Round 6: Interview with Atindriya Bose, Playstation India

In case you’re wondering what ‘Round 6’ stands for, it’s the sixth time we’ve interviewed Atindriya Bose, country manager, Sony Computer Entertainment India, here on IVG, and thanks to everything that goes on around Playstation in India, we’re never short of things to ask him. This time, we’ve covered console sales figures, PSN prepaid card availability, local PS3 game manufacturing, the Playstation Vita, and a whole lot more.

How has the recent marketing campaign for Playstation in India been going?
It’s going very well. People have liked the fact that our recent ads were not just videos of the games themselves, but that they showed games being played together; like father and son gaming together. There is a family angle to it, people can play together, and it can be fun. It’s not serious and intense, but more laid back and casual. I think that worked for us. This was born out of an insight we got after launching Move. After the Move ad, a lot of people came back to us asking, ‘how is Playstation talking family?’ So families are getting involved now and they’re finding that there are games they can play together. We’re also seeing a rise in sales of controllers, both regular and Move. Of course, if there was an easier way to allow more players, via a camera for example, the growth would have been even faster.

You mean like Kinect?
I like Kinect. There’s no question that’s a very good competitive product. Looking at the positives and negatives, Kinect is maybe easier to get into, but with Move, once you get in, it’s a much deeper experience and I do believe that we have better games. We also have a wider range, with games that cater to core gamers as well as the family audience, while Kinect seems focussed entirely on the casual audience. But it’s important to have both Move and Kinect. With more people getting into gaming, it’s great that these experiences are available to them already. So what we have to do is have content that will give us an edge to attract this new audience. And we think bringing in a cricket game on Move will help us do just that.

Is a cricket game for Move being worked on?
Yes, it’s the next instalment of Street Cricket designed for Playstation Move. It’s being developed by Trine.

When we asked IVG members to post questions for you, almost all of them had this to ask – when can we expect prepaid PSN cards in India?
We’ve evaluated this a number of times, but to be honest we don’t have a roadmap on it. The interest to launch is very high because this is the right time to do it. But the tax structure of these cards; whether its VAT or service tax, takes it into a grey area, which is not allowing us to bring them in. We have thought of many ways to do it. One way is to buy the PSN cards and bring them in with full import tax, because it will be considered a game. We’ve even considered getting the vouchers printed on the cards locally, but the tax structure is unknown.

But since these are cards and not discs, they won’t attract the same import duties as games, right?
That’s up to the customs to interpret. They may say that this is eventually being used to buy games.

Wouldn’t it be an issue to import PSN cards of a different currency since the Indian store content is in Rupees?
No, that will converted to the equivalent value in Rupees once you redeem the code. We’ve already considered all that. The problem is that with all those duties, you will pay a lot more than what you redeem from the voucher. So it’s really the taxation that is holding us back, because as a company, we don’t want to be on the grey side, especially for something that we think could be big in the future. We considered several other options too, from cyber café tie-ups to mobile payments. We’re also keeping an eye on the specialist game retailers to see if we can work with them somehow, but our first preference would be to make physical cards available. It’s not the ideal situation. If you ask me if there is a clear idea on when PSN cards will come here, there isn’t. Sorry.

How many users are registered on PSN from India?
It was approximately 91,000 before the PSN outage. We don’t have any updated figures after that.

Are these total registrations or number of active users?
This is the total number of sign-ups. Out of this, around 35-40 percent are regular users, who download content. But the number of people who actually purchase content is miniscule. Once we get PSN cards, that will improve, but even then, we’re not expecting a massive growth in digital purchases. To some extent, our marketing is also not in place to promote PSN sales. We still haven’t started sending out promotional emails with prices in Rupees. That will start soon.

Some Indian PSN users have also complained that they haven’t received emails from Sony during the PSN outage, while users with US or UK accounts did.
Those must be isolated cases, because we’ve been making sure that those emails are being sent out. The Welcome Back emails haven’t been sent out yet because they vary for each store, but the maintenance emails should have gone out to everyone. I will look into it.

Can we expect other PSN services in India, like video streaming?

