The PlayStation 4's global turnaround in terms of sales, branding and strategy has been dramatic. The PlayStation 3 was the console that "only did everything". The PlayStation 4 is "for the players". What was behind this change? And how has it affected the bottom line for Sony in Australia? We spoke to Michael Ephraim, Managing Director for Sony Computer Entertainment Australia about the past, present and future of PlayStation.
"I was surprised in a way," says Ephraim, discussing the PlayStation's successful global launch, "but the PlayStation brand has been a strong one for a very long time.
"Globally it’s shattered our forecasts for the fiscal year, the PlayStation 4 has sold 7 million instead of the 5 million we expected."
It's a far cry from the launch of the PlayStation 3 — a console that struggled to gain traction in its early years, and only gained significant ground over its competitors towards the end of its lifespan. You'd never call the PlayStation 3 a failure in any sense, but it was hardly a match for the completely dominant PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2. It wouldn't be unfair to say that, last time, the Xbox 360 was marketed (and seen) as more of a core gamer's console. The PlayStation 3's story was a different one: it was a box that did "everything". Fast forward to 2014 and the Xbox is the 'Xbox One', marketed as the only device we need to navigate the brave new multimedia world. The PlayStation 4 is 'for the gamers'. Both machines are markedly similar in a lot of ways, but the messaging — until recently — has been different.
According to Ephraim, it's the result of a dramatically altered commercial landscape.
"When the PlayStation 3 came out we were probably the most sophisticated and diversified box out there," he says. "We could do everything and there was nothing like it. We had to talk about that.
"But now multi-purpose boxes are a plenty — the PlayStation 4 still delivers great non-game content like catch up TV, video, music — but our core essence is gaming and we went back to that core. We still have all the other content, but the environment has changed the competition has changed. Games now differentiate the PlayStation over any other multimedia entertainment box."
And that focus, believe Ephraim, has allowed Sony to garner subtle competitive advantages in terms of exclusive content. He is currently speaking from a Destiny Beta launch event, a Beta which lasts longer on the PlayStation 4. A Beta for a video game that has timed exclusive content on PlayStation.
"I’m sure they appreciate that we’re focused on the gaming side.
"But I think install base helps a lot," he laughs. "If you have a bigger market share that helps!
"PlayStation has always had good relationships with third parties. PlayStation 1 we had exclusives with third parties — Tomb Raider was exclusive. Everything was exclusive. As the market diversified that changed, but we’ve had great relationships for years. They know us and they know we can deliver."
The PlayStation has exceeded internal expectations, claims Ephraim, and as a result expectations going forward have shifted. He won't give a number, but says that the way things are going, the PlayStation 4 will continue to sell above and beyond what was previously estimated.
"It’s a moving market and forecasting is a difficult thing, but up to this year we’re ahead of our forecasts. That’s something we assess every month, But at the rate we’re selling now we think we’ll definitely meet our future targets and there’s a good possibility we’ll exceed them."