The start of a long journey

With today's worldwide launch of PS Vita, debates about pricing, memory cards and more are now hitting home, with much interest in the early progress of the console outside of Japan. At the midnight launch at GAME's flagship store on Oxford Street, London, our friends at Eurogamer spoke to Sony Computer Entertainment UK & Ireland VP & Managing Director Fergal Gara.

When asked about his hopes for launch, Gara's comments seemed cautious of a slow start, emphasising the longevity of the console:

The most important thing for us right now is we get off to a strong start, and people start to understand the device. But it's at least as important we maintain momentum and have a very strong first year, getting across how the device can be used and getting more games into the market that expand upon the possibilities of PlayStation Vita, in particular in conjunction with PlayStation 3.

That's a strong story that's in the early stages of developing, both in terms of the understanding that's out there and in terms of the games we have on the market right now. The cross-play idea is a multidimensional idea in itself.

So it's at least as important we keep it going and have a very strong first Christmas. We see this as a several year project. Week one is important, but it's not the whole story.

The price of the console was discussed in terms of its RRP and a competitive UK retail sector, while the potential for a future price cut, as expected, wasn't addressed. Interestingly, it was as good as confirmed that the Vita, at current pricing, is selling at a loss to Sony.

The primary objective is to bring it into the market at an attractive price point that allows us to reach profitability at some stage in the future. We've priced it as attractively as we could afford to, frankly, for all of the technology we packed in there, in these early stages.

Can we improve upon that over time? We'll certainly try. We can't promise that today. Is it good value? It's available at quite attractive prices. With the competition we have in UK retail it's available at substantially below the numbers you've just quoted. Asda is doing it for £197, and you could argue some of the bundles are at least as good value. So there's some relatively attractive pricing out there, which pegs it in my view, not a lot above an iPod and a hell of a long way below a good tablet.

Is half the price of a good tablet too much to pay for a dedicated device packed full of technology? Consumers will answer that question for us, but that's an interesting positioning to pick rather than, how does it compare to PSP, which is a machine that's done 75 million and is far simpler and longer in the tooth.

Next issue on the agenda was pricing of games, both retail and digital. It was put to Gara that many retail titles are available for the same price, or in some cases less, than the digital download options.

The primary factor in play here is the competition in the retail marketplace in the UK, which is discounting the product maybe more so than some other markets. What we've aimed to do with our pricing is bring the digital product to market at or a bit below where the physical product is.

Competition may mean that comes out differently because we can't control retail pricing in the UK. It is also very important to us to keep the physical retail market well supported. So therefore we don't want to drastically undercut that with digital prices. We need to retain some sort of harmony, but give consumers the choice.

So right now they'll see something round about equal, maybe a little bit cheaper on digital, depending on which country you're in. But they'll also see a vast choice of additional digital games in there. Consumers will choose what's the best way for them to consume.

It's probably best for me not to get into commentary around third-party pricing. We will choose the retail, but based on a cost price. They may have chosen a different structure, so I'd rather not comment on that to be honest.

This is a long game. We'll see how it plays out. It's encouraging to see there's quite a reasonably percentage of digital consumption in Japan.

The final point raised was with regards to the dreaded proprietary memory cards. Pricing wasn't tackled directly, but Gara explained the reasoning behind the format and plans to bring larger sized cards to the UK.

Choosing a proprietary format helps limit piracy. You'll all remember the R4 card problem Nintendo experienced. So being able to set some proprietary controls in the design of the chip and what goes in it helps us preserve a vibrant and profitable market both for Sony and the many other publishers and retailers who share in that value chain. That's the key reason.

We've already learnt from the early days in Japan that we probably haven't got big enough memory cards introduced for the UK market. We've already gone to secure bigger size cards to bring them into the UK market.

It's early days. Before it comes to market you just have to guess what people are going to want. We thought they'd want a lot of 4GB cards just as the minimum, and then they buy packaged media. But actually, the way it's going is, many of the early adopters are clearly going to download a bit more, or just want to buy the big chip in case.

It's going to evolve. But we can certainly see they want bigger cards.

What do you think of these comments, and do you agree or disagree with the Vita strategies that were discussed?