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In India, as everywhere else, PlayStation 3 is yet to make an impact. But Tim Stokes is digging his heels in and gearing up for war.

Dec 05, 2007, 12.19 AM IST
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Globally, PlayStation 3, Sony’s new flagship console has been a bit of a tough sell so far. It’s perhaps tougher still in a country like India where the gaming culture is just about beginning to find its feet and where the PC continues to be an easily available platform of choice.

The high cost of the console (it retails at Rs 29,990) and its software have all contributed to the product not particularly leaping off the shelves. In spite of the Sony brand name which has a lot of traction in India — the simple ‘It’s a Sony’ tagline has sold TVs, cameras and home theatres systems with an ease that many durable companies would kill for.

PlayStation came to India around 12 years back, but was unable to make much of a difference via legitimate channels in such a price-sensitive market. It makes the task of Tim Stokes, sales and marketing director, PlayStation Division even tougher.

On the positive side there’s Sony’s reputation for innovation and the offer of significantly better graphics. It was this winning combination that made the original PlayStation a huge success when it was launched. The gamer community welcomed the new console with a lot of enthusiasm and it soon broke all records, with PlayStation 2 (PS2) still being the highest-selling console in the world (110 million). The charm of PS2 endures to date, even in an era where its graphics are hopelessly dated; the sheer number of consoles in the global market makes it impossible for a developer to ignore.

Stokes is optimistic though because some of the problems with the market in India are not exclusive to it. Consoles overseas gained ground only after they began singing a different tune, positioning themselves as more of an entertainment device for the whole family than just a gaming rig. Stokes shares an insight, “Today we have more than 40% of market share in the UK, and this happened because of the proliferation of hi-definition TVs, adoption of technology like DVD, etc which helped the PlayStation be more than just a gaming console,” he says.

Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE), responsible for the distribution, marketing and sales of PS3, PS2 and the PSP, worked closely with the UK National Curriculum to help spread the word about benefits of games for children. This, according to Stokes, has helped change the negative perception that parents had about games to some extent.

Stokes is responsible for the Middle East, Africa and Indian markets, which he says are similar in terms of huge populations, but the challenges, have been geographical reach and the difficulty in distribution and marketing. “Piracy has been the biggest problem in all the three markets, though both PS1 and PS2 have been incredibly successful in the region it has been difficult to sell software due to lack of IPR enforcement,” he groans.

The Indian gaming industry is largely PC-dominated with as much as 90% share, but Stokes isn’t perturbed, “The Indian entertainment industry is booming and games are entertainment, so I am sure the market for gaming is only going to grow. The experience offered by PC-gaming and console-gaming are different and there is enough room for both to grow,” he asserts.

Another way SCEE is tackling the PC-gaming concern is by introducing more social gaming formats. One of its hugely popular games Singstar was recently launched in India, re-christened Singstar Bollywood, which allows gamers to set up an in-house karaoke bar of sorts, and maybe even compete across the globe on factors like pitch and timing.

Besides Singstar, dance games, fitness games, quiz games like Buzz and Buzz junior are new titles introduced to draw people who’d otherwise give gaming a breather. “Females and young children between the age of three and 12 have so far stayed away from console-gaming because of the genre of games available. But with these new social games we are hoping to get them equally involved,” says Stokes.

SCEE is looking to take on Xbox Live, with PlayStation Network, which allows players to compete over the internet. Says Stokes, “Console games were produced to just be played on the console, but about 70%-80% of the PS3 games have an online version. Besides we also have games designed purely for the online medium and if not games, you can choose from audio/video chat and messaging.

There is Home, where you can have avatars like in Facebook, a buddy list, a dedicated FIFA area and lots more. The PlayStation Network encourages more and more user-generated content to be uploaded,” he explains.

Although PS2 is still the best-seller across the world and in India, PS3 has managed half a million since its launch late last year. “Indian culture is very different; parents are not very open to the idea of gaming which we hope we will be able to change. We plan to setup local PlayStation stores in India next year, so that customers have the chance to touch and feel the product and clear doubts with people who actually know it well,” states Stokes. SCEE also has plans to improve its distribution network by increasing the number of local touch-points.

To address the price concern, SCEE is looking at producing games and accessories locally which will help bring the cost down. Although there have been losses this year, Stokes is positive about the future, “A PlayStation can be used to do everything from viewing video to playing MP3s, internet...it is much more than a console.” The gaming industry is seeing a lot of action, with even chip manufacturer NVIDIA expected to get in on a bit of the action.

Though the chances of consoles getting the level of acceptance that PC-gaming enjoys seem bleak, what console companies can hope is to make the product attractive enough to be an aspirational desirable adjunct.
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