Not anytime soon. Let’s be honest; we just don’t have enough people buying even gaming content on the Indian store. On top of that, there are licensing issues that prevents content from other regions being sold here. So services like Vidzone won’t be available here anytime soon. There is a lot of interest in India where Qriocity is concerned. They are even in talks with Indian companies to provide content. And when the service does come here, we’ll have the option to offer it on Playstation, but that’s a separate group altogether.

There’s also certain game content that’s available on other stores that isn’t on the Indian store.
That’s actually at the publisher’s discretion. They are given the option to choose which stores their content is available in, and if they don’t select India, it won’t be available here. That won’t be an issue with Sony’s releases though, but may be the case with some third-party game content.

There has been a huge delay in the release of the Infamous 2 Hero Edition. It’s still not in stores. What’s the reason for the delay and should we expect similar delays for future collectors’ editions?
Infamous 2 is the only case where the collector’s edition was significantly delayed. We had initially planned to have the Hero Edition shipped directly to us, but because our order quantity was low, we decided to get our allotment via the Middle East. In that additional detour, our shipment was delayed. We’re trying to rectify that for future release, because if you look at Killzone 3 or Gran Turismo 5, those came on time. So we did a bit of a logistical experiment with Infamous 2, and it’s something we will fine-tune for the future.
There are two challenges for this. If the preorders are not big enough on these editions, it becomes very difficult to take a risk and order big. These only sell in the first wave – preorders and day one. After that it becomes very difficult to sell these editions. Infamous 2 was a positive surprise in that respect, but the delay has ruined the fun a little. So how much we order will also determine whether it is flown in directly or via the Middle East. Either way, we have to fine-tune the logistics.

A lot of people have asked if the Uncharted 3 collector’s edition will release here.
It surely will.

Any other collector’s editions this year?
We haven’t yet got a clear idea on Resistance 3. We will only do collector’s editions for the big titles, and this year, those are Resistance 3 and Uncharted 3.

What about Twisted Metal and Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One?
There are no special editions for those that I know of.

A lot of people have said that it’s very hard to find PS3 peripherals; even the Dualshock 3 controller. Why is that?
That’s strange to me because we have two distributors for peripherals (Sony India and Milestone). You may not find the special edition peripherals (coloured controllers, etc) easily, but otherwise, there shouldn’t be a shortage. The only peripheral we have a shortage of is the single Move controller. That was a forecasting error on our part. We bet big on the Move starter kit and Move-PS3 bundles, but we weren’t expecting so many people to come back so quickly for additional controllers. We’re trying to rectify that. Other than that, we bring in everything. The only peripheral we haven’t released yet is the Sharpshooter.

Many people have asked about that as well.
I understand. I have emails from Milestone as well requesting it. We didn’t order it initially because we really didn’t think there would be too many takers at a price of around Rs 3,500. But there do seem to be takers, so we will bring it in.

What about the recently announced PS3 headset?
I’m not aware of it, to be honest, but if there is interest, we will definitely bring it.

There is interest. The earlier official PS3 headset wasn’t released here because we didn’t have PSN at the time.
We will surely look into it. The challenge for us is that the audience is expanding and our Sony India sales team isn’t the most adept at recognising how big something like this can be for the core audience. In that sense, Milestone is a lot more proactive; they brought in the coloured PS3 controllers themselves. So they’re a much better partner when it comes to speciality products.

So Sony and Milestone operate separately when it comes to distribution?
When it comes to peripherals, yes.

So they can decide what they want to bring in?
That’s right.

At E3, Sony announced the Playstation 3D monitor, and it’s supposed to be quite affordable. Will that be available here?
We are interested, but we don’t know what volume to bring in. I’ve asked for detailed specs so we can find out exactly what it’s capable of. If it’s just a PS3 monitor, then the target audience for that would be 90,000-odd users, and we’d have to order based on that. If it can also function as a TV, then there is tremendous potential and we can do massive numbers. Price will also depend on its specifications; the duties and taxes vary based on whether it’s a TV or a monitor. But even if it does come, there will be a bit of a delay.

But will it be affordable here?
Whatever the price is in Euro, you can expect an equivalent Rupee value in India after accounting for the applicable taxes. It’s only a matter of time before the European price is announced; perhaps at Gamescom.

