Interview with Matt Levitan – Sony Director of Marketing and PR for Canada
While on site at E3, I had an opportunity to sit down with the Sony Director of Marketing and PR for Canada, Matt Levitan. We found a spot upstairs in the Sony section and chatted a bit about how he is taking in all the new developments with Sony, and even theorized about what kinds of things he may want to see in the future for the gaming community.
Rachel: So first of all, how’s E3 going for you?
Matt: It’s been a really busy show. We knew when we were coming into this show that we had a lot of great announcements. The excitement built around the price of the PS4 and kind of what our strategy was on a few key items that gamers were talking about. We wanted to use what we thought was going to be the biggest and best way to get a message out to millions of people with an E3 press conference, where we kind of set the record straight on a lot of stuff. So after that, it’s just been really positive. Everyone’s said great things about the price, and everyone feels really good about our strategy on used games, and no DRM, and things like that. So yeah, it’s nice. They don’t always go this good. We’re in a good spot right now. [laughs]
Rachel: [laughs] It’s true. You win some, you lose some. If you had to say the message – you know, to deliver the right kind of message – what kind of message are you – is this entire thing – trying to deliver to your fans?
Matt: We normally have between 200 and 250 interactives in the booth in any given year at E3. We have over 300 this year, so I think it’s a testament to the fact that we wanted to show that we have the best games in the market, and that we are doing, from a business standpoint, what’s best for gamers. I think that that story is starting to resonate; they’re starting to see that, not only do we have a great launch lineup for PS4, but great content for PS3 in, like, the seventh year of its lifecycle, and [we’re] making smart decisions, like allowing the used game model to continue as it is today on PS3 and not requiring you to have any kind of internet connection to enjoy your PS4. So, things like that that just show we’re really doing what’s best for gamers.
Rachel: How did you like that little presentation of how to share games with your friends?
For those of you who are unsure of the video we are referencing, you can watch it here!
Matt: Oh yeah [laughs]! With Shuhei and Adam! We’re not usually that cheeky, but I think this whole situation has called for us to be a little bit more irreverent, and I think, really, what got us here today, and this $399 price point on PS4 and kind of our whole strategy, is that we want to be the challenger again. We miss the challenger identity that we had in PS1, PS2 days, where no one expected us to win. Like, you know, nobody thought Sony could ever take on Nintendo and compete, and we did incredibly well in [the] PS1 and PS2 days. And not that we got away from it in PS3, but I think we constantly have to be challenging ourselves and be hungry, as opposed to being just confident that everything will work itself out. Like, if we’re not listening to gamers, and we’re not kind of always pushing ourselves, then we’re going to just make some sloppy mistakes, and it’s going to cost us.
Rachel: How did you get into all this?
Matt: Good question. So, I’ve been a gamer my whole life. I remember playing, like, sit-down Pong machines when I was, like, four of five years old. And so, I was living in New York City, going to grad school and working at an ad agency. I moved back to Toronto, and I pretty much found the agency that was the AOR for PlayStation and, more or less, begged to work there. So, I worked for free for the first month or so, and I actually got paid in software for a while. So before I was even able to get a paycheck, they were giving me copies of, like, Gameday 97 to pay me. And then, [I] stayed there for a decade, moved to Sony in 2006, and kind of ended up as the person in charge of marketing and PR for PlayStation in Canada. But it’s been 16 years on the brand – I started in ‘97, so it’s been a long time, but I can’t imagine changing. Like, I wouldn’t go and work for another brand that I wasn’t as passionate about, because I go home at the end of the day and I’ll play The Last of Us, or I’ll be as excited to get a PS4 as anybody who’s pre-ordered it yesterday. So, when you still have that excitement around something, then you know you’re in the right business, right?
