Sunday, March 25, 2007

More Sony PR Goodness: 'We Done it Three Years Ago!'

SCE Australia's Managing Director Michael Ephraim when asked about the Wii-mote and criticisms against SIXAXIS due to the distinct similarities responded by claiming that Sony had done it first, three years ago.

His genius at work,

There's been a lot of negativity surrounding the Sixaxis controller in comparison to the Wii remote. Do you think it is unjustified?

Motion-sensitive devices are a good feature as we evolve the product. You know, we can easily say that the EyeToy camera, and SingStar and Buzz to a lesser degree, that we were doing this kind of family fun that Nintendo is positioning, we were doing that three years ago. To be honest I don't see that there's a major issue. Their technology is a bit different, they have their stick and nunchuck, and we have motion sensitivity in our controller. I don't know why there's such sensitivity that we have something and they have something that is similar, I really don't understand why it is an issue.

The Full Interview;

Getting busy?

(Laughs) Nah, we just sitting around drinking Red Bulls and chilling out. Yeah, we've been busy but it's all going rather smoothly I must say. We're all getting very excited. It's all going extremely well.

Can you understand the anger and disappointment from some people about the backward compatibility change? What can you say to people concerned they are paying more for less than their Japanese and American cousins?

Let me first of all say that I apologise for the communication on this matter. There has been a stop/start. But when we step back, you saw the announcement from Phil Harrison that over a 1000 games are backward compatible and they are working through this until the day of launch when there will be a web site. There's about 2000 games that have been released on PS2 so we're up to 50 per cent compatibility. With working on it through the launch period, I'm very confident that the percentage of games that are backward compatible is going to be higher than 50.

After launch they will keep working on making more of the catalogue backwards compatible and obviously what they're doing right now is looking at the games based on sales and the desirability to play these games again. We can debate how important backwards compatibility is, but let's not go there because we said it was, but I'm very confident that by the time we launch it won't be an issue.

The reasons for it (the change) I think are sound, it's to cut costs and eventually pass that onto the consumer. If you can do backwards compatibility through software emulation instead of a chip, it does save cost. I'm confident that the reaction from consumers, which I totally appreciate, will almost be a non-event by the time we launch because 50 per cent of games are backward compatible and that number will only grow.

What do you think are the chances that we will see rumble and force feedback return now that a settlement has been reached with Immersion?

There were two issues, the legal issue with Immersion and whether Sixaxis and rumble could co-exist together. Based on my discussions with senior management, they are definitely looking at the whole scenario. I really can't make a statement whether rumble will come back or not, but one obstacle is out of the way.

Now it's a question of the feasibility of Sixaxis and rumble. But as you know Jason, a lot of this will be driven by the publishers, both us and the third-party community, to then decide whether to include those features in games. But they (Sony and Immersion) came out with a statement that they will now look at the whole issue.

There's been a lot of negativity surrounding the Sixaxis controller in comparison to the Wii remote. Do you think it is unjustified?

Motion-sensitive devices are a good feature as we evolve the product. You know, we can easily say that the EyeToy camera, and SingStar and Buzz to a lesser degree, that we were doing this kind of family fun that Nintendo is positioning, we were doing that three years ago. To be honest I don't see that there's a major issue. Their technology is a bit different, they have their stick and nunchuck, and we have motion sensitivity in our controller. I don't know why there's such sensitivity that we have something and they have something that is similar, I really don't understand why it is an issue.

I can understand why there's no HDMI cable in the PS3 box because it is still reasonably uncommon for TV owners, but why no component cable? One of your competitors managed to ship with a dual Composite/Component cable. It seems like a cheap omission given the quality of the rest of the package.

HDMI is growing interface and there's also component, S-video and composite all available. We thought that the consumers would choose. There's obviously a cost factor and we thought "Why build up the cost?" If people want to go straight to HDMI then a component cable isn't as relevant. It's allowing the consumers to choose depending on what technology people have at home.

And there is a strong focus from Sony on PS3's Blu-ray movie playback capability - why not include a remote control in the box? We will see bundles with the remote?

I think you'll see different channels positioning the machine in different ways, from a games machine to a full-blown digital hub and Blu-ray player. I think Blu-ray is growing in acceptance and based on a US study 75 per cent of PS3 owners intend to use PS3 as a Blu-ray device. Again, it's a cost factor, why put it a remote if someone is buying it as a games machine? We don't want to increase the price for something that some people might have no use for.

The remote is priced in my opinion very well for what it offers, it's a standard consumer electronics type of controller and functionality. It's really for the consumer to choose but yes, I would assume that retailers who are positioning PS3 as a Blu-ray player will bundle it with a remote to make it more affordable for people to buy.

You spent a fair amount of money in Australia in the early days of the PS2 online service, what are you going to be doing locally to make sure that the PS3 online experience is superior to the PS2's offering?

