For South African audiences, Ster Kinekor has long been associated with movies and cinemas but it might come as a surprise to some that the company has also been the distributor of PlayStation products in the country for nearly twenty years, having entered into a partnership with Sony in the mid 90s.
This partnership has grown and evolved over the years, allowing Ster Kinekor Entertainment to not only bring the original PlayStation into South Africa, but the entire PlayStation family of consoles as well, with the launch of the PlayStation 4 resting on the company’s shoulders in December, too.
El33tonline recently spoke with CEO of Ster Kinekor Entertainment and curator of the PlayStation division in South Africa, Mario Dos Santos, as well as the General Manager for PlayStation in the Middle-East, Africa, India and Turkey, Robert Fisser, to find out about the impending release of the PlayStation 4, how the PlayStation ecosystem will be handled in South Africa, and how competition and heritage will play a part in the success of Sony’s next home console.
- Mario Dos Santos (left) and Robert Fisser (right)
El33tonline: Can you explain how the relationship between Ster Kinekor and PlayStation works and how it has evolved over time?
Mario Dos Santos: It’s a distributor partnership, we distribute Sony PlayStation in our territory, and it goes back to 1996 in the days of [the original PlayStation], and we were involved right from the initial stages, both on the hardware and the software.
El33tonline: We saw the delay of the PlayStation 4 launch in South Africa – it was due out on December 6th, now it’s going to be out on December 13th. How did that come about after that initial date was announced?
Dos Santos: The 6th was more of an indicative date, obviously there was a timeline that we looked at from a logistics perspective, and there was no formal announcement, it was more indicative. The message was that we wanted to [release in time for the holidays] and we think December 13th is the perfect day.
El33tonline: Obviously the Xbox One isn’t releasing in 2013 in South Africa – we don’t even know what that date is going to be – how important is that for PlayStation 4? Last time the roles were reversed, Xbox 360 was out at the end of 2006 and PlayStation 3 was out in March 2007.
How important is that for you now or aren’t you really worried about the competition from Xbox One, or any other console?
Robert Fisser: Well, we don’t really comment on the position of the competition, but it’s clear that if you have a ‘first move’ advantage it’s always good news for us and the PlayStation fans, so we’re quite happy about that.
But with regards to the release date, South Africa is actually releasing before Japan and considering that Sony is a Japanese company, and we’re releasing in the US, Europe and South Africa before Japan is actually a really, really big deal.
El33tonline: Definitely, it is a big deal!
PlayStation has a very strong heritage in South Africa ever since the original PlayStation – the Nintendo GameCube wasn’t really around and neither was the original Xbox, so the PlayStation really got a hold of the market in South Africa. Is that heritage going to be important for PlayStation 4, or do you feel you’ll have to prove yourself all over again with a clean slate?
Fisser: I think we always have to prove ourselves, but I think with PlayStation 4 if you look at the feedback from the gamers it’s extremely positive, that’s why we’re saying ‘gamer focussed, developer inspired,’ with huge support from the independent game development community as well.
I would say South Africa is one of those countries where all PlayStation formats are firing on all cylinders in terms of sales of the PSP, PS Vita is doing quite well since the recent price adjustment, PlayStation 3 has a strong software line-up this year, and of course PlayStation 4 coming – all four are still selling in South Africa, and even PlayStation 2 can still be found in stores.
El33tonline: Talking about that ecosystem of PlayStation products, how are you going to assure consumers that you’re not moving away from the PlayStation 3? PlayStation 4 is coming out, PS Vita is still here, and you’re still going to support PS3 – have you thought about that ecosystem?
Fisser: We’re not going to move away from PlayStation 3, and just like PlayStation 2 was sold for a long time alongside PlayStation 3, the idea is to do the same with PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 – PlayStation 4 does not replace PlayStation 3, it’s complementary in the line-up.
What we’re doing with PlayStation 3 to support it, if you look at the games that we’re releasing this year, from The Last of Us to Beyond and Gran Turismo 6 in December, it’s really a testament to our commitment to the platform, including all of the development that’s going into PlayStation 3 online. If you look at something like PS Vita which launched over a year ago now, there are now over 900 games available for consumers to play, with over 150 of those specifically designed from the ground up for Vita, so I would say that platform is going from strength to strength.