Rachel: Absolutely. Do you find that your coworkers are nerding-out a lot about the stuff that’s coming out? [laughs]
Matt: [laughs] Very much so! Before the show opened up, I was playing Lightening Returns – the Final Fantasy game for PS3 – and so, the guy comes up to me, and he was wondering, maybe, why I was in here before the show, and then I said, “Oh, I work for PlayStation Canada. Don’t worry about it.” So he’s like, “Okay, fine.” So he gives me the controller, and I start playing it, and I just start telling him how I have like 70 Final Fantasy action figures in my office and how I’ve finished every Final Fantasy game, and I’ve put like 60 hours into each of the last two – XIII and XIII2 – and he’s like, “Wait a minute… You’re, like, a corporate guy?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m a corporate guy, but I’m like a way bigger nerd than I am a corporate guy, so…”
Rachel: Well, I mean, you have to have a passion for this, right?
Matt: Yeah, I think so. I really do. I mean, we’ve had people in this industry that are not gamers; they’re here more specifically for the business acumen that they have or, you know, the fact that there’s money to be made in this industry. People get into it for all kinds of reasons, but you’re not going to stay, I don’t think, for anything longer than a couple years – two or three years – unless you really have love for the product that you’re trying to sell, and if you can’t get excited about The Last of Us coming out on Friday, then you really probably should move to another business, because you have something of that quality, of that magnitude, and if you’re not interested in it, then you might as well be selling toilet paper.
Rachel: [laughs] Fair enough, fair enough. What’s the most exciting game for you? Even if it’s, like, a total –
Matt: The littlest, smallest thing?
Rachel: Yeah, [it] doesn’t matter. What’s the most exciting thing for you, with all these launches coming up?
Matt: That’s tough! I mean, as I said, I’m a big Final Fantasy fan, so I’m actually very much looking forward to XIV, which is the new MMO. I played a lot of XI, back in the day; I put like two years into that, and I don’t know if it’s my favourite game of all time, but I had some really fond memories of playing that. So, I’m certainly looking forward to [XIV]. There’s a really interesting, quirky little game coming out called Doki-Doki Universe, which I would encourage you to look at. It’s on PS3 and on Vita, and it’s hard to describe. You’re essentially a robot that travels around through different worlds on a flying pig – give me a second, it gets even stranger! You meet a variety of different characters, and you can learn something about each of these characters, and you can give them gifts, and they will give you back gifts. And it’s actually learning something about you while you learn something about the characters, and it asks you little quizzes. It’s strange – it’s one of those strange, unique games. You see a lot of shooters: it’s hard for you to say you’re that excited about Call of Duty, because, like, I’ve played and finished every Call of Duty – I love Call of Duty – but, like, in my mind, I figure that the next Call of Duty is just going to have better graphics, some new multi-player stuff, and when you see something that’s totally different from a genre perspective, you’re like, “I’ve never seen a game like this before.” And that’s like Flower, or Journey, or The Unfinished Swan. That’s what’s sometimes the most fun for me, because I’ve been playing games for 30 years, and when I see something that breaks all genres, it’s amazing.
Rachel: Excellent, excellent. […] If there’s something that you’d want to bring back, that you’d really want to push, an old game or something like that… like Killer Instinct, right? How crazy were the fans over that?
Matt: Yeah, that was one. We obviously were watching the Microsoft conference, and that’s been an IP that was a huge hit for Rare back in the old Nintendo days, and I played a lot of Killer Instinct, and I love fighting games. That would have been a good one on PS4. We would have liked that one, but that’s not going to happen, obviously. I think that some of these old franchises, when they get a reboot, as long as it’s like the new Tomb Raider from this year… Great example: I think that they stopped making Tomb Raiders for a couple years and said, “This thing has to change, entirely!” Now, [Tomb Raider is] not that old, all things considered, but I think that they revolutionised it, and they made it darker and different and better, and I think that you see a lot of these things that we grew up loving and playing, and they kind of come back, and they just become almost a brand new IP, with brand new legs. So, I’m trying to think of which one I would bring back… It feels like they’ve brought almost all of them back!
Rachel: It’s true!
Matt: Remember Xevious, back in the day?
