I Recently got a chance to interview Atindriya Bose who is the PlayStation India Country manager. One of the most powerful men in the Indian video games market, it’s pleasant to find that he’s also very down to earth and honest in his replies.
We talked for almost an hour on various topics ranging from the upcoming PlayStation exclusive RA One, PS Vita, PS4 and a ton of other things.
So sit back and enjoy the interview below.
GB: Atin, I will like to take this opportunity by thanking you for taking out your precious time for us.
Atin: No issues. It’s my pleasure.
GB: Now before I delve in to the RA One questions, video game tie in with movies has not been a happy affair. What’s your personal opinion on the same?
Atin: Are you talking from the Indian perspective or the international perspective because internationally there are a few leading IPs/ movie IPs that have become games. So are you asking from an Indian perspective?
GB: I am actually asking in general terms. For example the recently released Harry Potter movie was pretty good but the game never lived up to the expectations.
Atin: See there are a few things about movie IPs in to gaming. The first and foremost thing that the movie IP brings in is IP recognition of an already created brand that is getting extended in to gaming. The second part is that the IP stands for certain things, which is originally created by the movie. Now if that stands for a game, a good game can always be created. But once the game has been created, the IP gives you recognition and the first pick up rights which will mean that the consumer will pick it up easier. But ultimately it boils down to the gameplay and game storyline which is evaluated independently of what the IP has been because if a person has invested in a game he is looking it as a game. So this gives recognition and a stand for a certain genre or certain expectation that one is gaining out of it. Whichever film or game IP has been able to do this has stood up strongly. Yes there have been some disappointments even if the movie has done well. Internationally there have been examples on front, positive and negative. With RA One we have been able to partner with one of the strongest IP that is being created in the Indian film industry. It is a game based around super heroes and super powers so it lends itself well in to a gaming genre. So the easy recognition as well as the expectation of gaming is inherited in this IP. Now if we can do a good plot in the game which we are quite confident that we will be able to do it, we should have a winner in our hands.
GB: How come RA One the video game came out to be? Was it a plan all along when the movie was announced last year?
Atin: See all these games take about a year to develop. Obviously we have been working on the game and putting all the partnerships in place. For the first time such a strong IP owner of India (Shahrukh Khan & Red Chillies) has decided to partner with us and develop a game. This has resulted in to sharing of vision from both the sides (movies and video games). The Indian gaming market is not as large or as mature as now to create games at such a high level of investment and be profitable and start having a revenue share sort of arrangement so both of us had to create a business model that is a win-win situation for both. This required a vision which we have found to be interesting in Red Chillies and Shahrukh Khan.
They are using this game very strongly as IP extension and we are creating not only the game, but also maintaining the communication that will back the game. With this strong IP and the subsequent post game release of the movie, we also expect to get a lot off rub off back to the game which will help us to do a self target that we have in mind for this game.
So this win-win situation is not based on a revenue sort of arrangement. The IP belongs to Red Chillies. We are taking the full costs and the responsibility of developing the game and also advertising the game prior to the movie launch to take it to a certain level of momentum. And once movie kicks in, we are very confident that it will affect the game making it successful.
GB: So basically, you think that using Shahrukh Khan’s brand name will eventually lead RA One the Video Game in to a successful venture?
Atin: Yes. They are also getting a lot of advantage out of the game promotion which will add to the movie’s popularity. In return we will be getting advantages out of the movie promotion which will make the game popular.
Its not like the international model where the game comes in two months after the movie and the IP owner looks at the game as a means to just extend the revenue stream which in Indian market would not have worked so we have twisted the business model. So in this case the game comes in first, backed by a lot of promotion around it, leads in to the movie and then the momentum of the film carries the game forward.
GB: So does that mean that the game will be released well before the movie releases?
Atin: Yep. That is correct.
GB: So the release date will be similar for both the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 2 versions?