How has Move been doing after the initial launch?
It has managed to sustain its growth quite well. Around 90 percent of our console sales are Move bundles. Previously, when we used to release GT5 or God of War 3 bundles, we would notice a big spike in sales of those bundles. But now, even when the Killzone 3 bundle came out, people were still preferring the Move bundle. Kinect too seems to have done pretty well of late. So what motion gaming has done is bring in a whole new audience, and most of these people aren’t buying Move to play Killzone or SOCOM, but it’s for the family experiences. There’s a whole new audience that’s interested in PS3 now. In that sense, Move has served its purpose very well. In fact, first quarter sales have been almost double of what it was last year.

With the hardware doing well, don’t you think there has been inadequate support on the software side?
You can look at it in many ways. There may not be a constant flow of Move-specific games; that could maybe be a little better, but we have 30-35 games out that are playable with Move, and that includes both casual and core games. Maybe we haven’t done a good enough job in conveying that we have a substantial range. Of course, the big one we’re waiting for is cricket. We think that will give Move a real push.

By when can we expect that in stores?
Definitely by Diwali.

So will that just include batting or all disciplines?
Bowling as well, with support for two players.

Has piracy affected the PS3 significantly?
It has to an extent, but it’s not nearly as bad as it is on PS2. We’ve actually done surveys on this. A lot of people are aware of the ability to pirate, but they’re also aware of what they would potentially lose by going that route. You miss out on the online, connected experience, as well as the benefits of new firmware. There is a segment of gamers who have gone the piracy route, and while it hasn’t significantly impacted the sales of PS3 games, it has lowered the rate of the growth we’ve been seeing.

Will the Uncharted, Resistance, and Ratchet & Clank collections release here?
Yes, they will come here along with international release, and we’ll be pricing them at Rs 2,250.

We’re finally getting Ico too, right?
Yes, and I am going to play it. The moment I found out that it was coming on PS3, I remembered the requests from IVG to release the PS2 version. So it’s very good news, and I’m happy about it.

We’ve seen coloured controllers being sold here. Can we also expect coloured PS3s in the future?
Probably not. It’s a logistical nightmare to add another SKU, especially when the demand for it will be small. That was fine for the PSP, but PS3 numbers aren’t as big yet.

Any change in stance towards servicing of out-of-region PS3s?
No, and that’s a worldwide policy. If I send an NTSC PS3 to the PAL service centre, they will reject it and send it right back. So we can’t offer any support for NTSC PS3s.

What about support for out of warranty Indian PS3s? Is there a repair facility now?
No, we’re still offering 50% off on a new PS3 in exchange. There has been no change in policy there. I know you were told about getting 70% off if the PS3 is less than three years old, but that’s not true; the technician at the service centre may have been mistaken.

Any chance of Sony introducing a paid extended warranty scheme for PS3s?
We do offer that for many Sony products because those products are being repaired here. Since the only option for PS3 is replacement, we can’t offer that scheme here. If we did, the cost of extended warranty would be unreasonably high to the point where the 50% off replacement deal would seem a better idea. We cannot offer extended warranty because PS3s aren’t being serviced here.

Any chance of a price drop on the PS3 soon?
As of now, no.

Gamescom, then?
(laughs) Well, if there was a price drop coming at Gamescom, I’d know. There is, however, a new PS3 chassis being discussed. A slightly different design, but from what I can tell, not much difference in functionality.

Will you continue to push the PSP now that the PS Vita is coming?
We will. It’s a bit like what we did with PS2 and PS3. You’ll have the Vita at the high end and PSP at the entry level. It’s a strategy that works very well for a country like India.

So will there be a further drop in PSP prices as Vita release gets closer?
We recently dropped the price by about Rs 1,500 and it did wonders for sales, but there’s no further drop planned for now.

So when can we expect the PS Vita in India?
It will be around the same time as European release – end of the year.

Is that calendar year or financial year?
Calendar year is what we’ve been hearing.

Move came to India a few weeks after it released in Europe. Will the same happen with Vita?
A few weeks of delay will surely be there with a new hardware launch, and I expect the same with Vita. As far as games are concerned, we will have all the launch titles available at the launch of the console.

Will we get both the Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi/3G versions?
We’re evaluating that. For the 3G version, we’ll be looking to tie-up with a 3G operator. We have the example of iPhone 4 to go by, so we’re very tempted to bring it in. The only problem is that the 3G landscape itself is so patchy that I’m not sure you can have a deal with just one operator. We’re quite reserved in our strategy, so we don’t want to release the 3G version without an operator partnership in place. In a market with full 3G coverage, a one-operator partnership works, but if we have to go with multiple partners, the volumes won’t be justified.