El33tonline: Since the introduction of the PlayStation Plus subscription service, specifically for South Africa, have you seen an impact on sales and support of PlayStation, or has that been a slower growth over time? Do you think the internet bandwidth problems of South Africa are detrimental to the success of PS Plus?
Dos Santos: We’ve had exponential growth for the PS Plus service because of the value you get out of it, and the challenges in terms of infrastructure are there and unfortunately out of our control, but that space is opening up particularly quickly as you well know, so we’re encouraged by the fact that great infrastructure is rolling out at a rapid pace, so I think that’ll take PS Plus from strength to strength.
El33tonline: As a left field kind of topic, a few years ago South African ADSL service provider Afrihost was able to implement a system where all game-specific bandwidth and data for PC games was free when drawn from specific servers – would you consider anything like that, partnering up with an internet service provider to try and provide free PlayStation bandwidth, or is that not on the table?
Dos Santos: No, we’ve had a number of discussions and have been at various stages of discussions with the big ISPs and infrastructure partners, and the reality is that that space is being limited from a competitor perspective, so the need to look to content as the driver for your services hasn’t seen the same demand as other markets have, but with broadband infrastructure opening up with various cables – west coat, east coast and the like – coming online, these players are now looking for new opportunities to attract the consumer and online gaming is certainly one of those, so we’re in various stages of discussion with them.
El33tonline: Looking at the South African market as a whole, how does that compare to other markets like Australia and the rest of Africa, and how important is South Africa in leading other African markets?
Fisser: I come here maybe three times a year, and I always say that the South African gamer, general landscape and retail environment is on par with Europe and other countries that I see. Of course within the continent itself, South Africa is a leading or inspirational role to some of the other countries which is great, which is why we’re pleased to be able to bring PlayStation 4 here on a date that’s in line with many, many other countries.
El33tonline: What do you think of the overall PlayStation marketing message – all the way from the reveal of the PlayStation 4 through E3 and gamescom, Sony has been very open, very honest, trying to satisfy the needs of gamers. How is that marketing message going to continue into South Africa – is it a global strategy or will South Africa be handled differently?
Dos Santos: Our marketing strategy is very clearly aligned with the Sony PlayStation messages, and we definitely believe in those statements and bringing the consumer closer to the point where they are able to define what they want to see and do, so it’s a perfect fit. There is an element of localisation purely from our demographics perspective, but in principle our marketing strategy will follow the European strategy.
El33tonline: In terms of the PlayStation 4, if you could pick one favourite feature what would it be, and which game are you most looking forward to playing?
Dos Santos: For me it’s definitely the Share function, I think that’s a particularly exciting space in the way social media has exploded, and from a gaming perspective from what’s going to be available at launch I’m particularly excited about Killzone, it’s looking absolutely fantastic. But I must say inFamous looks amazing, so I’m also very excited about that in the new year.
Fisser: For me it’s actually the Remote Play, I think it’s just incredible that you can play on your PlayStation 4, and maybe somebody else wants to use the TV to watch some programme, and I can just continue the PlayStation 4 game on my PS Vita in the house or on the road and progress through the game, collect the Trophies and then later sync it back. Most PS4 games will actually work on the Vita as well, so both from a technology point of view in being able to achieve this is astonishing, but also a gaming point of view that uninterrupted flow is just great.
For me, I’m going to go for Knack.
El33tonline: Definitely – it is more of a family friendly game but it’s looking really good.
Thanks to Mario Dos Santos and Robert Fisser for their time!
The PlayStation 4 is out on November 15th in North America, November 29th in Europe, December 13th in South Africa and February 22nd, 2014 in Japan.
El33tonline has of course extensively covered the PlayStation 4 since its announcement leading to launch, with hands-on previews of games that we saw at E3 2013 and gamescom 2013, as well as every snippet of exciting PS4 news that we can find – keep it dialled in here for more news and impressions as we approach launch.
Will you be picking up a PlayStation 4 at launch? Which games are you most excited for?