Sony: PS4 has early lead over Xbox One, but still a lot of work to do

We talk with PlayStation marketing executive John Koller about competition with Xbox, early feedback for PlayStation Now, and how much longer Sony will support the PlayStation 3.

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The consensus after the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo last summer was that Sony had "won" the event, captivating gamers with consumer-focused policies and building momentum for the PlayStation 4 launch just months later. That momentum led to 4.2 million PS4 sales in 2013, well ahead of the more expensive Xbox One's 3 million figure.

It was another "victory" for Sony, but the company isn't resting on its laurels atop the console market. To keep that energy going, Sony must continue to offer compelling software and services, something marketing executive John Koller made clear to GameSpot this week.

During a media event in Santa Monica this week where Sony announced a US release for the PlayStation Vita Slim, we caught up with Koller and picked his brain about a range of hot-button issues, including Sony's early lead over Microsoft in the "console war." Read on for Koller's comments on that topic as well as his thoughts on PlayStation Now and the power of streaming, prospects for the PlayStation Vita, and how much life is left in the PlayStation 3.

On PlayStation 4's early lead over Xbox One:

"I'm very excited for where PS4's going to go. People gave us the upper hand early and we want to continue to reward them with all the different content and engagement that we have.

"Our every day is ensuring that we don't lose sight of the fact that we need to constantly have a socially engaging platform that allows people to connect [and] share; and the games that are created need to facilitate that. We need to have the right games at the right time...and listen to our fans. So continually doing that, I think brings a lot of good will. We are viewed the most authentic brand, so we have a leg up there but we've got a lot of work to do to make sure that when we're going into work with a publisher or when we're going into work with our own first-party team, we say: here's the emotion we want to bring and here's the engagement [we want]...what can we do?"

"It's very important that we don't just have [PS Vita] be kind of this peripheral."

On how much life is left in the PS3:

"We believe that the platform has a lot of life left in it. Two, three, four years; we think there's time left in the platform. It depends on the content. We have a good lineup this year and it looks like a good lineup next year. We need to keep fueling that. We really have to keep PS3 alive. And so to do that, we have to further the content. I think there will be a good story for the PS3 over the next year to two years."

On the possibility of a PS4/PS Vita bundle:

"We certainly would look at it. I think it's an interesting proposition. There's no firm plans. I like the idea personally of being able to put them together if not as a bundle but as a marketed experience point. So Vita we think fits very, very well as a companion device for the PS4. But, I stop there because I want to make sure Vita retains the beauty of what makes Vita Vita. And that's that it's got it's own unique kind of bespoke games."

On hard lessons learned from the PS Vita's early days:

"Certainly that you need to keep a constant content pipeline. It's very important that we don't just have [PS Vita] be kind of this peripheral. It needs to be a platform with games, and it has that."

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On how PlayStation Now is shaping up:

"It's still really early days. We're 10 days in. We've seen really high customer satisfaction. Really significant engagement so far. A lot of people are interested. It's been a great platform so far just in terms of interest. The things that we're trying to work through are: business modeling, pricing, release windows; all those things still need to be turned through. It's a work in progress for us. We need to work through this. This is a legitimate beta; it's not just a marketing beta; we're actually learning a lot and making adjustments and learning about the kinds of content that we want to bring. We've talked about the PlayStation 3 library, but what games work best? We at PlayStation are very bullish on it, but we have to make the right decisions."

On how PlayStation Now affects Sony's relationship with physical retailers:

"This is part of that beta program [laughs]. We actually need to work through with them how do they help sell it; because they certainly want to participate. And then how do we make sure that they still retain what's theirs; and that's [release windows for physical products] that make sense. We believe in retailers; we believe in GameStop, we believe in Amazon, we believe in all of them; we believe in physical discs, we believe in used games. And we want to make sure that stays true. We want to make it incremental to their business; help them sell it and make margins for themselves, too."

"The best brands live in the heart. We really believe that."

On why Sony believes the best brands live in the heart:

"When you go with just a checklist and say we've got all these things it becomes just a very rational decision and you lose the reason why people choose you to begin with, which is really the love that they have for you and the way that they connect with others...and you lose a bit of the love that they have for the [PlayStation] brand. I think we learned some things over the last 10-15 years, really, during the PS1 and PS2 years. There was this great outpouring of love during the PS3 years; we had that, but we became, in the marketing of [the console] a lot more tactical because that was the way that the industry was [at the time]. Do you have Blu-ray? Do you have HD? Do you have 3D? Do you have [motion control]? All those things we had to say 'Yes, we've got this.' All of us did, all of the platform holders. As we started building the PlayStation 4 we realized we actually need to get back to that emotional brand. The best brands live in the heart. We really believe that. So a lot of what you see now is a result of the engagement with our consumers."

On why PlayStation Now won't be a laggy experience:

"Certainly the Gaikai technology gives us a lot of confidence. And the way it's been built; it's been built the right way. Obviously, a streaming gaming service doesn't work if you're seeing high latency and the immediacy's not there. Clearly that's not the case here. PlayStation Now is something that I think does something that no other streaming service so far--rumored or in market--has done; and that's provide very low latency and very immediate gameplay. We're confident about this."

On streaming as a future for gaming:

"We're pretty bullish about that whole idea. We think streaming is going to be a view to a gaming future."

This interview was conducted by GameSpot editor Shaun McInnis.

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