell us that for sure shortly.

You've announced the UK and EU pricing for the games to download, so we now know the difference between the digital and retail pricing for Vita games. The games are cheaper than boxed retail RRP, but in reality most won't pay RRP. You can get Uncharted in GAME, for example, for £40, and it's £40 to download. In many cases it's cheaper to buy retail boxed copies from the likes of Amazon and Play than a digital version from the PS Store.

Fergal Gara: Good point. The primary factor in play here is the competition in the retail marketplace in the UK, which is discounting the product maybe more so than some other markets. What we've aimed to do with our pricing is bring the digital product to market at or a bit below where the physical product is.

Competition may mean that comes out differently because we can't control retail pricing in the UK. It is also very important to us to keep the physical retail market well supported. So therefore we don't want to drastically undercut that with digital prices. We need to retain some sort of harmony, but give consumers the choice.

So right now they'll see something round about equal, maybe a little bit cheaper on digital, depending on which country you're in. But they'll also see a vast choice of additional digital games in there. Consumers will choose what's the best way for them to consume.

Third parties set their own prices on the PlayStation Store...

Fergal Gara: They set their cost prices, we set the retail. We're the retailer in that instance.

In that case, what's the thinking behind FIFA being £45 to download and £45 RRP to buy from a bricks and mortar shop?

Fergal Gara: It's probably best for me not to get into commentary around third-party pricing. We will choose the retail, but based on a cost price. They may have chosen a different structure, so I'd rather not comment on that to be honest.

Many of our readers, though, expect games to be cheaper to download than buy in shops.

Fergal Gara: This is a long game. We'll see how it plays out. It's encouraging to see there's quite a reasonable percentage of digital consumption in Japan. So, is this the iPod for video games? It's far too sudden to jump to that conclusion.

Is that how you'd like Vita to be considered, as the iPod for video games?

Fergal Gara: Not necessarily. We just want a vibrant marketplace where consumers buy lots of PS Vitas and consume vast amounts of software on the back of it. How they get to that product is an interesting question. We'd like to see stores like this still able to compete and still able to sell loads of product.

But equally, if digital is the way consumers want to go, we've got to be relevant to those consumption needs, don't we? It's certainly happened harder and faster in music, with some good reasons - the file sizes are tiny by comparison. But we see digital having a bigger role in PS Vita than it does certainly for the core games themselves on PS3, where there's a digital market, but it's predominantly additional DLC based.

Tied to that is the memory card situation with Vita. Why did you decide to use a proprietary format for the memory card and not allow gamers to simply buy the ones they want?

Fergal Gara: Choosing a proprietary format helps limit piracy. You'll all remember the R4 card problem Nintendo experienced. So being able to set some proprietary controls in the design of the chip and what goes in it helps us preserve a vibrant and profitable market both for Sony and the many other publishers and retailers who share in that value chain. That's the key reason.

You've made all games available to download, but memory cards will fill up very quickly, forcing gamers to consider forking out for a new one.

Fergal Gara: It's a very good point, and we've already learnt from the early days in Japan that we probably haven't got big enough memory cards introduced for the UK market. We've already gone to secure bigger size cards to bring them into the UK market.

It's early days. Before it comes to market you just have to guess what people are going to want. We thought they'd want a lot of 4GB cards just as the minimum, and then they buy packaged media. But actually, the way it's going is, many of the early adopters are clearly going to download a bit more, or just want to buy the big chip in case.

It's going to evolve. But we can certainly see they want bigger cards.

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