Sony chief hails ‘extraordinary’ response from gamers ahead of PlayStation 5 launch

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Jim Ryan, president and CEO, of Sony Interactive Entertainment, speaks exclusively to Arabian Business as he prepares to unveil the much-anticipated console.

In 2019 Hollywood had a banner year with releases such as Avengers Endgame, Frozen II and Star Wars, the Rise of Skywalker, propelling the film business to $41 billion in revenue. However, this all pales to the size of a simple movie trailer by comparison when you look at the gaming industry.

In 2020, amid the pandemic, Brad Pitt and friends can expect a much smaller paycheck, but this year reports predict revenues from gaming will hit $175 billion.

And, as of November 19, that needle is expected to be moved significantly higher as Sony releases the much-anticipated PlayStation 5 (PS5).

With lightning-fast loading with an ultra-high-speed SSD [solid state drive], deeper immersion with support for haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, 3D Audio, and an new generation of PlayStation games, fans are eager to get their hands on the new console.

Ahead of the release Jim Ryan, president and CEO, of Sony Interactive Entertainment, spoke exclusively to Arabian Business.

AB:  PlayStation console releases create a lot of excitement across the gaming community. Is this year bigger? Is there more anticipation and impatience because of the pandemic and his impact?

JR: The short answer is yes.  I quote the US but it applies absolutely everywhere as far as we can see, the amount of PS5s that took us 12 hours to pre-sell took us 12 weeks on PS4.

To the second part of your question, clearly Covid has seen an upswing in engagement with gaming as a category of entertainment, just as it has with motion pictures and television boxsets and the music. So that is undeniable and I think it’s certainly been a factor.

Would it be in the principal factor? I would say not because we sensed this momentum starting to build even pre-Covid. We’ll only be able to tell when things get back to normal, but I think what we’re seeing here is so spectacular and so extraordinary that it goes beyond that.

AB: With that massive increase in orders and massive increase in anticipation, what have you had to focus on to ensure that this console release meet fans expectation?

JR: It obviously puts pressure on the supply chain and that pressure gets compounded by the fact that our geographic reach expands dramatically with each generation. So your region would be a great example of that, where we’ve always prided ourselves on having built a highly engaged, highly passionate gaming community in the Middle East. PS4 took that to turbocharged levels that we’d never seen before.

We’re humbled and grateful for that, but when you come with the next one it sets expectation that much higher within the region.

AB: Is this is the year that gaming’s gone mainstream, have the perceptions of gaming as an industry changed this year?

JR: I think the whole Covid thing has provided a significant step change to a trend that was occurring anyway. So something that was incrementally becoming the case all of a sudden had a big jolt. I do think within the region that the trend is more pronounced, and that the growth in the gaming culture is more dramatic. And, it’s moved from being a niche pastime, enjoyed principally by young people, into something bigger and broader.

AB: Figures recently showed Hollywood last year made $41 billion, and this year is going to be much worse. Whereas gaming’s looking to $175 billion in global revenues. Has gaming stepped out of its own shadow and is now one of the biggest entertainment industries in the world?

JR: The numbers are inarguable right? A lot of its demographic, people who started with us in 1995, they’re now in the mid to late 50s in many cases, and they’re still with us and more passionate, more engaged, more committed than at any point in the past. 

So many people write to me all the time where their children are now part of PlayStation community. And I think geographic expansion has also been a bigger factor in our favour than perhaps in some other categories of entertainment.

AB: What’s exciting you most about the PS5? What are you looking forward to fans experiencing? When they get their hands on console?

JR: My answer that question has actually changed over the course of the last month or so. If you’ve asked me that a month ago, I would probably have said the SSD [solid-state drive] and the virtually complete eradication of loading times. And, the way developers look like they’re starting to make use of that in really very interesting and very creative ways. Without doubt now it’s the controller, the reaction to the DualSense controller.

We’re moving into a state of increasing certainty and excitement about people picking this thing up and going ‘Wow, this is really amazing.’

AB:  How important is the Middle East region for you?

JR: It’s many millions now. It’s very important and it’s very big. I think it’s not just the current size but it’s the growth trajectory. There are some markets where we’ve been very big and very successful over many years where I wouldn’t say we’re at saturation point but the growth curve is starting to flatten.

That isn’t the case in the region, we’ve got plenty of places to go, whether geographically, demographically, if you look at penetration of some of the Emirates, some of the some parts of GCC we’ve got tons we can do more.

AB: Is the opportunity in the Middle East more than purely consumers? Are you seeing a rising interest in creating games? Is there an industry here that’s more than just gamers and players?

JR: I think there will be. We took the decision to localise the system software into Arabic, maybe 2016, which was a big engineering task. But that decision was taken on the back of the massively exploding interest in PlayStation in the region and the massive growth in the community.

And that’s resulted in localisation of games into Arabic, to an increasing degree that we’re really happy about. And so the next point on that journey, if the region follows what we’ve seen elsewhere in European territories, will be a burgeoning development community. There are signs, there are pockets of that already.

There’s a culture, there’s interest, there’s money in the region, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t happen. And when it does, we stand ready to support it and embrace it in the best way that we can.

AB: How much is this launch going to be a boon for the retail sector here in the Middle East?

JR: There’s no question about that. It was, it was a big boon for the retail sector in 2013 [PS4 launch], and we’re going to have a bigger launch in 2020, both in terms of the number of consoles, and the average price point will be higher. So we’re happy that retail will hopefully do well out of this. Our retail partners are important to us.

We have hardware, we have peripherals, we have our games, so we hope they do well, we hope they prosper. It’s always great when everybody in an ecosystem can make money. It is a case of a rising tide lifting all boats.

AB: What’s PlayStation’s mission going forward in 2021?

JR: At Sony we talk about getting closer to people. And for us, the manifestation of that is our relationship with our community. I wouldn’t say that we cease to look at our business in terms of the number of units of hardware sold, because obviously that is an important metric. It used to be the primary metric but it’s now secondary.

Now we think about the community in terms of the number of people who are active but also increasingly the level of their engagement and the depth and richness of that. Because that is what distinguishes console gaming from mobile phone gaming or tablet gaming is that people they engage more deeply, more socially with their friends.

AB: Has that become more important this year? And how has it become more important this year, that sense of community?

JR: It’s obviously become more important this year with Covid. Gaming was one of the very few ways that people could socialize with each other. And we were very happy to offer people the ability to meet with their friends, to see each other and to play video games together.

AB: Any message for the Middle East community about the PS5 launch?

JR: We’re going to have a great launch of PS5. We really are very humbled and amazed by the amount of interest and love and respect for PlayStation that exists in the region. 

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