Jayant Sharma has been in the video game business for over ten years; in terms of the Indian video game industry, that’s forever. His company, Milestone Interactive, was instrumental in helping Sony bring the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and now the PlayStation 3 to India. But there’s a lot more to Milestone than its partnership with Sony and I had the opportunity to sit down and have a chat with Jayant about the past and present of video games in India and where he thinks the industry is headed.
Can you tell us a bit about Milestone? How you started and your current operations.
We started in 1997. At that point we were distributing EA, Eidos, Virgin Interactive, Interplay and Acclaim. Couple of those labels don’t exist anymore. Prior to 1997, I was CEO of a company called Head Multimedia, which actually launched PC gaming in India in 1995. From that background when I set up my company, a lot of publishers moved to us. The business was solely PC-centric because that was the only market. And it was a combination of games as well as edutainment and multimedia content. A large part used to be cliparts, fontmakers and other productivity software. Gaming was just 50 per cent of the business and the rest was edutainment and productivity software. In 2001, we pitched for the Sony business. By then, the PSOne had started making waves and there were ample grey units in India. Somewhere in the interim, Sega had launched the Saturn in the mid 90s and I think they kind of failed over a one-year period. So there was some console experience, but not much. Sony went through a large, in-depth analysis over who their partner would be and we had made detailed pitches and presentations. Finally they signed us on in August 2001. At that time, the strategy was that we would focus on software because we were a software company and Sony India would focus on hardware.
This went on till early 2003, at which point Sony India decided that it wasn’t a business that was exciting them, so they exited the hardware business. That was the time the PS2 was to be launched, even though it was 3 years late. That’s when we were given the option of taking over the hardware business. Finally, the PS2 we launched. Between 2003 and 2006, we were doing both hardware and software. We launched the PSP in India as well. By 2006, we had started sensing that the market was gaining traction and things were going to get bigger. And the market dynamics of he country demanded that we build a team that can service the length and breadth of the country. That’s when Sony came back into the scheme of things, with the difference being that they would only operate through their channels – consumer durables, and we continue with our channels. That’s the model we’ve continued with.
We’ve had pretty much all leading publishers with us. Ubisoft came on in 2000 till 2005. We had Activision till about 2004, Take-Two till 2005, THQ from 2001 to 2004 and we had Konami for a year, but their pricing just didn’t match the market. So as a company, we’ve worked with the entire industry in one form or the other and for various reasons these relationships come and go. We also went through a bit of a bad patch between 2005 and 2006, where the market wasn’t going anywhere. PC gaming was flat; it wasn’t growing and prices were constantly dropping. On the console side, all the efforts we were putting in weren’t really working out because pricing was all wrong and at that time, our principles weren’t really inclined to doing things in the market. So we were left to ourselves to fight the market forces, to the degree where the efforts we were putting in were benefitting the grey market because we couldn’t compete with those prices. The PS2 was the dominant format but it was all piracy. So we didn’t have a software business, and we couldn’t do much on the hardware business. That put us in a bit of a negative mode at that time, but I’m fortunate that we withstood that ground, fought that phase and bounced back. And the growth we’ve had in the last year was fantastic, and hopefully there’s no looking back now.
It’s been a year now since the PS3 has been launched and the PS2 has been there a while too. So how is the support once the warranty ends?
I think that’s really a Sony policy and in 2006 when Sony India came into it, the service and warranty aspect was moved to them because they are into consumer durables. While we were handling it, we had a pure replacement strategy if it was under warranty.
It’s the same now though.
But Sony does have service centres now. So to that degree, they are obviously equipped to a level to service machines on a post-warranty scenario. But within PlayStation, there are levels of service, which I’m not very familiar with. You kind of scale up through the levels as you gain greater experience in servicing these machines. To what levels Sony India is permitted to service these machines? I would assume at the lower end and they will progressively level up to a point where they will be able to do full service.
So is there a policy right now for consoles that are past warranty?
It was a bit of a grey area because there are so many imported machines that are post warranty. From Sony’s perspective, it is a Sony product and they will service it. It’s a paid for service and I really don’t see any issue in servicing those machines, because you’re paying a cost. It’s like any other consumer durable you buy in this country. If there was a post-warranty Blu-ray player, they would service it, so why would a PS3 be any different?
Next Page: Milestone and non-PlayStation platforms