With a generation of dominance established with the PlayStation 4, one can’t help but think of what is next for Sony, the PlayStation brand, and its latest PlayStation 5 console.
Well, for one thing, the launch of the highly anticipated console will be a different affair under the current landscape – there will not be scores of people in every country camping in line for the stores to open, to get their hands on the console. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sony isn’t even providing stocks of the currently sold-out gaming machine in stores, in a bid to curtail the usual buying frenzy that normally follows each launch, from the original PlayStation console back in 1994, to the most recent launch of the PlayStation 4 in 2013.
And while the PS4 sold one million units within a day to lay claim the title of the fastest-selling game console in history, it’s not something that is on the top of the mind of President and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, Jim Ryan, with this month’s launch of the PS5.
A Launch For A New Age
Yes, initial plans were underway to host a big launch party and invite the media, publishers and partners to what could have been the most impressive launch event ever, but that was before COVID-19 hit and those plans were scuttled.
“We couldn’t do any of that, we had the location booked in New York, the plans were quite well advanced, and we had to cancel all of it,” said Ryan, in a wide-ranging and exclusive interview with Geek Culture last week, just prior to the global launch.
“In the past, you’ll have seen the playbook of a big show with 3,000 media in a room with huge screens, developers, videos, demos, and short speeches,” Ryan recalls fondly, but admittedly, the pandemic changed everything.
“Typically in these launch years, there are dozens of consumer events where people, in their thousands and tens of thousands, actually 100,000, go to some of the major events. Consumers go to shows and in individual countries and try the new console and play it, and obviously, those have all been cancelled.”
Now, the most significant thing on his mind is less of the launch, but of the safety of employees, from the teams around the world planning an executing a global launch, to those in the factory producing the consoles that have been snapped up quicker than stocks have been made available.
I think that we’ve ended up in the right place and I think we’re about to have a great launch. But if we’d been able to do those things over the summer, people would have gotten an idea earlier of what the PS5 is really all about.
As many would attest, getting your hands on or even a pre-order for the PlayStation 5 remains a difficult task. In a period where the world has been adversely impacted by a pandemic, the whole manufacturing and marketing process for a new game console had to undergo a revolution.
Acknowledges Ryan, “Although factors such as employees working from home and restrictions on international travel remain, necessary measures are being taken, and we do our best to manufacture as many PS5 consoles as possible.”
And rather than do a big reveal, Sony has spent considerable time developing a new playbook for the PS5, including tapping on controlled digital content to boost awareness. The first digital showcase highlighted blockbuster games coming to the system before the futuristic form factor of the console was revealed to the world.
A modern problem requires a modern solution, and the use of digital showcases definitely worked well in focusing the audience on what is important when it comes to the PS5. In fact, realising that gamers would jump at the chance of tearing down the console to show what’s inside, Sony went and did their own teardown video, in a seven-minute one hosted by Yasuhiro Ootori, head of Sony’s mechanical design for the PS5.
In between, the company followed things with even more game reveals, teasers and showcases, before it eventually revealed the prices and launch dates that shook the world. It is certainly not an easy task to “build up the excitement, energy, and emotion into digital events,” but Sony has powered on to great success.
Considering the fact that much of the innovation for this new generation has to do with the “heightened sensory engagement with the console,” that success is even more astounding. In any instance, consumers can better comprehend new features including visual fidelity, faster loading times, and bigger games, but how do you sell the idea of new haptic feedback that cannot be felt, play with the adaptive triggers that differ in intensity across games, or even hear 3D audio?
Still, it was something that the team had to try to make the best of, even if it wasn’t the most ideal of circumstances.
“I think that we’ve ended up in the right place and I think we’re about to have a great launch. But if we’d been able to do those things over the summer, people would have gotten an idea earlier of what the PS5 is really all about.”
Having cut his teeth in the European market, Ryan is no stranger to global marketing and sales. Having served as deputy president before ascending to his current position as the head honcho of Sony’s gaming division, he knows how vital the launch of a console always is.
Our ambition is always quite simple; we want to make the PlayStation community happy.
But rather than dwell on the missed chances, Ryan’s mission to the company was to make this launch a “big cultural moment” not just in gaming, but across “the world of entertainment.” On current evidence, it appears to be a mission accomplished thus far for the PlayStation 5.
History Weighs Heavy
The PlayStation 5 has pretty much been snapped up everywhere, and demand is as high as ever. Dedicated fans have gotten their hands on the consoles, while scalpers continue to target those desperate enough to consider exorbitant prices. Ahead of the launch in Asia, that is no different.
With the legions of fans the brand has accumulated over the years, it can sometimes obscure the fact that not everyone has had the opportunity to experience everything the PlayStation brand has had to offer in the last 26 years.
You could be lucky enough to enjoy all five generations of PlayStation consoles, or this could very well be your first foray into the ecosystem. Regardless, Ryan wants you to know that you will be taken care of.
“We had people who joined us in 1995 with PS1, and are still with us now. Their kids are now PlayStation gamers as well, and it’s definitely a kind of demographics phenomenon that we really like. We turned something that was basically kids entertainment into something that was cool and socially acceptable for people in their late teens, early, late 20s,” Ryan emphasised.
