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A Tete-a-Tete with Sony Playstation's India Head

Atindriya Bose, country manager for Sony Playstation India, is looking to lure India’s burgeoning mobile gaming community with Sony’s range of gaming products

Published: Feb 1, 2014 07:21:35 AM IST
Updated: Jan 29, 2014 02:13:00 PM IST
A Tete-a-Tete with Sony Playstation's India Head
Image: Manoj Patil for Forbes India
Atindriya Bose, country manager, Sony Playstation India

Q. Why hasn’t the gaming boom taken place in India yet? Is it to do with price?
People use price to compare console gaming to other electronic segments because it’s the most obvious way to categorise, but Indian purchasing power parity can be sliced and diced into many different economies. Was the PlayStation 4 (PS4) launch substantial to the gaming market in India? Yes. Has it gone mass? No, it hasn’t. In electronics, there are factors outside price [the PS4 was launched at Rs 39,990]. Telephones and TV became big in India on the basis of a low running cost and improved infrastructure: 300 channels got beamed with high quality content and it resulted in people wanting to enjoy it. With mobile phones, your value-added services and call costs and call-drops have fallen drastically. Everyone would love to have console prices where they’re not constrained to a one shot payment.

Between 2002 and 2007, when we launched in India, when Microsoft launched as well [with the Xbox], it was a market-building effort. I think now it’s nicely positioned into verticals. There are more gamers and each gamer is a marketer for you: He brings in three more gamers into the fold. The mass base has broadened over the last 1.5 years at a speed that the PS alone could never had done, thanks to the tablet and smartphone revolution.

Younger gamers are also realizing that mobiles games are repetitive and without deriding those games, mass gamers are looking for more immersive, deep gaming experiences. Going forward, it will be about how we give the mobile gaming population a taste of the layers and depth in PlayStation titles. For example, Crash Bandicoot on PlayStation Mobile is one of our best-selling titles! Over a period the value equation will also fall into place: People say our games are Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 and they can get mobile games for free or pay Rs 99 to Rs 199. What they aren’t comparing is a 26-hour versus a 1-hour [respectively] game experience. The PlayStation network and store allows you to download snackable games like mobile games because of the internet infrastructure that now exists. The indie [independent] game developers will play a very important role along with the big developing studios because they can deliver low-GB games at Rs 250 to Rs 500.

Q. What is the size of the console gaming market in India?
It is estimated between Rs 700 crore and Rs 750 crore at the consumer level: Rs 450 crore for hardware and Rs 250-300 crore for software. On top of that you have PC gaming. Mobile is a different industry altogether. On the hardware side, we are almost 75 to 80 percent of the market. In the Rs 300-350 crore software market, as publisher, Sony Computer Entertainment is about 20 to 25 percent of the market. A console is a gaming device because of the content, not the machine, so it’s important all the publishers’ titles are available at the right prices.

We did a study five to six months ago: Almost 55 to 60 million Indians claim they are regularly gaming—this grew thanks to the mobile, the previous study had just 27 million! Advanced gamers who download games come to 30 million, and they are looking for bigger, better things. In India we have an installed base [owned, purchased consoles] of 1.7 million consoles, which is miniscule but has grown tremendously. The potential is huge: 7 to 8 million people claim to play on a console regularly! So each console owner allows anywhere between four to five people to play on their consoles.

Q. Why were you pleasantly surprised by the response to the PS4?

Between 2007 and 2012, we had seen business growth at almost 33 to 35 percent CAGR driven by the PS2. In the first 2 hours of the PS4 launch, we sold almost as much stock as the whole of 2013’s worth of PS3s! It was 10 cities, 35 stores midnight launch through pre-booking with partners like Flipkart, Landmark and Reliance Ezone. In Pheonix Mills, in Mumbai, we sold almost a month’s worth of PS4s in one night! These are unique things that have never been tried on the hardware side. If people are coming in at midnight in Ludhiana or Jalandhar, it showcases the demand, even if many customers were picking up pre-bought units.

