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PlayStation’s Jim Ryan: ‘I wouldn’t recommend another console launch amid a pandemic’

"Absolutely everything is sold. And everything will be sold in Russia, there’s no doubt about that"

Sony launched its latest console - the PlayStation 5 – globally on November 19, one week after the initial launch on select markets, including the US and Japan. TASS spoke exclusively to Jim Ryan, Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO, on the hardships of a global launch in 2020, the importance of exclusive titles, and why game prices are bound to rise.

- How do you feel after a major tech launch in this crazy year?

- I guess my two principle feelings are one of happiness as things appear to be going well, and secondly of relief – we did it in this unusual, strange and frankly rather difficult year. Of all the things that I’ve learned this year, one is that I wouldn’t plan on doing another big console launch in the midst of a global pandemic, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody else. It’s been difficult, it’s been challenging from the production side, not being able to get anybody into the factories in Asia… Before we started production, we had to do all the manufacturing preparation by camera remotely. I mean, just imagine that for a precision device like the PlayStation 5.

- One week after the launch on select markets, how are sales doing?

- Everything is sold. Absolutely everything is sold. And everything will be sold in Russia, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve spent much of the last year trying to be sure that we can generate enough demand for the product. And now in terms of my executive bandwidth I’m spending a lot more time on trying to increase supply to meet that demand.

- If it weren’t for COVID19, would the PS5 have been any different?

- In terms of the product and its feature set, no, absolutely not. They way we took it to market might have been a bit different, but the actual product would have been the same. We might have had a few more to sell, but not very many: the guys on the production/manufacturing side have worked miracles.

- How fast do you expect the transition of players from the PS4 to the PS5?

- All history indicates that the initial cohort, from the launch to Christmas, about three quarters will be upgraders from the PS4. And the remaining 25% will either come to us from another console, or will come from outside the console ecosystem. So, the great majority of those who buy a PS5 will have a PS4. … There are around 114 million PS4s in the world, the number of those who transfer if you keep that in mind is a small number. But for us, the PS4 community is going to remain incredibly important certainly for 2020, 2021 and 2022. Because in those three years, that will be the larger PlayStation community.

- Is the console war still on with Microsoft then?

- [Console wars] is not a term I ever use or actually like. For me, it’s great that there’s competition. I think it makes us work harder. It avoids us getting complacent. It’s great that the consumer has a choice. I think that’s wonderful. We’re happy and we’re proud with what we have.

- How important are console exclusives for PlayStation in the next generation cycle?

- Great games are really important for the PlayStation 5, and if those great games are exclusive to our platform, we think that is a point of difference in our favor, and we’re very happy to be able to offer the PlayStation community games that they can only find on a PlayStation. … The strength of the games that our studios made in the PS4 cycle was a big factor in the PlayStation 4 being so popular.

- So how did you feel about Microsoft offering to buy Zenimax/Besthesda? Is there a possibility that PlayStation gamers will not be able to play the next Elder Scrolls game or Starfield?

- That’s a decision that is out of our hands, we’ll wait and see what happens. I look forward to learning about that. We just take a different approach. Our emphasis has been to focus on really steady, slow, but constant organic growth of our studios, selectively bolstered by acquisitions. We respect the steps taken by our competition, they seem logical and sensible. But we’re equally happy and confident, we’ve got a better launch lineup than we’ve ever had at any of our console launches.

- There have been opinions that AAAgames which take years and millions of dollars to produce are just too expensive, and are losing their appeal in business terms. What do you think?

- We’ve demonstrated with the PS4 that the market for AAA games has never been stronger. I think as technology advances… the opportunity for those blockbuster games to become even more realistic and to blur the lines between some of those forms of entertainment, it could actually point to even better days for those big blockbuster games. The story will be better, the sense of immersion greater. So, I go the other way: I think the best days for these sorts of games that we make and we pride ourselves on, those best days may yet be to come.

- What do you think about the rising prices for console games, with some companies flirting with offering titles for $70 apiece?

- If you look at the history of price increases for console video games, it’s a relatively modest one. There hasn’t been an increase for really quite some time. And the trend that we’ve seen from certain publishers to offset the significant increases [in the costs] of making a game for PS5 and other next generation consoles doesn’t seem to me to be unreasonable. If you look at our category of entertainment on a dollars or rubles per hour of entertainment basis, video games look very cheap. Even in Russia, we don’t just take the US dollar price and adjust it to the exchange rate, we try to do what’s right for the Russian gaming community.

- How will you respond to Microsoft’s Game Pass?

- There is actually news to come, but just not today. We have PlayStation Now which is our subscription service, and that is available in a number of markets.

- Why isn’t PlayStation Now available in Russia?

- You know better than me that Russia is a huge, huge country. With these services, it’s very hard to launch, where do you draw the line to launch? Do you launch in Moscow only, or in Moscow and St.Pete’s? It’s very hard to offer services to some parts of the Russian PlayStation community, but not to others. A cloud streaming service obviously does require the location of servers reasonably close to the gamer, it’s logistically very challenging.

- When will developers start using the new generation of consoles to their fullest, developing games specifically for the next cycle, that maybe cannot be run on the PS4?

- History will tell you that it’s in the second or third year that the developers really hit their stride. Developers typically need a little bit of time to familiarize themselves [with the hardware]. But it’s probably 2022 that you’re going to see some wonderful things in the same way that it was 20152016 for the previous generation, when the generation defining-games started to be published.

Interviewed by Dmitry Medvedenko, Head of TASS World Service