First of all, the PS2 online service and the PS3 online service will be chalk and cheese. PS2 was a dress-reversal. The device had capability for internet gameplay but it wasn't the primary purpose of the device. If you look at where the PS2 has gone onto become, it's still a great videogames machine with Final Fantasy XII and God of War II, those kind of great games, but its also gone into home entertainment. It's well documented how successful Buzz, SingStar and EyeToy have gone.

PS3 is a different kettle of fish. There's a big focus in the company to deliver great online gameplay. Ted Price stood up there (at the recent Australian PS3 media launch) and Resistance: Fall of Man will be an amazing experience with online play.

We're also working very hard to ensure the (PlayStation) Shop is dynamic and offers things that consumers want. Of course there's a learning curve, but we think with free game demos, free movie trailers, the ability to buy PSone games to play on your PSP, the ability to buy arcade-style games that you can download, and the opportunity to augment your disc-based games with new levels and so on, we think that's a pretty broad offering. It will be a very different experience to PS2.

We are working very hard in Australia to ensure the structure of the service, in terms of both content and where it's located for gameplay, is as good as online gamers expect. We are very, very focused on delivering the PlayStation Network as something that people see is a real added benefit to PS3, or actually as a mandatory feature. I'm confident that we will deliver a service and a product that people will enjoy and there are some things planned that will see this evolve over time that are innovative, areas of the online space that have never been done before.

What do you say to those people who were actually hoping to buy the cheaper 20GB PS3 model? I understand that the decision to drop it came from the retailers, but how are you going to know that there is consumer demand for it without testing the market by releasing it?

We know from the experience in the US. In the early days when there was no stock on the shelves people bought whatever they could find - the 20 or the 60 Gig. When stock become more available, quite a few consumers were taking back the 20 Gig SKU and saying "Here's 100 bucks, give me the top-end SKU".

At the end of the day, a lot of the value for PlayStation 3 is all the applications you can do. You have great gaming, we think the new IP Resistance and MotorStorm speak for themselves, and then digital pictures and all the rest. But wireless internet is also a big function for people and something that the 20 Gig did not have, it did not have the SD, Flash and Memory Stick slots.

So based on the US experience, based on discussions with retailers, we feel that the value is there and that consumers wanted the higher SKU. People that are coming into the platform in the early days are probably the people that want all these applications and they want it working out of the box. So we didn't think it was necessary to release the cheaper version because for the difference in price, the 60 Gig SKU would be a complete experience and early adopters want all the functionality.

It doesn't mean we're never going to come out with the 20 Gig SKU, we'll listen to the market and to consumers, but based on the US and Japan, and if you look at the Xbox business via the GfK figures, 96 per cent were of the top-end SKU.

There is a lot of negativity on the web surrounding Sony and the PS3. Do you feel that some of it is fair criticism or just tall poppy syndrome based on your success over the last decade? Are you concerned about it?

Yeah, of course we are. The consumer is king and we've been accused of maybe not thinking that way. But you know, there's such high expectations for Sony. When you look at our history and what we've done, we have been innovating in this industry since day one.

I think a lot of the cynicism comes from the price issue. When a company really innovates, comes out with a product that is quite different, evolving or innovating in a category, it takes time for people to really understand what we're trying to do here. I think price has been at the top of the list, there have been other issues, but price has been the major thing. But I'm very confident, and we've been doing this a lot with retailers and journalists and we'll sit down with anyone for half an hour to do a demo, that when people see how unique this product is, and how easy it is to do communication, gaming, entertainment, how intuitive the Cross Media Bar is, I think maybe in hindsight that when people realise what this product can do for me and my life that the price issue will go away.

If Blu-ray gets up as a standard, which we are very confident that it will, it is already starting to pull away in the US, right away that justifies the price. We know a lot of people don't understand all the benefits of PS3 just yet, even when we present to stores like EB who are gamers they are saying "we didn't know it could do that, we didn't know it could do this."

When you innovative you have to step of the edge and take the flack. I think people will not be as critical, but we don't live in an ivory tower, we admit there are a few things that we could have done better. It's not something that we take lightly, but I think a lot of the flack has been price and that issue is unjustified in the sense that people don't really know what this device can do for them in their home. I hope when that happens we win back some of the consumer confidence.

PS2 is still going strong, how long does Sony see PS3 as a viable console?

PS2 just had one of its biggest Christmases seven years later, and that came through innovation in the content with Party Starters, and there's still incredible games like Final Fantasy XII and God of War II as well. With PS3, with the firmware upgrades and the capability to keep enhancing applications, I don't see this product lasting less than PS2. With the Cell processor in the PS3 its got the grunt power to do a lot of new applications, so we wouldn't think that it would be any less than seven years and we think it will remain relevant for at least a decade. We've been able to keep the offerings fresh for PS2, and knowing the capabilities of the PS3, we think a decade is a very reasonable amount of time to think that it will still be relevant.

