Atindriya Bose Interview: Part 2

icon_feature1In part one of our interview with Sony Computer Entertainment India Country Manager, Atindriya Bose, we spoke about India’s first console game, Hanuman: Boy Warrior, other upcoming PlayStation games from Indian developers, and PS2 back-catalogue titles. Click here for part one of the interview, and while you’re there, you may also want to check out the Hanuman: Boy Warrior trailer. It’s guaranteed to entertain.

And now, its time for part two, where we move away from the PS2 and get to talking about the future – the PSP and PS3. We touch upon everything from price cuts, rumours and sales figures to PSN, the Xbox 360 arcade, and PlayStation Experience being ditched in favour of a Sony-Microsoft Gaming Experience?! Read on.

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Atindriya Bose, Country Manager, SCEI

There are strong indications that Sony is going to announce a new PSP with a slide form factor, probably at E3. Can you tell us anything about this?

No, this is something they are holding very close to the chest. So the only response to such a question is that we don’t respond to speculation. But Sony is about continuous improvement, so they’re always working on making things better.

Is there any possibility of a revision in PSP prices?

Well, it was working very well at Rs 8,990, and even at Rs 9,490 it’s doing extremely well. So right now, I don’t think a price drop on the PSP is something we’re looking at. And under the current market conditions, even if we want to drop PSP prices, the best we can do is Rs 8.990. And we really haven’t been hit by the DS at all; not in India at least.

PSP game prices are still relatively high. Is there any scope for bringing that closer to PS2 game prices?

It will be difficult because the nature of the technology is such that we cannot manufacture PSP games here; something we’ve been doing for PS2. So there is very little scope for bringing prices to PS2 game levels, unless there is a huge drop in duties. Rather I would say that two years from now, if the Blu-ray picks up with support from the Indian film industry, we could start replicating PS3 games in India. That is more likely than the PSP.

Coming to the PS3, software pricing has been quite irregular, and for Killzone 2, the price has come down to Rs 2,499. Is this going to be the fixed price for first-party titles now?

Yes, Rs 2,499 is the pricing for Killzone 2 and forthcoming first-party PS3 titles. The existing titles that we’ve launched at Rs 2,799 or 2,899, we’re not looking at repricing those for now. For new games, we will try maintaining a 2,499 price point. For Killzone 2, we really wanted to make it big.

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Killzone 2: It sold

Did it do well?

Astonishingly well, considering the PS3 install base in India. I think a majority of the Limited Editions went to IndianVideoGamer itself. And even on the regular edition, we’ve been placing repeat orders. We might have sold even more if we had supplies when demand was highest. After a while, we will also be doing a Killzone 2 console bundle.

You probably heard about the Xbox 360 Arcade console, which should be launching very soon. Pricing is assumed to be around the Rs 15,000 mark. Does that make you in any way uncomfortable about the PS3’s pricing?

Instead, I’ll feel uncomfortable for those in charge of the Xbox business. Arcade at Rs 15,000 is too much, especially when the expectation was Rs 10,000. Indian consumers don’t just downgrade themselves like that; they evaluate. The Arcade should ideally, with a certain amount of premium, be competing with the PS2. It doesn’t have the power or ammunition to fight the PS3. With the Arcade, they should be looking to target the new gamers. People aren’t buying the PS2 because they can’t afford a PS3, but the attitude is that they want to try it out first, and see if gaming is something that interests them. If it does, they will soon graduate to the PS3, and I see that happening a couple of years from now. But the Arcade is priced neither here nor there. For someone who’s just getting into gaming, the Arcade doesn’t justify its price tag.

The only benefit of the Arcade is that if Microsoft really pushes it and advertises it, then I will get a huge boost in PS3 sales. The ideal gaming market at the right exchange rate would be – PS2 at less than Rs 5,000, PSP at less than Rs 8,000, Xbox 360 Arcade at less than Rs 10,000, the Xbox 360 (Pro) at less than Rs 15,000, and the PS3 at less than Rs 18,000.

So is the PS3 moving towards that ‘less than Rs 18,000’ price anytime soon?

In the current situation, no.

