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PlayStation interview: Sony Computer Entertainment Australia content services manager, Nino Kalogeropoulos
- — 12 March, 2012 15:01
Nino Kalogeropoulos’ journey with the PlayStation started when he joined Sony Computer Entertainment Australia (SCE Australia) in 1997 in a PR role. It was not his first exposure to working with video games in a professional capacity, as before joining SCE Australia he was a contributing writer for what was then Australia’s leading gaming publication, Hyper. He cut his teeth writing game reviews across all platforms that were popular at the time, such as the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, and even the 3DO. Despite more than a decade passing since his Hyper days, he is still remembered in the local video game community for his review of Mario 64, which received the coveted “Hyper Big Rubber Stamp of Approval” for its 97 per cent review score.
You joined SCE Australia in 1997 at the peak of the original PlayStation's life cycle and arguably its popularity. What were those early days like for you?
Sony Computer Entertainment Australia content services manager, Nino Kalogeropoulos (NK): It was and still is amazing. Back then as a young “core gamer,” I felt extremely privileged to join the hallowed ranks of SCE Australia. PlayStation was the new kid on the block of gaming, leading the charge in cutting edge CD-ROM technology, so it was an extremely exciting time to join the business.
What is your most memorable experience or event from that era at SCE Australia?
NK: I’d have to say launching SquareSoft’s Final Fantasy VII. The anticipation for that game was so incredibly high. When the product launched, it just exceeded everyone's expectations and went on to become an instant classic. More recently however, it was the launch of the PlayStation Vita. Being part of a new platform launch is always exciting.
What aspect of the original PlayStation's run in Australia were you most proud of?
NK: I was really proud of the way that PSone achieved industry success as a platform. Particularly given that the console was introduced with powerfully established competitors already claiming market space. Goes to show that you should never underestimate your competition!
In retrospect, what do you feel could have been done differently?
NK: I think we probably could have done without releasing a Spice Girls game. [Laughs] I’m only joking, as the game actually sold extremely well. I’d even go so far as to say that it played a significant part in the kick start of the social gaming revolution, both encouraging and welcoming girls into the world of gaming, a community once more commonly associated with young guys.
Was there any plans by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe to release the PocketStation peripheral in PAL regions, and by extension, Australia?
NK: Given the success that PocketStation saw in Japan, I’m sure it was considered, however beyond that I couldn’t say. As a business, every market within the SCE group will assess their channels and make a decision accordingly on whether to release a product.
Sony more or less ended support for the original PlayStation around ‘00 and ‘01. Do you think the platform had a few more years to it like the PlayStation 2 and 3? Or had it already achieved all it could have?
NK: I think that the shift in focus from PSone to PlatStation 2 was well timed. Many of our developers pushed the technology as far as it would go and were hungry for more “grunt” to deliver on the vision they had for their games. Consumers wanted more, and the development industry wanted to give it to them. Gamers and developers alike were getting more sophisticated in the entertainment wants and desires, so the time was right to introduce a console that could deliver on that.
The Internet was still in its infancy in those days and not widely available domestically. How different was marketing at SCE Australia in those days compared to now?
NK: PlayStation had but a tiny webpage on the Sony Music website back then, and that was it. There was no online marketing whatsoever. Today we have close to ten different online PlayStation owned channels through which we communicate directly with our consumers, and our customers now help shape a lot of the conversation online.
The PlayStation 2 launched worldwide in 2000 to great acclaim. What stood out to you from the local launch?
NK: I remember seeing Gran Turismo running on simulated PlayStation 2 hardware for the first time. It was the killer app that had everyone sold on the console, even before the hardware was finalised. The graphics set new benchmarks for 3D processing at the time and the game itself truly delivered on the promise by Polyphony Digital. As a franchise it’s gone from strength to strength having now cumulatively sold 60 million copies globally.
Less than a year later, Sega announced the end of production of the Dreamcast. How did you react to that?
NK: On a personal level, I felt that it was a great shame to see Sega move away from the Dreamcast, as it was an amazing console. Commercially though, it opened up space for PlayStation to take a foothold.
The PlayStation 2 faced a tougher market than its predecessor as Microsoft debut its Xbox console. What was your first impression of the console when it came out?
NK: I'm always excited to see any new gaming hardware being released, like our recent launch of PS Vita. At the time, I also remember thinking, “what does Microsoft know about games?” There was certainly a learning curve for the competition as they entered the gaming space, but it can’t be argued that they’ve delivered a great gaming platform.
Despite contending with the Xbox and GameCube, the PlayStation 2 went on to become the highest selling console in the world. What do you think enabled it to enjoy such a high level of success?
NK: PlayStation 2 tapped into a market that was hungry for games and content innovation. We had the best technology. The emotion engine was a revolutionary chip though difficult to develop for, but infinitely powerful when harnessed correctly. The console also had all the best software exclusives, a tradition that continues with PlayStation 3.
