Interview by Ronan Price
The PlayStation maker is on a roll with PS4, outselling the current Xbox One family by a factor of three to one in western Europe. But it must surely be privately wary of what Microsoft has quite fairly dubbed “the world’s most powerful console”, which goes on sale in November.
Jim Ryan doesn’t look like a man with a problem, though. PlayStation’s global head of sales and marketing is sitting opposite me on a plush sofa in the very relaxed surroundings of LA’s exclusive Sunset Marquis hotel. He couldn’t be more laid back, even as three PR handlers listen anxiously to our conversation about E3, PS4 Pro, Hideo Kojima – and the upcoming Xbox One X.
Ryan, an Englishman who can trace some Irish lineage to Carlow, anticipates the Xbox question and speaks confidently but unhurriedly as he outlines PlayStation’s response to the new 4K console.
“At the end of the day, it all comes down to the games,” he says. “One in five sales are PS4 Pro. We're happy that we're well established (in 4K). We think we have a great price for our product. We think we have good publisher support. We think that our PlayStation 4 Pro showcases PS4 games in a really great manner.
“Let's see what they (Xbox) have. We now know when they launch, we know what their price is. We don't really yet have a full understanding about what the level of third-party support for their thing will be. I'm really happy with the position that we have and I wouldn't change it with anybody.”
Ryan would have an easier sell if Sony had unleashed a blockbuster E3 press conference the night before we meet. But the overall reaction from fans and the media was somewhat muted. Maybe it was the shorter running time, maybe the lack of killer new games that hadn’t already been announced.
But Ryan insists Sony had the right approach: “The more we do these things the more we start realise that less is more. An hour seems to us at least to be just the right time. You start going past an hour, you can see people shifting round looking at their watch and checking their phones.”
While Microsoft crowed about showcasing 42 new Xbox One games on stage days before, Ryan wouldn’t be drawn into a numbers game regarding the PlayStation press conference.
“For us, I'd feel bad if we were talking about the number because the quality of games on show at this sort of event is way more important than the quantity,” he says. “I thought our games looked great, I thought they looked gorgeous. They seemed to be playing fantastically. I was really happy and very proud of the event last night.”
He also defends the announcement (or re-announcement) of games that may be still a long way off. For instance, Hideo Kojima’s in-development title Death Stranding got a teaser trailer last year but has no release date. The new God of War got a second outing at E3 this year but still appears to be at least six to nine months away.
“I think if you do it in a misleading manner you're will begin to risk losing the trust of your audience,” Ryan explains. “That is not OK. I would say that the Hideo Kojima thing with Death Stranding, it was very apparent that was not a game that was going to be shipping any time soon.
“To share and to celebrate and to announce the fact of a partnership between Hideo Kojima and Sony was entirely legitimate. In my mind, as long as you don't mislead people and as long as not everything that you show is gonna ship in four years' time, I don't have a problem with it. I think we've stayed the right side of the line on that one.”
One thing he does concede, though, is that rollout of titles for the well-received PlayStation VR headset has been too slow, particularly by third parties.
“I think the performance of our own studios has been really good. They supported the launch with excellence. We were quite careful to give VR a good amount of airtime last night to address exactly the sort of concern that you've raised, to showcase four or five new VR titles.
“Increasingly, we're starting to see VR modes be put into regular PS4 games. The most notable example to date has been Resident Evil 7.
“On any platform at any point in time you have quiet periods where there's a couple of months where not much happens. Whether it's our own games or games coming from third-party publishers, trying to strike the balance is particularly difficult thing when you launch because you obviously want to have a good launch, you want to have games, you want to have noise, you want to have excitement.
“Virtual reality is a new form of gaming. Developers are struggling to come to terms with this. Many of the games are, particularly with external developers, that were planned to come within the first six months - these guys have never done a VR game before and they get a certain way down the road and they realise, hmmm, this isn't quite right, we need to do things a bit differently.
“I acknowledge the concern. I think when you look across the catalogue of games that is out there, for something that is not much more than six months old, I don't think it's too bad at all. I'm not ashamed of it in the slightest.”
Ryan is keen to talk up the new VR titles – such as psychological horror The Inpatient and co-op shooter Bravo Team, both from the people who brought us the scary Until Dawn. But he’s also proud of the upcoming collaboration with Vince Gilligan, who’s crafting a PSVR spinoff of Breaking Bad, which won’t be quite a game.
“Often with gaming platforms there is an ‘event’ – such as Brain Training on the DS and Nintendogs. This could be one of those things for virtual reality.
“One thing that I observe is that the line between a gaming experience and a non-game experience, it's been pretty binary, really easy to work out which was which.
“With VR, that line becomes really blurred and there are many VR experiences that we might class as non-game, but which actually do have some limited form of interactivity. And I think that can only be a good thing, trying to break down these barriers, which have existed to nobody's benefit.”
PS4 is well on the way to eclipsing PS3 in terms of sales – last week it hit 60.4m consoles sold after just four years on the market, not far off PS3’s total of 80m in 10 years.
Ryan is confident that success will continue even as Microsoft brings its latest beast of a machine to market.
“We're exceeding pretty well any internal expectation that we've ever had,” he says with a smile as the PR handler signals our time is up.