What would be the price for PS Vita in India considering its 249 Euros in Europe?
If you look at the corresponding Indian value, you’re looking at something similar to PS3 pricing.

The PS3 is 299 Euros though.
Yes, what I mean is that price band.

So, Rs 15,000-20,000?

So there won’t be any lowering of prices for India?
No. Not for Vita. It would be too early in the life cycle for that.

What would Vita game prices be like?
I have no idea on game prices yet. I haven’t seen the packaging either.

Would pricing be different considering these games are on flash cards rather than optical discs?
I don’t think so. It’s still a game, so the pricing won’t be too different.

Will there be game bundles at launch?
That will be a global decision. So if there are game bundles internationally, we could have them here.

Are PSP games now being manufactured here? There is suddenly a big range of PSP games available at Rs 699.
No, we don’t manufacture them here, but PSP games have been doing very well at that price point. It has done wonders for third-party publishers because they have some great games at those prices. Sony will also add some big games to that range over a period of time.

What about PS3 game manufacturing? Will that happen in India anytime soon?
We’re in the final legs of planning to begin PS3 game manufacturing in India. Blu-ray films are already being manufactured here, so it’s just a question of getting the business model in place for games.

Does that mean cheaper PS3 games for India?
It will work in two ways. Prices may not drop drastically for the top end games on an immediate basis, especially for third party games. Many publishers are not keen on dropping prices for their new releases. I feel that with this, we will have a much better catalogue strategy. Games that may not be doing too well at Rs 1,499 can be made much cheaper.

Even if the prices don’t change for new games, will they still be manufactured here? That will take care of the delays.
Yes, they will.

So by when do you think we will start seeing Indian manufactured PS3 games?
We’re trying for this calendar year, but definitely in this fiscal year.

So Sony has no apprehensions about manufacturing PS3 games in India?
Well, there are challenges within the organisation, but there are definitely advantages that we recognise.

Third-party games aside, if we look at Sony’s new PS3 releases, will there be no difference in price if they’re manufactured in India?
To be honest, our business model so far hasn’t been on the top-end, but to use local manufacturing to give people a starting point for PS3 gaming. The best way for that is the sub-Rs 1,000 games or the platinum range. These games don’t find too many takers even at Rs 1,499.

Is the risk of illegal exports the reason for not wanting to drop prices on new releases?
Yes, especially since the Indian versions are identical to the European versions and they aren’t localised. That is one of the biggest reasons why third parties too are reluctant to lower prices on new games. They’re a lot more accommodating with the back catalogue. Having said that, manufacturing PS2 games here has been a fantastic experience for us. We haven’t seen PS2 games being exported in bulk to other countries even though the prices are very low.

Can we expect to see merchandise based on Sony’s games being sold in India?
As of now, our Indian operations are not big enough to handle these activities, but now that we have game retail chains like Games the Shop, Origin and Game4U, they give us a great opportunity to experiment with such things.

Can you give me an update on the sales of the three consoles?
We just reached an important milestone that we’re very proud of. There is now an installed base of one million Playstation consoles in India, which includes all three consoles. The PS2 now stands at around 6,75,000. Growth had stagnated a bit last year, but sales have picked up nicely this year, so we’re very happy about that. The PSP is at around 2,50,000, while the PS3 install base is around 95,000. On the PSP and PS3, around 70-80 percent are official sales, so we know the definite number. On the PS2, around the first 3,00,000 were imports, but now it’s all official.

So how do you plan to promote the Playstation brand from here?
We’re no longer focussing on a particular console. We want Playstation to be about shared fun, because that strategy has been very successful for us. So the ‘shared fun’ aspect will determine our promotional activities. The gaming side of it will definitely be more focussed on the TV consoles. So when it comes to commercials, it will be more on the PS3 and Move. In terms of sales, I still expect the PS2 to remain our highest selling console for some time to come, and we will continue to support it with local development. But the PS3 is our star product and that’s the one that will offer a lot of value to the Indian family.

We’d like to thank Atin Bose for his time and all the IVG members who posted questions. We hope we got them all covered.

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