Atin: The game will release on the PlayStation 2 as well as on the PlayStation 3. But the PS3 version as of now will be digitally downloadable. We are not looking at the blu-ray version immediately but we are also keeping that option open if the opportunity comes in. Both the version will be released together, since that will give the game added value.
The PS3 downloadable version because of its network capability of the PS3 the game will also be marketed in other countries, especially under the SCEE regions.
GB: So the Indian market will be the priority market, followed by the European regions?
Atin: Indian market is definitely the priority market as this is where we are targeting our resources. The digital version (PS3 downloadable version) will be made available in all the key markets like Europe, India, Middle East, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
GB: Do we have a release date on the same?
Atin: Not a specific date. we are coordinating close with the movie release date. As of now we are targeting a September release. There will be certain amount of gap between the movie and the game’s release, something which we are discussing with Red Chillies so that it is not too far before the movie’s release.
GB: I have watched a few trailers for RA One. And it seems to be heavily inspired by super hero video games and one of them being inFamous. Do you see that as a positive while marketing the video game adaptation?
Atin: If you are stating that its inspired from inFamous then I stand flattered (laughs)
It is definitely a super-hero movie. It has one of the best quality vfx effects and everything that is required to make it a good success. It will always remind people of different super heroes whether they were on a gaming platform, everyone wants to draw parallel. But independently it looks to be turning out fantastic based on what I have seen. But what is important is that being a super hero movie with all those super powers and all, how that has been translated in RA One the Video Game. This is what will matter for the game’s success not based on the assumptions that it is a similar looking game. It is an independent game that is being developed with an independent story line. Whatever snippets I have seen of the game does not remind me of inFamous.
GB: Actually this is not my opinion and is something I came across the internet where a lot of gamers were drawing parallel RA One with inFamous.
Atin: I have heard about this too. inFamous and inFamous 2 are perhaps one of the best things that have come to the PlayStation 3. There are always going to be parallels drawn. I can only comment on the game development we are doing for R.A. One. From the movie side, I have seen a bit and it is not right for me to comment on how they have conceptualized.
While we have the likes of inFamous in our stable, this game is independent and is specifically focused on the movie R.A. One and trying to do justice to it in the way we have conceptualized the game.
GB: We have heard that the game is being developed under the supervision of a game development team based in London. Can you please let us know more about that dev team and what are their roles in the project?
Atin: Looking at the huge scale of things and the partnership that we have done with Bollywood, while we are developing the game at Trine studios which is our local studio in India, we felt that the game needed closer interaction and supervision so that we can meet our game release dead line before the movie releases. This resulted in to a team being created in London which is a five member team, out of which three are core members and others are in advisory role. This also includes a technical manager who is continuously in touch with the team and is supervising them. Then you have a creative and a technology consultant so that any bottlenecks or any thought processes that are coming in are continuously adjusted which included motion capture, animations, VFX integration and everything. On top of that there are core members of the development team so the interaction between Trine and them is happening on a daily and weekly basis.
GB: So the game is in full production as we speak.
Atin: Yes. It is going on in Trine and three people from London are continuously in touch with them and they way communications are being carried out is almost like they are physically present here.
GB: The game is meant to be a prequel. So does that mean the events of the game will lead directly to the film? Does that also mean the game will be released well before the movie?
Atin: During the pre-production phase, when we started working on the concept of the game, there was a huge amount of inputs from Shah Rukh Khan and Red Chillies team. We were pretty clear that we are bringing in the expertise of game development and we suggested a number of things regarding the development of the game. Once that has been indentified the co-relation between the game and movie, the story-telling was then expanded. Red Chillies were obviously the best people to develop the storyline since they are behind the movie. The story will make the player understand about this super hero that you are going to play, the type of powers and effects that you are most likely to see and a loose explanation of what is going to happen in the movie. So it’s not right to say to people that unless you have done this you will not understand this, but at the same time if someone has already the played the game and is now seeing the movie, you can then co-relate some plot lines in a much easier way.