Q. What are the challenges you face in a newly forming, emerging market like India?
Unlike in the West, it’s a youth-marketed product: People in junior/senior college don’t control the money in the family, but in India, they are the ones who control the technology in the house. The father will get his smartphone ratified and validated by the college kid! When the mother says “pehle padhai karo” the kid can showcase the family features of the device, he can say, “this will turn our TV into a smart TV, allow YouTube browsing, bring in Sony Entertainment and Sony Music content, add a Blu-Ray player…”

The PS Vita [PlayStation’s hand-held gaming device] is also a bit of a challenge. In India there are two constraints to a PS Vita: India is not traditionally a multi-gaming device ownership market. A PS Vita is competing with a PS3 at the same price point (Rs 16,990), which is different from the international market; they are more likely to opt for the PS3. Even on the PSP, we’ve seen the position between 2007 and 2010 change completely in 2011, when smartphones came in: It went from being a mobile gaming device to a personal game device. On the move, you enjoy games on a mobile but at home if the child is not getting hold of the TV, the PS Vita is an option. The masses don’t have multiple TVs: A PS2 cannot eat into your general entertainment channel prime-time! From 9 to 10 pm, the mother wants to watch TV when the child has free time because she’s not watching over their studies, so the kid doesn’t get the TV and console gaming becomes a weekend or evening appointment. That’s where the PSP plays nicely at entry level (Rs 6,990) in the age band of 7 to 12.  

As a game developer, we tried things on the education sides which didn’t work. We learned that with Indian IP, unlike with the world where you have a huge base of gamers, you cannot create IP bottom up. You have to source the content and then create the game. An Amar Chitra Katha was much easier to sell than one’s we created, using nomenclature of our own. Cricket is an easy win area: Cricket games are still bundled with the consoles!

Q. Is your console strategy for India any different from the global one?
Yes and no. There has been a tendency to replicate what has worked in the West in terms of the business model: Bringing in consoles and gaming, focusing on distribution and waiting for the market to lap up the product on its own. It worked well in the West since gaming as a hobby started between 1991 and 1994, whereas in India it started between 2001 and 2008. So, we are almost a generation behind. Price accessibility has to be there as far as possible, within the limits of import tax, etc.

However, we have innovated to adapt to an emerging market: In 2008, we didn’t come with a PS3, PS2 and PSP and start advertising like crazy. The first thing we did was create the replication plant: Almost 70 percent of the PS3 games sold in India were replicated by us locally and this allowed us to keep prices down to Rs 500 to Rs 700. Such plants in the world are rare: The whole of Europe, Australia, etc will have just one such replication plant! Secondly, we experimented with localised content: We started working with five Indian game studios and published almost 14 titles with Indian content [across all formats]. We started with Hanuman and the biggest successes started with cricket and then Bollywood-based games like ‘Ra.One’ became hugely successful. ‘Don 2’ did very well. There’s a huge potential of Indian IPs, especially once the PS4 becomes a platform for indie developers.

The biggest fear from gamers was, “I have gone to sleep at 4 am waiting for the download to finish and at 95 percent completion, the network snapped and I had to restart it.” The PS4 takes care of a large part of the constraint of Indian internet because you can start playing at 20 percent download, you have background downloading and you can restart downloading at the point where the network connection was lost. The PS4 is more an emerging market product than anyone had thought. There’s no other market that Sony controls like we do in India: We have Sony Music and Sony Television. We can create so many channels on the PlayStation. A Sony Xperia phone today carries a Sony Music app and a Sony Live app. It’s just a question of integration.

(This story appears in the 07 February, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Lokesh Suji

    My question is to Mr. Bose. Will a MLG can of league help in building your audience and to what extend Sony is ready to support such kind of League in India. Regards

    on Feb 3, 2014