In conversation with CHIP Atindriya Bose, Country Manager, PlayStation, Sony Computer Entertainment, spills the beans on his plans to take this platform to the next level.
Q:Can you comment on the demand and supply for the PlayStation console in the country? Which type of console is selling well?
A: PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable (PSP) are fast selling products for us here. In fact we were caught by surprise when we launched PlayStation in India. We expected people to pick up the PS2 first and then the next generation model (PS3). But PSP is also flying off shelves. PS3 is well known in the market, but we’ve had difficulty pushing sales in the official channel. The total market for PS3 is 15,000 units. I sell 6,000 units through the official channel and 9,000 units in the grey market. Unlike the other two consoles (PS2 and PSP) for which we have subsidized the cost, it’s very difficult to cut the 35 percent import duty and 12.5 percent VAT on a high-end product (PS3). That’s why we have difficulty with PS3 sales. However, the other two consoles have surpassed our expectations. We sell 8,000 PS2 consoles and around 5,000 PSPs monthly. The current installed base of PS2 in India is around 3,25,000 units. There are between 60,000 to 65,000 PSP units here. PS3 numbers will be between 12,000 – 15,000. We’re really pleased with these numbers.
Q: What factors can you attribute to these encouraging numbers?
A: Two things worked for us. The PR and media coverage helped and there is now almost a cult for this gaming platform. The other thing that helped was our decision to match the grey market price and expand the official channel. From around 150 shops that used to sell PS, we today have over 1,000 retail points for PS products. The pricing for PS2 is Rs 6,990; PSP sells for Rs 7,990 and PS3 is priced at Rs 24,990. So the price differential between grey market and official channel for PSP and PS2 is almost negligible. If someone claims to have got their PS units at a much lower price (in the Indian market), there is a possibility that the unit has been hacked. In some cases, grey market vendors are replacing the original controller with an inferior one. Hence they are able to reduce the price.
The other important decision that worked well was to replicate the games locally and sell each at a price point of Rs 500.
So the running cost has decreased and a wider range of games is available. Couple this with the low, subsidized cost of the console.
Q: What kind of localization are you doing for games?
A: The Singstar and Buzz games (Ed: both are reviewed in the Unwind section) are experiments to bring in local content. We are working with leading India game developers like Trine Game Studios, FX Labs and Aurona (Pyramid Saimira Group). We are also in discussion with others.
We will work with them in easing the process of getting into full cycle game development and content on the PS platform. We will have a developer conference in India very soon. So there will soon be a lot of initiatives for creating games with Indian themes. We hope to have one new Indian game every month for the PS2. After a year or two there will be games with Indian characters that appeal to international audiences.
How will the localized games differ from the ones that you sell in other markets? Where will you compromise to keep the price low?
Our forthcoming low-priced India theme games will not be trashy. These will have high quality graphics and good gameplay. The number of levels in the games will be reduced to make the game available at the right price.
Q: What are your initiatives to tackle piracy for PS2 games?
A: We are seeing a lot of piracy for PS2 games. It’s not so easy to pirate PSP games, but it has started happening. But we counter that by providing many of the games on our online PlayStation store (Store.PlayStation.com). So one can download a game on the PC and put it on a Memory Stick (for the PSP).
We are also working with the Indian Music Industry (IMI) group, who are spearheading our anti-piracy efforts. We work with the judiciary and policy makers to find ways to tackle this problem.
On the business side, we will offer the games at a very low price of Rs 500 (for PlayStation 2). These games used to cost Rs 1,600. The pirated game costs Rs 125. Now people don’t mind the small difference and are ready to pay for the original game.
We are also looking at other areas like chip modification (hacked systems).
Q: We see that you are displaying the consoles at entertainment spots like pubs and restaurants. What about experience zones in retail?
A: We have also done so in retail. We realize that gaming is all about the experience. We are doing it (experience zones) with retailers who are interested. Croma and Reliance Digital have experience zones. Even traditional retailers like Vijay Sales, Sumaria and Sony Mony have realized that experience zones are important. They know that creating consumer excitement is an issue.
One of our retailers held a racing competition. We also carry out promotional activities at the Sony Worlds. The Singstar activity occurs at many malls. It has then moved into the modern retailers (showrooms). Now it is going into the BPOs and nightclubs. We also want to set up these experience zones in army canteens. We want to go wherever the consumer is present.
Q: How does hacking degrade the performance of the machine?
A: The Sony warranty become void when you tamper with the machine. You won’t be eligible for Sony service. While you can play the pirated game on the hacked console, there will be a performance issue over a period of time. The system will have a tendency to crash or freeze.
Any plans for launching the PlayStation Network and the PlayStation Store (online) in India?
PlayStation Network and the PlayStation store are key online initiatives for the platform. In fact we are ready with the store. It is just a matter of timing. We are delaying the launch of the store because India is not yet broadband ready—downloads take time. And Indians do not blame the ISP. They blame the site. We do not want to create a dissonance. A full PS3 game is a 20 GB download. It will take the entire day to download it with the current bandwidth.
We will also launch Home for India, another online concept. We will have a PC download site so that one can download the games on the PC and then put them on Memory Stick (for PSP). Expect all this during the current financial year.
Q: What about PS3 starter packs?
A: There will be starter kits in India. There will be a lot of game bundling. We will also work with Sony Pictures to introduce DVD bundling. But we need to figure out the right price points.
Q: How frequently will you launch new game titles in the Indian market? How many titles have you launched so far? Can you tell us about forthcoming titles? What about parallel launches?
A: All the international PS3 games are launched in India and we always try catching the Day 1 launch of all the SCEE (Sony Computer Entertainment Europe) published games.
We also work closely with the other big publishers to ensure the key titles are made available in time for the Indian market through their distributors.
The games come in either through Sony or through other publishers like EA. You also have publishers like Activision, THQ, Konami and others. Barring one or two publishers, most of the titles are available in India. It is a parallel launch. Both God of War and GT 5 are happening in parallel across the PAL territories (Europe, Middle east, India, Australia, New Zealand).