What in particular did Australian consumers like about the PlayStation 2?
NK: Primarily, I think it was down to the fact that the platform had the biggest library of games available compared to that of the existing generation of consoles on the market at the time.
Out of curiosity, what exactly was the purpose of the Firewire port on the original iteration of the PlayStaion 2?
NK: It was referred to as the “i-link port” and was used for networking consoles for multiplayer gameplay. The Gran Turismo franchise supported this feature. Following this, we introduced the PlayStaton 2 Network Adaptor which was taken advantage of by a number of software titles as online console gaming became more prevalent.
Sony launched its first handheld in 2005 with the PlayStation Portable (PSP). What did you think of the handheld when you first saw it?
NK: With PSP, I was blown away by the sheer quality of the display and the diversity of its multimedia functions, such as a full browser, Wi-Fi, the ability for music and movie playback. The list goes on. It really was the “Swiss army knife” of gaming handhelds. Now with PlayStation Vita, we’re looking forward to another revolution in the handheld category.
How has the PSP performed in Australia overall compared to other markets?
NK: PSP has been a great success, globally selling over 70 million units worldwide. Australia has performed consistently, although I believe that Japan has led the way in unit sales.
The PlayStation 3 came out in 2006 to great media and customer buzz, and while it sold out initially, its sales tapered off compared to the Xbox 360. What held the console back in those early years?
NK: What you have to remember is that the Xbox 360 was in the market place for pretty much a year prior to the launch of PlayStation 3 in Australia, so they had a year’s head start on the sales front. When the PlayStation 3 launched, the console commanded a high price point, which was certainly a barrier for entry, and there was also an “education job” needed on what the device could do. The introduction of music and movie services, and the future proof nature of the product with regular firmware upgrades bringing new services and applications, soon saw the value resonate with the broader entertainment seeking consumer. This coupled with the flow of stellar titles for gamers has seen our console sales go from strength to strength. This has been underlined in recent weeks with the console being honoured with the number one spot in terms of unit sales for the 2011 calendar year.
Soon after launch, backward capability for PlayStation 2 games was removed from the console. Was it a cost cutting move? Or was it to encourage people to play new PlayStation 3 games instead of old legacy titles?
NK: I can’t really comment on the reasoning behind the development process surrounding the removal, but in my opinion PlayStation 3 was all about future innovation and delivering on the HD promise.
Following a re-branding of the PlayStation 3 logo and the introduction of the slim console model, the console has made a turn around and is almost neck to neck with the Xbox 360. How was such a feat possible in such a short time?
NK: We are focused on delivering ultimate, immersive game experiences that set the benchmark for our consumers. As I mentioned before, the PlayStation 3 recently garnered the number one spot for calendar year 2011, confirmed by NPD Group Australia data, and this was achieved through consistency. I think that consumers are naturally gravitating toward the console now that the price has reached an affordable level. They also like it that it doubles as a Blu-Ray movie player, and that it offers exclusive first party games such as Gran Turismo, Uncharted, God of War, and Resistance. The list just goes on and on.
The PlayStation 3 enjoyed many years as a secure platform, but how did you react when it was eventually "jailbroken" by hackers?
NK: This type of behaviour is a global issue and not unique to us. We stay focused and committed to providing safe and quality experiences for our customers. We will always take necessary actions regarding both hardware and software to protect the intellectual property of the content offered on the console.
There was also the high profile PlayStation Network (PSN) breach last year. While consumers were quick to turn to their local Sony headquarters for advice, how much control and responsibility for PSN does SCE Australia have?
NK: In Australia, we demonstrated responsibility and action. We proactively notified our customers, the media, took the network offline and continued dialogue until we were confident of reinstating the services. Once online, we also recognised it was a frustrating experience for our customers, so addition to increased security, we put in place a number of initiatives such as welcome back programs and ID theft protection monitoring services. Criminal cyber attacks are global issues for companies now, and not unique to SCE. The experience has focused us globally to continue our ongoing commitment to providing safe, quality entertainment experiences for our customers. It’s definitely a priority.
Based on the way the gaming market is progressing now, is the PlayStation 3 well positioned for the second half of its ten year lifecycle?
NK: Absolutely, the price point is extremely competitive now and there's a tonne of software exclusives that you simply can't get on any other platform. There are also Blu-Ray movies to watch, free online play, and a multitude of free and premium digital services like Vidzone, Music Unlimited and the PSN Video Delivery Service. PlayStation 3 really does have everything going for it right now, and PlayStation Vita will only strengthen the proposition in the months to come. Believe me, you’ll be hearing a lot more about the handheld.
So we’re hearing rumours of a PlayStation 4…
NK: Our focus is still very much on PlayStation 3, as there’s still plenty of life in the trusty black box. Having said that, I’m just as intrigued and excited as the next person to see what SCE does in the future and beyond.
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