With the launch of PS3, will there also be a renewed PSP push? A lot of Screen Play readers were critical of the recent sneaky mock blog campaign. Should you do more marketing that simply and plainly presents the strengths and features of the console?

I think PSP is an incredible device with incredible features. I've been very candid about this. We had a brilliant product and there a lot of digital products out there that are trying to define the space. I think we now understand a lot better what PSP can deliver and will work towards marketing those points.

We still think it's a great games machine, it needs as much new games as possible to support that. Ratchet and Clank coming out in a few months we think is a brilliant game that will solidify it as a games machine. The price has come down so it's now more affordable. And like what you said before, there's the relevance to PS3, like bringing content off your PS3 through wireless, and at a later time to be able to do that over the internet, I think that makes PSP very relevant. Talking to consumer electronic and computer-type channels, they see a lot of benefit to promote the complementary features and the interoperability of PS3 and PSP.

If you look at unit-wise, PSP last year was the third best-selling format. I agree Wii, which was fourth best-selling, was totally supply constrained, but it shows that the product is still relevant. It's a brilliant design, the screen is amazing, the gameplay is the best out-of-home experience on any device, but there are things to be done. And I think PS3 will elevate PSP's appeal when people understand its interoperability. So yes is the long winded answer to your question, but we have to look at it very carefully because it can be a games machine, a digital multimedia device and it can be a digital satellite for PS3 in the home to access your content.

Could there be any PS3/PSP bundle or discount to promote dual ownership?

We're talking to retailers, and especially the ones in the consumer electronics/IT space, the bundling opportunities with PS3, PSP, Memory Sticks, flash cards, digital cameras, Walkman, MP3 players, the amount of products that are relevant to a PS3 that can plug in and transfer content or access your content from, is pretty exciting. PSP is just one of those things.

We're working now very closely with Sony, and I think you're already seeing it with retailers such as Domayne with Bravia TVs, which are the number one selling flat-screen in Australia, in high-definition I might add. We're seeing that already happening with Domayne doing PS3 and TVs and surround sound, and you'll see it happening with a lot of products because PS3 is compatible with a lot of digital devices that enhance the experience. Everybody is very keen to look at all the opportunities.

I've written a few pieces recently about the state of the official magazines. Do you think Official Australian PlayStation Magazine has a future? We've seen the official magazine in the US close, with Sony saying discs are out and online is in. Can the Australian magazine last?

It's a good question. As people more and more get their information online, and as discs get less appealing and more expensive, then over a matter of time, and I don't know whether that's two years, three or four years, then disc-based demos might not be ideal. There's also the timing on content for disc space, you have to plan ahead for a long time, manufacture the discs, ship it to the publisher, they have to mount it on the mag, and then sell it. Online content you can refresh in 24 hours.

So no doubt there's a shift happening, but talking to our publisher they are still very excited about the PlayStation Magazine, which now talks about all the three formats we have. It's a space that we'll keep our eye on, keep talking to our publisher and see how long a disc-based mag will last.

I totally agree with you that there's a major change happening, but when will it become completely antiquated to have discs on the cover, I don't know. The next-gen consoles are all about connectivity, so once you start connecting then all, then disc-based magazines probably become redundant. It's a question of connectivity and when we can communicate through an online operation instead of a disc-based one. But there's no doubt it there will soon be digital online magazines.

There seems to be a shift in attitudes towards the Xbox 360 in Japan. Microsoft's certainly done a good job of evangelising the machine to developers, and it's having some impact on sales. How is Sony going to tackle this? Do you think you might have to increase your first-party offerings, as the days of big exclusives from third-party seem over?

First of all, I don't know about the advancement in Japan by 360. All my numbers don't show them lifting dramatically. I know that in the US Xbox 360 has a good showing, but in Japan they've only had a pick-up off a very, very low base. So I'll leave that alone and focus on the question about games.

I think that with the formation of (Sony Computer Entertainment) Worldwide Studios, headed up by Phil Harrison, we now have all the studios working in conjunction so that we can eliminate doing six racing games or seven role playing games with five of them only relevant to the Japanese market. The resources of the global network are now ensuring that we put our resources, our money, our focus, on what the consumer wants for PS3.

I totally agree that first-party product will become more instrumental. I'm not sure we can write-off exclusives yet, although with so many formats available publishers are looking to maximise their IP. Clearly the structure of a worldwide studio where you have all the studios in Japan, Europe and the US under one head and one direction, we can better utilise our resources instead of coming up with multiple games that might even compete with one another.

I'm not saying however that we are going to do all global releases, Phil is very clear that there are cultural differences in US, Japan, Europe and Australia that require different content. But by eliminating duplicity on genres and titles and not green-lighting titles where they only have a very, very niche market, we can spend more money and time on delivering some brand new IP. I think MotorStorm is one of those games that will set the PS3 aside. That's the direction Phil is taking Worldwide Studios, so I'm confident that with that infrastructure and focus we will keep delivering brilliant IP for PS3.