“With the PS3 and PS4, we have gone beyond that. Ultimately, it all comes down to the games. There’s something for everyone if you look at the launch lineup. You’ve got Bugsnax, Call of Duty, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, there’s Sackboy, there is something for every age group and demographic,” explains Ryan.
“The PS5 launch lineup, in my view, is easily the strongest that we have ever launched with. I think we are getting better and stronger at this, and that will continue. I’d be surprised to see a world where PlayStation doesn’t stand for great games.”
But while this particular emphasis on quality games has been extremely noticeable and paid off handsomely for the PS4 generation, and that is not going to change moving forward, Ryan notes that this is not the only thing that Sony has in store for the PlayStation 5.
“With this generation, we’re very proud of the hardware that we’re taking to market which is unique in terms of its design ethos. Nobody in the history of video games has ever done anything like that. And the feature set, whether it’s the DualSense or 3D audio or the other UI/UX features, is great.”
A multi-faceted approach will be vital, especially when the competition has been pushing hard on their messaging of player-first services like Xbox Games Pass. Microsoft may have taken a backseat in the fight against the PS4, but the Xbox Series X and S are a whole other ball game.
I don’t like not being able to offer products or services to particular parts of the PlayStation community, irrespective of where they are located.
PlayStation’s response to this is quite measured. The plan for 2020 was to “ensure that the communication strategy was very simple, very clean and very uncluttered, and that it was really just about PS5 and the games.”
The acquisition of ZeniMax Media and the Bethesda family of games have certainly seen Microsoft throw down the gauntlet. Sony has to have a response, some would say, but the solutions may not always be so straightforward. For Ryan and Sony, there is always a balancing act.
Every studio acquisition has to be done carefully, says Ryan, and any new addition will “have to fit with PlayStation” and what the brand stands for. That strategy will always be part of the broader plan and when it does work or make sense, the “very serious organic growth” for the worldwide studios have also given Sony another arrow in the quiver.
Citing the example of Sucker Punch Productions, Ryan pointed to the transition of the studio from the ones behind a recognised franchise with Infamous: Second Son, to developing the recent breakout hit that is Ghost of Tsushima, as exactly the kind of explosive growth that has characterised the PS4 generation.
For the PlayStation 5, Sony tapped on the expertise of another noted acquisition, Insomniac Games, to develop a new title that fed off an older one. With stellar games over the history of their partnership, this acquisition was a no-brainer and it continues to pay off, with semi-sequel Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales leading the pack of launch titles, and dominating the conversation of which game leads with both console launches this month.
This risk-taking will only continue for the PlayStation 5 generation and there is always a risk for any platform that “seeks to recycle new versions of existing IPs and games.” Being able to “freshen things up” and bring “new and different and exciting things” will only energise the audience, says Ryan.
However, that does not mean Sony is banking on only games, as it has other tricks up its sleeve, with services such as PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now constantly being looked at and fleshed out. “The work that we’re doing on the services will get its own moment and its own focus at the right time,” Ryan stated.
The PS5 launch lineup, in my view, is easily the strongest that we have ever launched with. I think we are getting better and stronger at this, and that will continue. I’d be surprised to see a world where PlayStation doesn’t stand for great games.
One noticeable gap is with the lack of streaming service that is PlayStation Now, which has yet to arrive, especially since the necessary infrastructure and support is not entirely in place. But do not think for a moment that Sony is not looking into it.
“I would just watch this space carefully. It won’t be today, it won’t be next week, but we are aware of the needs of gamers all around the world. PlayStation prides itself on having a global community, and we try to ensure that the community is treated fairly to the utmost extent possible consistently.”
And this fair treatment might seem like a misnomer, given that in Asia, some fans have, somewhat unfairly, decried the company for not announcing the console launch in some markets, including Indonesia, but right after this interview, SIES announced the PlayStation 5’s pricing and availability in Malaysia, Philippines, and Indonesia.
“I don’t like not being able to offer products or services to particular parts of the PlayStation community, irrespective of where they are located,” Ryan shared with passion.
The region of Asia, and Southeast Asia, has always been a bastion of support for the PlayStation brand, and that has not gone unnoticed over at Sony Interactive Entertainment. With Ryan’s experience championing the cause in Europe and now globally, the value of this region is immense in his eyes.
“There’s a big opportunity for us here. If we do things right, if we get the right people in the right organisations with the correct level of investment and the correct kind of engagement with the growing PlayStation communities, the timing of PS5 will be really great for the region,” Ryan reiterated.
“I want to do big things and great things in Southeast Asia. I think there’s a big chance to do a lot here.”
This new generation will present even more challenges for the incumbent that is PlayStation and Sony. With the competition heating up and players expecting more, everything needs to be in tip-top shape if any success is to come by.
For Sony, Ryan, and the PlayStation 5, the core tenet is simple.
“Our ambition is always quite simple; we want to make the PlayStation community happy.”
And who can argue with that?