Why Sony did the opposite of Microsoft on used games (Q&A)

In the battle for gamers' hearts and minds, Sony Computer Entertainment of America CEO Jack Tretton explains why he thinks the company's new policy on used games is a winner.

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When Microsoft last week announced new, and more restrictive, rules regarding the resale of used Xbox One games, the policy triggered howls of outrage and calls for boycotts from consumers who rely on buying used games.

The new restrictions let Xbox gamers share games just a single time and only with people who have been on their friends list for at least 30 days. But on Monday night, Microsoft's arch-rival Sony announced a different tack : Jack Tretton, the CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, said his company would not impose any restrictions on trading or selling used games.

"When a gamer buys a PS4 disc, they have the rights to use that disc. They can sell it to another person, lend it to a friend, or keep it forever," Tretton told the crowd at Sony's press conference at the E3 gaming show, which takes place this week in Los Angeles. If ever there was an applause line, that was it and Tretton basked in the moment as the cheers went up. CNET caught up later with Tretton to learn more about Sony's thinking. The following is an edited transcript of our Q&A.

Q: Why didn't you follow Microsoft's lead when it came to used games?
Jack Tretton: Well, it's our fourth generation of hardware and we've had a great relationship with the consumer and I think they responded with tremendous loyalty. It's obviously a model that works well for them.

Did you go back and forth on that decision? Was that something you considered, to do the same thing as Microsoft?
Tretton: I think there's always a debate in the industry about the effects of the after-market. I remember many years ago people thought rental was a threat. People would rent a video game. They'd play it. They'd finish it. They'd never go out and buy it. I think in recent years, people have perceived that used games might be a threat. But I think that there's also a position that says No. 1, it adds to the value of the consumer and the price they're willing to pay for a new copy of the game. No. 2, it pumps new dollars into the ecosystem for the consumer and actually puts them in a position to spend more on games, if you give them value for a game they're done with. And we all know consumers don't have unlimited dollars. So anything that keeps them in the ecosystem we think is good for gaming.

The crowd cheered at the press conference. Did you expect that kind of reaction?
Tretton: I really did. I think that people have spoken very, very loudly when they're happy and when they're not happy. So I don't know that I expected [them] to be vocal at the press conference but I knew the news would be extremely well-received. But I know people have very strong emotions about it.

There was an emphasis on entertainment, not just gaming. Why did you feel that was important?
Tretton: I like to think that we brought entertainment beyond gaming into the fray. Way back in 1995 with the original PlayStation. At the time, the ability to listen to your CDs on the same device that you play games was a novel concept. And obviously we really had a big hand in the adoption of DVD with PlayStation 2. And with Blu-ray and PlayStation 3 and the ability to stream all the different partners that we brought without having to pay an additional fee was something I think really resonated with consumers. And Netflix is a perfect example of a service that's really ubiquitous. It's on just about every device, but to be the No. 1 streamed device is a testament to the fact that the entertainment consumer is on our platform and they not only play a lot of games, they listen to a lot of music. They watch a lot of movies. They go to a lot of concerts. Buy a lot of music. So they're a very, very valuable consumer for Sony. And I think that's another key note. People look at the success of a generation based on the number of pieces of hardware you sold. What's important is that people are still playing them and what they're doing with them. We feel quality is more important that quantity if we had to make a choice.

Is there a specific launch date for PS4, something more specific than the holiday season? If not, why not?
Tretton: I think the honest answer is that you don't know what your production yields are going to be until you go into production and you see the type of numbers you have. You don't know what the ultimate demand is going to be. And we're trying to roll this out on a worldwide basis. So we want to do it right as opposed to sprinkling a unit here and a unit there. So we've got a lot of evaluation to do. But in my mind holiday means in the holiday season. But to be more specific would be speculative. And quite frankly, I think if you have an opportunity to get it before the end of the year, whether you get it in October, November, or December is somewhat irrelevant because we hope it's something you're gonna enjoy for the next 10 years and beyond. So a couple of weeks one way or the other won't make too significant a difference.

What are Sony's plans to keep up with the trend of gaming on mobile devices?
Tretton: The beauty of working for Sony is that there isn't a business as it relates to entertainment and the gaming choices you just mentioned that we're not in.

We make tablets. We make smartphones. We have PlayStation Mobile. We have games available on the tablet. So I think the entire ecosystem is growing. But the misnomer that I think some people miss out on is they assume that it's people gravitating from a console to a smartphone or a tablet. I think it's the exact opposite. That people are coming into gaming through devices like smartphones and tablets and ultimately they migrate their way up the ecosystem. But the audience for the console is stronger than it's ever been. I mean, we believe, there are more consumers out there that have interest in the console initially than we'll be able to manufacture. There's a huge pool of consumers to tap into and we're excited to bring PlayStation 4 to them.

 

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