What are the challenges ahead for the PlayStation 3? Warwick Light, of Sony Computer Entertainment New Zealand, discusses them with GERARD CAMPBELL.
Warwick Light, Sony Computer Entertainment New Zealand's head of marketing, calls the PlayStation 3 an "incredible transformer".
"We (Sony) can transform the PS3 capabilities so as to meet people's changing entertainment needs," he says.
According to Australian independent research group GfK, in New Zealand the PlayStation 3 has sold 9019 consoles since its launch here in March, a figure Light is "stoked" about, considering it missed the crucial 2006 Christmas period.
"It was a challenge to launch after Christmas with a price over $1000, but the New Zealand adoption rate of PlayStation 3 proves that consumers have responded positively to its ability to evolve online, which ensures that it always remains the centre of their home entertainment," says Light, adding that sales were on track for Sony's targeted figures.
In terms of sales worldwide, the PS3 is lagging behind competitor Microsoft's Xbox 360 console but that console has had a head start, having launched in New Zealand a year before Sony's offering.
One possible reason behind the slower uptake of the PS3 could be its relatively high price in New Zealand it retails for close to $1200.
Recently, Sony in the United States announced a $US100 ($NZ124) price drop, taking the machine to $US499 ($NZ620), but New Zealand consumers won't be so lucky at least at the moment.
Asked why Kiwis aren't getting a price drop, Light says, "Every market is handling it different, and the different regions occasionally have a different approach. I can say that come August 1 (tomorrow) in NZ we will release a value-added PlayStation 3 starter pack that has a PS3 console, top-selling games Resistance: Fall of Man and Motorstorm and two wireless controllers for $1199.95. That provides the NZ consumer with almost $320 free value that's better than $100 off."
Asked how consumers will react over a new bundle rather than getting a price cut, Light is sure consumers will be "thrilled" at the added value the package offers. The bundle will be available until September 30.
And could the continued strong sales of the PlayStation 2 be impacting on PS3 sales?
"Not at all," Light says. "In New Zealand, 450,000 PlayStation 2s have been sold and I would expect nearly all the current adopters of PS3 to have already owned a PlayStation 2."
Sony doesn't believe the PS3's price is high, considering that when compared to its rivals, Light says, it is a true "next-generation" machine.
"What does next-generation mean? It means that something has to last until the next generation. The PlayStation 2 has proven that, with about seven years between the PS2 and PS3.
"It could be anywhere between seven and 10 years before the next (Sony) console comes out, and to bridge that gap you need considerable technology. The PS3 is designed to last until the next generation."
Light says that when Nintendo launched its Wii console, the company freely admitted that it wasn't a next-generation machine, and when you "look at the tangible differences between processing power and scope for scalability between the PS3 and the Xbox 360, it is clear that the PS3 is designed to last until the next generation".
Light says that PS3 was also future-proofed thanks to its Blu-ray player that allows "next-generation media playback" and in what is clearly a dig at competitor Microsoft's support of high-definition DVD says "DVD is current generation. Why would you support current generation?"
The PS3 is New Zealand's biggest selling Blu-ray player, he says, and "word is that Blu-ray is already winning the new format wars. In the US, (movie rental chain) Blockbuster has said that it will now only support Blu-ray, so the war is looking pretty solid for us."
Light says the PS3 is ideal for the home-entertainment system as you can "update its processing capabilities through firmware (software patches) updates that add functionality to the machine".
Functionality such as DLNA (Digital Living Networked Alliance) support, which, Light says, "is sort of a sharing format between compatible networked devices. It means I can have my laptop, and my PS3 can wirelessly detect movies, or music, or pictures stored on it and stream it to my TV. That content will appear on the PS3's X-media bar.
"We're also hoping next year about the same time that Freeview launches its terrestrial broadcasting service (expected to be in March) to release a digital tuner for the PS3, turning it into a programmable TV recorder."
We move on to Sony's online strategy, which is highlighted by the company's Home concept, a virtual world where PS3 owners can interact with each other. Light believes that Home has enormous potential to sell PS3s.
"Sony has a massive community of owners and we owe it to them and the online community so they can communicate and socialise and explore other opportunities. Home is creating a living, breathing world."
On whether Sony looked to Microsoft's highly successful Live online service for inspiration, Light replies, "Our approach was completely different from Xbox. We took the PlayStation approach. If you think of Xbox Live and its ability to show player rankings, well in PlayStation Home, if you take, say, a Gran Turismo hall of fame, you'll be able to walk around the hall of fame, and if you've won a tournament or a cup, you'll have that cup in your Home space."
Light says games such as Killzone 2, Rachet and Clank: Tools of Destruction, and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune all shown off at the recent E3 Business and Media Summit were reasons to buy a PS3, and the company's PlayStation Portable handheld was going "great guns" in New Zealand, with 50,000 units sold.
But Sony is not going to turn its back on its phenomenally successful PS2, says Light.
"The PS2 is unstoppable. It is still the No. 1 selling games console in New Zealand every week. There are 450,000 PS2s in this market. That's a big potential market for the PS2. We owe it to our consumers to continue supporting it."
What lies ahead for the next few months for PlayStation?
"The challenge for the next few months is to inform New Zealand consumers about how much the PlayStation 3 has to offer. Most people are aware that it plays games; others know about it being a Blu-ray player, but we have a real job ahead to educate consumers about things like being able to surf the net on a big-screen TV," Light says.
"A lot of people think that the PS3 is just a games machine. It's not a games machine. Well (laughs), it is, but it isn't (laughs again). It's a future-proofed super computer."
- © Fairfax NZ News