There are a lot of rumours in the international media that the PS3 will see a price drop soon. What has happened in the past is that when the prices are dropped internationally, that is mirrored in India after a month or two. Will that happen with future price drops too?

It will, and not after a month or two anymore for India. From now on it will be an immediate change in price. The change may not be proportionate to what it may be internationally, due to changes in exchange rates, but the drop will definitely happen here if and when it happens internationally.

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Not very impressed with the Arcade; even less with the pricing

Let’s talk sales figures. Can you give us some numbers for the PS2, PSP and PS3?

Looking at the last year (April 2008 to March 2009), we sold around 75,000 PS2s, 63,000 PSPs, and 10,000 PS3s. We have also been able to track grey imports. For the PS2, we’re sure that another 30,000 to 35,000 has come in through grey. So we’ve crossed a lakh for the year, which is larger than many other countries. For the PS3, the total figure for the year, including grey, stands at about 20,000, and total install base is around 35,000. We’re looking at another 10,000-12,000 PSPs coming in through grey imports and around 2,000 in hand carriage. And we’ve been tracking PSN activity as well, and registrations are 1:1 (one registration for every console on average).

That brings me to the question I ask you every time I meet you. When does India get PSN?

We’re now trying to create a uniform PSN store for India and other smaller markets that don’t have PSN yet. This would make the process a lot faster than creating a dedicated Indian PSN store.

There are two main issues, though. One is that we can’t use our credit cards in other stores, and that we can only buy game add-ons from PSN stores of PAL countries.

We are trying to look at some shortcuts, which will let us eliminate these issues.

So will we be able to buy content from this common store?

Possibly, but it may not be in Indian currency. This common store may require you to pay in dollars, which we’ve found most Indians are now willing to do. So we will have to do this sort of optimisation to make it work until India is ready for a full-fledged PSN store of its own.

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No PSN love for India anytime soon, it seems

I read this article from FICCI Frames, where you mentioned a sales figure of about 35,000 for the PS3, and Microsoft said something like ‘under 100,000’ for the Xbox 360.

Well that was very misleading because ‘below one lakh’ could mean anything. I don’t really think anyone fell for that. Frankly speaking, I don’t think they’ve done anything over 6,000-7,000 in the last year. That’s unfortunate, but it’s true. They’ve reeled under pressure. This is also why I welcome the Arcade; it will bring about more activity from Microsoft.

I have already talked to them and said that I’m willing to give up PlayStation Experience as a property, if you are ready to come on-board and make it a Gaming Experience. That makes two of us; then we can bring in Sony Ericsson, we can talk to Nokia, and maybe Intel. We can use larger areas at a lower cost and make it a five-city event. India right now requires something like this, and right now there is no place for one-upmanship.

Speaking of PlayStation Experience, with EA’s marketing office in India being shut down, we probably won’t see EA participating, will we?

That was a bummer. It caught us by surprise and it caught SCEE COO Jim Ryan by surprise, because business-wise they were doing well. In terms of profitability, they were doing well. Even now EA is looking at India seriously, because it is a serious market. I think they were just an unfortunate victim of the global evaluation process, which saw India as a traditionally small gaming market. They were profitable, did great numbers, and great marketing. So I will now have to figure out how to partner with them. I would still love to have FIFA Interactive World Cup and PlayStation Experience as well. And maybe next time I can talk to other distributors as well.

So PlayStation Experience will go on despite all the economic uncertainty?

We will definitely try to make it happen. We are really pushing for the Gaming Experience idea, which we would like to spearhead, because there will be economy of scale. Our person is already in touch with Microsoft in that regard. Secondly, we also now feel the need to start investing in in-store marketing, where the Xbox 360 has an advantage. We need to have IDUs (Interactive Display Units) because more people are getting converted at the shop front, by trying the consoles out.

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More Indian PlayStation games on the way

So what is the focus for PlayStation India in 2009?

Definitely the Indian games that are coming out. Internationally, there are some great games like InFamous in the pipeline, but we need to focus on the games that are being developed here. India is the only country where Sony is taking these initiatives, so we have to make sure it’s done right. If the game development industry here prospers as a result of these games that are coming out, it will be a huge service to the world gaming industry.

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