interview

Sony Discusses The Launch And Future Of The Vita

by Kyle Hilliard on Feb 22, 2012 at 04:52 AM

Guy Longworth is Sony’s newest senior vice president of PlayStation brand marketing. He’s responsible for the marketing behind all of Sony’s platforms, including PlayStation 3, the PlayStation Network, and of the newest member of the Sony gaming family, the PlayStation Vita. The Vita has been in production for four years leading up to today, and even though Longworth has only been with Sony for about four months, he's here to answer our questions about Sony’s latest handheld.

You said you’ve only been with Sony for a few months. Where were you before Sony?

My background is consumer products. I started my career with marketing with Proctor & Gamble, Kraft foods, and Kellogg's and since then I did a software consumer services start-up Internet business and I also ran a consumer electronics business. I have a wide range of experience across marketing and also the category.

Were you always interested in Sony? Do you like video games?

I was very much an arcade rat as a kid so when the opportunity to come and join the team here presented itself, it’s my dream job. I couldn’t be more excited. I wake up every day pinching myself that I’m lucky enough to have this opportunity and be part of this great team and this great company. When you think about PlayStation over the last 15 years, it’s been the most incredible success story. And my perspective is, over the next 15 years, our best days are ahead of us. I think we have a huge opportunity and Sony as a company is in a position where, I really think it’s got the opportunity to do some great stuff in the next five to ten years, and I couldn’t be more excited to be part of it.

When the PSP came out, the UMD disc was billed as like a new type of physical media. Was the Vita ever planned to use UMDs?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I am assuming we’re very happy with the new way of getting games through the memory sticks, or downloading them from the network. I think this is a better experience than a small disc, a small drive that you can download online.

Given the touch screen of the Vita, is Sony opening the doors to developers who have made iPhone or Android games? Will there be more options for free or cheaper games online?

We have a publishing process, so any developers who are interested in developing for us come and talk to us and we provide them with the tools and the access they require, so they have to do that.

[Sony already has the PlayStation Minis program in place that allows PSP and PlayStation 3 owners to download smaller games from smaller developers.]

Do you think we’ll ever see the prices of Minis going down? Maybe even free-to-play games on the Vita?

Well, it’s not impossible.

The 3DS came out and early adopters felt burned to a certain degree because the price dropped quickly. Is Sony worried about people interested in the Vita waiting for a price drop?

No, not at all. We’re very much focused on delivering an incredible experience for what we think is a terrific value. If you look at the combination of the platform we offer, an incredible piece of hardware which is very unique and different, to the software lineup we have and the apps and the opportunity to engage with all of your digital content online and the connectivity. We think we’ve got something that’s very unique and actually a terrific value for consumers.

When I checked the Vitas we have here in the office, PlayStation One Classics weren’t playable on the Vita. Is that something we could see in the future? Will we be able to play PSone Classics on the Vita?

Well, content is something we continually look at and we don’t have any announcements to make regarding that right now, but it’s something we continue to look at. There’s obviously a huge catalog of past content that we could bring at some stage to the Vita.

Read on to find about possible e-reader options, Call of Duty, and BioShock on the Vita.

Is Sony looking into giving the Vita e-reader capabilities?

The great thing about it, is the screen is so fantastic, you could do all sorts of different things with it. We’re just getting started with this thing. We see it as a five to ten year platform for us, and there are all sorts of exciting opportunities. We don’t have any specific announcements or plans regarding e-readers right now, but it certainly doesn’t sound impossible to me.

Recently in an interview with GameTrailers.com, you mentioned Call of Duty coming out this fall. I just wanted to confirm that. Will we see a Call of Duty on the Vita this year?

We’re very hopeful that there will be one in the fall.

Japan is going to have
the UMD Import Program where gamers are able to register their UMD games and download them to their Vita memory cards for a small fee. Is that coming to the US? If not, is there is a reason it is not coming to the US?

It’s not currently coming to the US. We consider all the things we can do with Vita, but it’s not currently coming.

The perception of the Vita in Japan is that it hasn’t been selling very well. Is that a concern for the US release?

We were actually very pleased with the launch of Vita in Japan and I think the thing to say is that, we’re going to evaluate this in 12, 18, 24 months time. This is a five to ten year platform for us. We’re already thinking about what’s coming next year and the year after. Obviously, we want to get off to a good start in the US, but we’ll really evaluate our success in the medium term.

Are there any plans you could talk about for the rest of the year? How many games will we see month to month for the Vita?

We’ve got the best lineup we’ve ever had at a launch, and I think it’s 26 titles at the launch, and over 100 in development worldwide now. So, from a first-party point of view we have Uncharted: Golden Abyss, ModNation Racers, Hot Shots Golf, and LittleBigPlanet will be coming. From a third-party lineup point of view we’ve got Call of Duty, BioShock, FIFA 12, and Assassin’s Creed, so you know some of the world’s greatest franchises are coming to Vita this year, which, from our point of view is tremendously exciting. We also think from a gamer’s point-of-view, it’s going to be just fantastic for them.

We'll see some of those titles you listed this year? Will we see games like BioShock and Assassin’s Creed on the Vita in 2012?

Well, at the end of the day, it’s up to them when they launch these titles, but they are in development.

Sony has a history of sequential naming with PlayStation One, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, and then there was the PSP, and now Sony is going to PlayStation Vita instead of the PSP 2. Is there a specific reasoning for that?

It’s a completely different experience. An analogy would be like an iPhone and an iPad. They’re very different experiences. PlayStation Portable was a device that was good for its time and I think we’ve sold over 78 million of them over the last seven or eight years. PlayStation Vita is really a complete game changer in terms of the experience it offers. It’s just so different that we want to reflect the fact that with PlayStation Vita you’ve got a system that allows you to never stop playing, in whatever fashion you want, be it the hardcore triple-A titles or some of the downloadable games we’ve got, or access to all your digital content. I suspect, though I wasn’t around at the time, that was the reason why we really put a stake in the ground that this is something new and very different. The other thing is that Vita means life and one of the observations I would make is this is going to be a huge part of gamers' lives because they can use this thing for so many different things where ever they are, where ever they go, especially with the 3G option.

There are some who believe that Sony started advertising the Vita too late in North America. We haven’t seen marketing up until right now. Can you discuss the marketing strategy for the Vita?

This is our biggest-ever investment in a launch in North America and we announced it at E3 last year. Since then we’ve been out there seeding the product in a number of different ways. We’ve had our Vita Hill program, which is a number of places in large markets around the country where people have been able to go and experience Vita together. Over the last few weeks Taco Bell has been running a promotion that we’ve invested heavily in which allows consumers to get their hands on PlayStation Vita first and that’s been very successful. Now we’re launching our overall media campaign, which includes TV, outdoors, and a huge online presence. Our sense is that now it’s here, now is the time to be investing our dollars and it’s not a one and done type of thing. We’ll be investing throughout the year and the coming years in the PlayStation Vita.

The Vita hits store shelves today, February 22. Click here for our review of the system, and here for all of our reviews of the launch games.