Interview with Tim Stokes, Sony Gulf FZE
We catch up with Tim Stokes for an update on Sony’s developments in the region
In the well-lit space of The Pavillion Downtown Dubai, I caught up with Tim Stokes, Sales and Marketing Director, PlayStation Division, Sony Gulf FZE after a morning of announcements to the media on the latest news from Sony Playstation. Candid as ever, Tim was happy to catch up with MEGamers on what we could expect in the months to come.
We’re seeing a lot more events to promote upcoming games, such as the Infamous 2 event at Mall of the Emirates – will we be seeing more of these for future releases?
Well we will have Resistance 3 and Uncharted 3 releasing in the coming months, so these will be our main focus, and we hope to tie it in with GAMES 11, in addition to our continued promotion of Playstation Move and its upcoming titles. And of course once Playstation Vita launches we’ll be getting it into people’s hands and letting them experience it themselves. So in short, yes; there will be these kind of events to look forward to in the months to come.
The obvious question to ask is do you think that these kind of hands-on events help change people’s opinions of the game or to get familiar with the consoles, and in the end influence them into buying the game or console?
Well there are two ways of really looking at this; the first group of people are already familiar with the game or the console and are really just looking to try it out. Then there are the second group of people who might have not heard of a particular game or spent time on the console, so they stop by to see what’s going on an possibly give it a shot themselves. We try and make our events as interesting and user-friendly as possible, so that everyone can take part in them. It’s hard to measure whether these events eventually lead to people buying the game or the console, but regardless you always get a lot of attention at these events, so on the whole it’s probably the best way to go about promoting a game or franchise.
On a consumer level, we’ve seen 3D TVs and 3D gaming enter into the household, with of course some great offerings from the likes of Sony. What do you think the months ahead and moving into 2012 have in store for consumers looking to have that at-home 3D experience?
If you go into any electronic store today you’ll see that probably half of the TVs are 3D enabled or such, but it’s hard to say if people actually use the 3D features or not. The general perception is that 3D hasn’t taken off the way that people might have envisioned it to have done so, but with the 3D capabilities of the PS3 and compatible games paired with a 3D TV, it makes for an immersive at-home 3D experience. It might not be for everybody, but it’s something that people can consider having – in the same way that you can play Resistance 3 with a Move controller or a regular one, the option is there for 2D or 3D, whatever you find comfortable.
One of the announcements to take away from E3 of course was the Playstation Vita, and having had some time on it myself I must say I was impressed. What are your game plans for Vita in the region?
Well we certainly hope to get some units here before the official launch to try and get the word out a bit, as well as potential pre-order campaigns for consumers and possible tie-ins with local mobile operators for the 3G versions. It’s been a while since we launched a new format, so we’ll certainly give it due justice in terms of marketing. We don’t have a fixed launch date just yet, but hopefully it will be along the lines of Europe and the rest of the world.
Staying with the Middle East, some publishers have been releasing localized support for their games or providing DLC for the region, examples being FIFA 12 coming out in Arabic. We also recently chatted with David Reeves from Capcom Europe who said that the ME region is worth $750 million dollars – what do you think has happened in the past years for publishers to recognize that the ME market is now playing in the league of the big boys?
There have been a host of factors that have contributed to this – firstly from an economic point of view the ME region has come through the last few years relatively unscathed compared to other parts of the world. But what’s been the biggest factor to be honest is the Playstation 3 itself; this has been the first format that’s been distributed around the region, it’s done over a million which is ahead of anything else, and relatively unpirated. So all of a sudden you have huge markets like Saudi Arabia where if a publisher 2,000 units 5 years ago, that would be considered a feat – today you’re looking at 100 times that number, so things like the localization of FIFA wouldn’t happen unless you got to those kind of figures. We’ve been here a long time and obviously believed in the region, and we try and tell other publishers as much as we can, because the more publishers are here the better. It creates a kind of great gaming ecosystem where frankly everyone stands to benefit, and hopefully that would expand to local development or IPs. Our business has always been strong here and we’re hoping it stays that way.
The PSN is now back online and in full force and you highlighted that the Store figures were very encouraging and reflected on customer loyalty, not to mention the Welcome Back program. Do you know if people are still putting in their credit card details to purchase things from the Store, or are they heading down to retailers to purchase the pre-paid Store cards?
One thing we noticed here when we introduced the prepaid cards here is that the local revenues for stores went up because of that because generally this isn’t yet a very credit-card oriented society; people still prefer to shop with cash at stores. The cards have been hugely successful, and we’re hoping to do the same with other stores such as Qatar or Bahrain, but also expand to possibly try and do DLC through the same kind of cards. There’s a project on trial in the US where at the checkout you get recommended DLC for the game you are purchasing, and get a redeemable code for it instantly, thus making it easier for people to get content. There’s also the option of expanding past game DLC to include video, music etc, but again that poses its own challenges.
With the larger capacity PS3s coming onto the market and high-speed internet now being affordable and readily available, do you think that a large portion of future game sales will come from digital downloads versus retail copies or is it pretty much an even deal?
A Playstation 3 game is generally upwards of 10 to 15Gb, so you’re looking at a pretty long download time here. In terms of our new releases, Infamous 2 was the first game that we did as a digital download, as percentage of online game sales is still relatively small compared to retail copies. In time that may change, but for the moment I think it’s best keeping things like add-on packs and other DLC as downloads, and keep the full games on disc.
One of the things you mentioned in your presentation is how strong the Playstation 2 is doing, despite being a number of years old. On one hand, you’ve got the Playstation 2 with quite a strong amount of piracy and a low price point, and on the other hand you have the Playstation 3 with a higher price point and no piracy – how do the figures stack up?
We’ve gotten to a million PS3s much quicker than we got to a million PS2s – people are hungry for gaming in the region and they’re willing to pay for it. There might not be a lot of PS2 development going on at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a strong seller. I look after India as well, and the Playstation 2 did extremely well there during April of this year, so we’re also producing relevant content for that region from experienced developers. Back here in the Middle East, we’re lucky that we have three strong-selling formats to contend with, and when the PS Vita launches we’ll have another great platform to get out to the public.