Forbes - PlayStation Chief Jack Tretton: How To Sell Vita, Navigate Clouds, And Debut The PS4
Jack Tretton is the president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, a subsidiary of Sony responsible for the companys PlayStation brand in North America. Hes a video game industry veteran, at SCEA since its 1995 inception, and before that at game publishers including JVC Musical Industries and Activision.
I spoke to Tretton earlier this month at E3, the game business biggest annual trade show. The following excerpts from that conversation are edited for length and clarity.
David Ewalt: The three console makers had very different keynotes at this years E3. Nintendo showed off their next console, Microsoft was all about the Kinect peripheral, and Sony focused on the Vita handheld, due for release later this year. What do you make of such different strategies?
Jack Tretton: I think more than ever, this generation of consoles has more product differentiation, and companies have staked out their own ground. Ive always felt that the classic Nintendo franchise was a more casual, young audience, Microsoft was more the shooter audience, and we were always the masses. But I think we were all interested in the same things. But you mentioned Vita, and thats clearly our message in the portable space. The big message in the console space was our exclusive big blockbuster titles. And then theres the 3D and [PlayStation] Move.
Its a very healthy industry, theres room for everybody. Were going after a lot of the same things, but I think consumers get the product differentiation. They kind of gravitate to one brand or another, depending on what their tastes are.
Its interesting that you set the industry up in those terms, Wii for entry level gamers, Xbox as hardcore, and PlayStation in the middle, serving both.
I think the opportunity is that we can speak to a very diverse audience across an entire worldwide plane. The challenge is that its difficult to focus your messaging, and you have to go out and deliver multiple messages to multiple audiences.
I think one of the best examples of the way we approach gaming would be something like a Killzone 3, which is a classic shooter. You get an audience that says, Well, Im not interested in a shooter. And you say Wait, have you tried a shooter using motion control? have you tried it in 3D?
The good news is thats the same $59.99 game, and we can sell it to a very wide range of consumers; not just the shooter fan, not just the 3D fan, not just the motion gaming fan. I think it allows us to play to a much wider audience. And where that really seems to bear out is when you look at things on a worldwide basis. We compete extremely well across the entire worldwide audience, where competing devices tend to run into roadblocks in certain genres or in certain markets, where their message just doesnt play well.
Is that where the Vita fits in, because it can be marketed as a game device or a media player?
The PlayStation Vita
What we felt we had done with the original PlayStation portable was create a gaming device that is multimedia and not just gaming, which was very evolutionary back then. And also, tried to deliver that console deep, more sophisticated experience in a portable device.
But this is the first time, not only in terms of graphic quality and depth of game play, but also in terms of things like duel analog sticks that youre used to from the console experience with the added features that you see typically in more of a portable space, like the front and back touch or the two cameras and the built-in gyroscope, and all the social communication features.
Youd like to have the Vita to appeal to entry level gamers, but is a $250 price tag too high, or is the device intimidating?
I think that is the line you walk. Its sophisticated, so its going to appeal to gamers, but because its sophisticated, the point of entry might be more difficult. When we approach any platform launch, its in stages. We want to go after the core gamer, the person thats the uber user, thats really going to intuitively know what they want when they first pick it up. And the key will be whether we can scale to a very casual entry level consumer. Id like both of you, but if I had to get one, Id rather get the gamer, because the mom may not buy the same amount of games.
I think we have made a lot of inroads there with the PlayStation 3, with the It Only Does Everything message, and the fact that people can appreciate this is for the whole family. Even if mom doesnt think shes ever going to play a game, she can justify the purchase to download her photos or videos or watch Netflix. Once the machines in the home, its the Trojan Horse. Weve got a much better chance to get your mom to pick it up if she owns it than if she hasnt.
And thats kind of the way I look at the whole advent of casual and social gaming. People are always asking Do you see it as a threat? I see it as an opportunity, because your mother may have said ten years ago, I wouldnt touch a game for all the money in the world, but now she may be playing something on a smartphone. Theres a much better chance to introduce her to Vita today than five years ago.
Will you market the Vita as an entertainment device, something for non-gamers to watch movies on?
The fact that its PlayStation, and PlayStation is synonymous with gaming, says that well always lead with the gaming message. We will quickly try to enunciate the multimedia features of the device and make it accessible to more people. But I think if we were going to go out and try to market this as an entertainment device from Sony, we probably wouldnt use the PlayStation name.
Gaming is our core strength and were going to play to our core. But I think weve learned a lot of lessons from the PSP in terms of mass non-gaming audiences, and were going to try to tap into some of that with Vita.
But increasingly, portable game devices like the Vita do the same things as multi-function handhelds running Apple iOS or Google Android. Dont you have to compete against those products?
The key is to make make sure everybody takes the Vita with them before they leave the house. You cant take everything you own when you leave your house. When you walk out the door, you say I gotta have this, I gotta have that its wallet, car keys, money, and phone, right? e want, if youre thinking about entertainment at all, for the Vita to go in there.
I think that the ability to do things that other devices can do will be a reason to make sure you own a Vita, and maybe why you leave the other devices at home. Ive certainly gotten that way, I dont carry a laptop anymore. Something like a Blackberrys perfect for the vast majority of what I need a laptop for. And then I think when it comes to entertainment, youll find that Vita will do everything, and maybe do things better, than any other device that youre using.
The Vita will have access to cloud computing services, so you can upload your progress in a game and pick up where you left off on another device. Are cloud services just a feature, or is all game content moving online? Will future consoles rely on the cloud?
I think its a feature. The thing we like to do is give consumers flexibility. Watching video content on the PS3 is a perfect example of that. Theres a lot of conversation about people migrating from DVD to Blu-Ray, whether consumers will stay disc-based, or whether theyre going to stream movie content. We dont need to bet on one, because were able to play in all those camps.
I think weve done the same thing as it relates to gaming. Large form disc-based gaming, small form digital gaming, stored on the Cloud, stored on resident memory or on a memory stick all of the above. The more flexible you are, the wider net you can cast.
When will you start talking about PlayStation 4?
PlayStation 3 is really just hitting its stride. And technologically, I dont think its possible to provide any advancement beyond what we have. What weve seen from the competition is trying to add features that already exist in PlayStation 3. We invested heavily in that, we rolled a very heavy rock up a steep hill, through the launch period. But now I think that all pays off, and weve got a long run way behind it. So, I wouldnt look for any discussion of a next generation PlayStation for quite some time.
I think theres ground to be carved out for everybody. But I didnt see anything about Nintendos announcement that said Oh, wed better get working on rolling out a new PlayStation here pretty soon.
Our attitude is kind of welcome to the party. If youre looking at being a multimedia entertainment device, if youre looking at high def gaming, that was 2006 for us.
Is the PlayStation 2 sticking around for a while?
Yeah, sure is. were going to sell another six million this year.