GB: The game boasts of six playable characters. Of course one of them is RA One. Can you please let us know about the remaining five?
Atin: In terms of the characters, other than RA One I can only reveal G One. The other characters can only be revealed when they get released by the guys handling the movie. We are sequencing it because ultimately each of the movie characters are ultimately build by them. Unless they have revealed those characters, we are not in a position to reveal them.
We have talked about six characters and not all of them are from the movie. There are four characters that are intrinsically from the movie and the rest two are inspired from the ones in the movie but they are more specifically gaming characters.
GB: I completely understand that some things need to be kept as a secret and be revealed at the right time.
Atin: Ultimately I cannot jump the gun as much as I want to. Unless and until the movie developers release any characters, I cannot talk about them.
GB: What different types of game modes will be available? Are you guys planning to include co-op , offline and online?
Atin: There will be a story mode and other will be a choice mode which will be more like a brawl. The brawl mode is basically about fighting, where you will have the option of different environments, powers and characters.
No we are not looking at an online mode but the game will support multiplayer mode. So with the PS3 it can go up to 4 players and the PS2 will obviously support two players.
GB: Is RA One a third person game with full blown cinematics and cut scenes? Or will it be 2D side scroller?
Atin: It’s not a 2d side scroller. It will feature 3d animations, bundled along with a story mode which will be a mixture of cutscenes and gameplay. So it’s basically a 3d game.
GB: Do you think this is the most important game in the history of the Indian Video Games development scene? If yes how will this game shape the gaming scene here in India?
Atin: Such a recognizable IP with its intrinsic value is partnering with us in creating a PlayStation game. This is a huge step as I think we have invested a lot in Indian focussed story lines and working with the local developers to create full cycle games. There are two parts of the journey we are proud of, one of them is how we started with the PlayStation 2 and then with PSP, then worked with developers to make games for PS3 minis and PSP and open them to the world market. Now we are creating a full cycle game on the PS2 and PS3. There is also an upcoming game Cricket Move which will release on the PlayStation 3.
Starting in 2008 where we worked with a set of developers and then brining up to a level where we can release PS3 titles in three years span. This technical and animation graduation is something we are proud of.
The second part is creating titles independently starting from games like Street Cricket and coming up to a point where a big Bollywood studio shows interest and ultimately it culminates in to a very meaningful partnership which has resulted in to more value from the IP side.
So this two part development, starting from zero to where we are currently makes us proud and the fact that such a good quality Bollywood game is being developed and then releasing it through the PSN to the world market means a lot to the video games development scene in India. I think this is a step change for the Indian market.
For the consumer gaming market, I think brining in such a IP really allows me in broad basing console adoption in the market.
GB: Do we have a price tag on the same?
Atin: The PS2 will probably will retail at INR. 499. The PS3 version is still being debated because there is this issue of the PSN which means we have to adhere to the global mandate of price point and we are also evaluating whether there is any opportunity of a Blu Ray version.
GB: Recently, Marvin Donald, game director at Darksiders 2 had claimed that the PlayStation 3 ‘is a pain in the ass to work with’. These kind of criticisms were heard when the PlayStation 3 was new in the market. Are you surprised that some developers are still having a hard time developing games for the PS3?
Atindriya: Is this something you are asking at an international level?
GB: No, I want to co-relate this with our local development studio Trine. Is it really difficult to develop games for the PlayStation 3 as Marvin Donald is claiming it to be?
Atin: See if you look at Trine or Indian developers working, they have not done one game but they have done multiple games. Today Trine is working on the PlayStation 3 platform, they have access to the development kit and they work closely with us. So from the Indian development perspective I have never heard a complain and it is also supported by the fact that anyone of them that I know of is not working on or getting a similar support from other competition platforms to create a full cycle game.
GB: So should I take it that they are not having any issues developing games for the PlayStation 3?
Atin: No I have not heard of any issues. All these game developers from India, given the fact they come back to us, I would rather believe that they are comfortable and confident working on my platform. The way they have migrated and improved their technology and the ease with which Trine, Immersive or Game Shashtra have done it, gives me the confidence to make a statement about the Indian developers we have worked with: I have heard no complaints or grudges working on the PS3 platform.
GB: Sony seems to be heavily investing in remakes. One of the biggest remakes hitting this year is ICO and SOTC. Does Sony plan to do this more often in the future?
Atin: While we are developing games on a fresher and continuous mode, these remakes are done based on consumer feedback across the world. It’s not that every single game we have we will re make it because that’s not the strategy. At the same time with us being consumer oriented we realize that there are certain games of older franchise and a lot of people are expecting it be brought back alive so that everyone around them can also experience the same. So whenever there is such a strong feedback, we start looking in to it.
In Indian markets, this sort of games becomes a very welcomed entry because if you take a look at the gaming culture here in India it actually started blooming from 2005. So there are fantastic older titles which many of the current gamers have been deprived of enjoying in a proper way. So these games coming back make a lot of sense for the Indian market.
GB: We have heard rumours that the PSN is undergoing major change in the design and functionality. Is there any truth to them?
Atin: No, I have not heard anything like that. We have restored the whole PSN but in terms of other things like design, functionality and everything that you are talking about is not something I can comment on.
GB: What is the next big game that PlayStation India is expecting to be a huge hit and why?
Atin: International franchises like Resistance 3 and Uncharted 3 are big best for us. There are also a series of Move games that will hit the market. Move has become one of the most popular items in India and I have a feeling that out of the many titles that will come in, we should atleast be coming up with three or four winners.
Then there is the upcoming Move Cricket and it will take people by surprise by the quality that I have experienced and the interactions that you can have as a cricketer and I think that is going to be big bet for the Indian market.
GB: We are well past half way in 2011 and Sony has had an amazing run with a pleothera of exclusives. However the road map does not look too clear for the PS3 in 2012. Do you think we will be seeing more PlayStation exclusives in 2012 other than The Agent and The Last Guardian?
Atin: See, obviously as you look in to 2012 and all, every year we have our product declaration at different points. There is GamesCom coming up which is taking place in Cologne and at a later stage the whole 2012 calendar will uneveiled at certain points of time. In India we remain very confident about what is coming in terms of the games and in terms of the IP that will be coming going forward. But I think if there is a worry or a question mark that is in your mind, it obviously is also translated or taken back to the real developers or the world wide studio people. But for me to comment from the India side completely, we are quite confident about the type of games that are going to come in.
GB: Any surprise announcements at GamesCom?
Atin: Ah..doesnt look like.
GB: We went hands down with the PS Vita at last months E3 and we got to admit, it’s an amazing piece of hardware. But one of the things that we were not told about is the battery life of it. The PSP was initially criticized for it short batter life. Have you guys addressed this issue?
Atin: See, it will have adequate battery life for someone to have a continuous gaming experience. Given the fact that we know that we are creating a personal, portable and a mobile gaming experience, the importance of battery life is very well understood. I think it is been taken care of.
In India, we will be launching the Wii Fi and the 3G version and we already in talks with various service providers for a proper 3G tie-up.
GB: Since Indian comes under the EU region, can we expect the PSV to launch this year?
Atin: We are seen as a very important market and India is no longer seen as a non-gaming market that we used to be in 2005. If you look at the growth from 2007-2011, India has become an adequately important market, so more or less expect a similar timing for EU release of PS Vita.
GB: There has been no official price tag for the Indian market. Can you please give us a range?
Atin: Not yet decided. If you take a look at the international price declarations you can expect to be around the PS3 price point. The price could be anywhere from 15k-20K INR.
GB: Will you guys still be supporting the PSP, in a same way you guys did with the PS2 when the PS3 came out?
Atin: Yes, definitely. In the handheld space we are dividing the market in two parts. One is the PS Vita which is the top end of handheld experience and at the entry level you will still have the PSP going very strongly. In Indian market context, the junior level consumers 10-15 year old kids are more likely to gravitate towards the PSP. We will keep supporting it with the hardware and the software and at the top end, the college students, the PS Vita will be strongly supported in regaining pocket space currently occupied by smart phones.
GB: The PlayStation 3 will complete five years this November. Surely, Sony must at least be thinking about a new hardware. I have spoken to a few developers who have revealed that they are somewhat restricted by the current hardware, especially when a gaming PC gives them the technology to optimize and make better games. Do you think we can expect the PlayStation 4 soon? Will it be as hardcore as the PS3 is or are you guys planning to take a bit casual approach in order to appeal to a wider audience?
Atin: (Laughs) Too speculative. I think, with me being as a business head of a country, I will definitely not have an exposure to the development at such an early phase. Having said that I have a feeling that if you take a look at that the PlayStation 3 experience, the first four years have gone in to strengthening the positioning the PS3 among the core gamers, who still remain the heart of PlayStation. So PS3 is vouched for by the core gamers and we have created a very strong relation with them. Then came the motion sensing Move platform, so the PS3 with the Move reinvented the PS3, adequately broadening the market. If you look at it, the PS3 with a Move is itself is a seperate avatar than a standalone PS3, in allowing us to target and address the market needs of two seperate segments.
I think our immediate focus is to make PS3 huge in India and use Move to its merit. It’s all about getting the best out the PlayStation 3 experience.
GB: So you think the Move will expand the life of the PlayStation 3?
Atin: If you look at the PS2. It is perhaps in its 12th year and it is still going strong internationally and in India its still the largest selling platform. Looking at such a longevity, I think there is excitement about newer technologies that will always be there, but if you look at how the PS3 has been built and how through the network system it can continously get upgraded. So the original PS3 has already reinvented itself a number of times. To make us say that the current PS3 is an entirely different avatar and has a pretty long cycle of being a core product. See, it started with a gaming device. It went in to a 3D playback device. Now it has become a motion sensing device, so there is a continous sense of re-invention that in anyway is happening. But the PS3 is a brand name we have invested in, but its bit too early to start speculating but in terms of technology addition, its journey showcases it is a continous reinvention process.
GB: The WiiU was recently revealed at E3. Do you guys think that it could threaten Sony’s market share when it launches next year?
Atin: I have heard a lot about it. I have got a lot of feedback. Unfortunately I was not present at E3. I will be present at GamesCom, Cologne. So I am eagerly waiting to have a look at it. Every competitor has its own way and its own little way of understanding the consumers. Every competitive move is evaluated and needs to be countered if you want to remain strong so we will also do what it takes but as of now if I need to speak aobut it, its a bit early to speculate.
GB: Is there anything else you want to tell us about the Sony/PlayStation brand to our readers?
Atin: We as a brand are going strong. We are seeing a huge level of penetration. What is encouraging in the Indian market today is that PlayStation is now available across 150 towns, even if it means that in one town that are just one two shops. So it has got huge foot print and repeated purchases shows that even the consumer footprint has grown quite wide. The Indian audience is adopting the next gen console (PS3) very fast and that is very encouraging. The main stay of the business is the PlayStation 2 because that gives me the entry level console and allows a lot of gamers to adopt the category for the first time.
So the product portfolio helps me and we are now seeing 300K-350K PlayStations getting sold on an annual basis. The other encouraging thing is that we have just passed the one million install based mark in India market and I think this is a huge milestone because no people’s opportunity to play at a friend’s place have gone up so many folds that it has now become spiral of its own.
We strongly believe that PlayStation is all about people having the experience and that will mean returning users to engage with the brand.
GB: I guess that will be it. I appreciate giving your time to us. Thank you.
Atin: Thanks. It was a pleasure talking to you.