Matt: It was like a top-down shooter. I loved that game. That was probably one. I used to love a game called Mappy. I don’t know how you’d bring Mappy back. It was like a side-scrolling mouse. You jumped on these little platforms. I’m not sure what you’d do with that this generation. Probably, Xevious would be a good call.
Rachel: Awesome. So, if those developers were ever like, “Hey, guys…”
Matt: I think they’re both Namco.
Matt: Both of those franchises are Namco, so they’re still out there, making games. They’re making Tekken, so they can technically do it.
Rachel: It’s true. Is there anything that you wish could have happened that maybe we’ll see in the next console or over the next few years? You know what I mean? Is there something that you’re really, really pushing, that someday we might be able to see on a console?
Matt: I kind of know the business reasons why we weren’t able to do it, but I was hoping for a better integration between the PS3 and the Vita, to be honest with you. We never really told that story very well. I think the Vita is a great device. The word-of-mouth has been fantastic. [For] people that have Vita, [there’s] customer satisfaction through the roof. 95% plus love their Vita, when they own them. Not enough people have purchased the Vita, in my mind, based on how amazing it is, but I think a lot of that is because we really didn’t show you a good reason to own one. If you have a PS3, you should also get a Vita. I think that’ll change [for] PS4. I think PS4, without a doubt, with the remote play, you have an opportunity to play every PS4 game, Wi-Fi everywhere that you are, and that’s an incredible portable gaming experience. So, that’s something that I wish we would have done better this gen, but we definitely will get right next gen, for sure.
Rachel: Do you find that when people get a lack of information it makes it harder on PR and different people to [trust a product]?
Matt: Yeah, specifically with the used games conversation that’s going on right now. There’s been a grey area for the last three or four days, like, “What’s your stance? Is it up to developers? Is it not up to developers?” And at the end of the day, the most clear and concise way we could say it is, “You know how it is today on PS3? That’s how it is on PS4.” You walk into a store, you spend $60, you buy a game, and at that point, that game is yours. So you can give it to your friend, you can sell it on EBay, you can sell it to EB Games, you can keep it in your library forever – whatever you choose to do. Your game. So it’s hard, because there’s so much complexity to hardware and strategies, and there’s always grey areas of things, but you want to be so clear on the PR message on something like that, because it’s so important, and it’s such a polarizing topic right now for gamers.
Rachel: Absolutely. I think that’s it. Is there anything else that I haven’t asked that you might [want to mention]?
Matt: No, I think I’m incredibly proud, from a company perspective [of] the amazing technology that we’re bringing out for PS4 for $400. I think, if you look at all those individual component parts – you have the AMD chip, and you have the 8G of RAM, and you have the 500G hard-drive – just to line list them and put prices to it… I mean, I think the $400 price point is pretty amazing, and I think that’s really what surprised a lot of people at the conference. They were expecting that to be $500, $600, no problem.
Rachel: Well, the PlayStation 3, when it came out – wasn’t it $600 or $700?
Matt: Yeah. In Canada, we had two. The 20G was $550, and the 60G was $650, and by the time you got another controller and a game, and paid tax, it was $1000 to walk out the door with a new PS3. That was asking a lot of the consumer at the time. $1000 is like… you’d better have some amazing software! I mean, we eventually got there; we got the price down, and we ended up with some great software, but that wasn’t necessarily the case [on] November 17, 2006, when we launched it, right? It took a while. I think it’s a different story [now]. It’s a brand new day with PS4. I mean, you have a $400 console, you have some great software out of the gate. For $500, you’re going to be able to walk out the door with probably a game, and a controller, and the console. We listened to the consumer. I think, at the end of the day, that’s really what it came down to. We kind of over-engineered PS3; it was a lot or proprietary technology, and working with developers, we went completely the other way and said, “You know what? We’re going to make this [new] system with developers’ feedback.” And we want to make a system that gamers want, and they said, “You know what? It’d be greater if it was cheaper than it was on PS3.” So, we worked hard with our engineers to figure out how [that is] possible. What will it take to get it there?
Rachel: What do you think is going to drive the multi-player? Because, for PlayStation 3, you had like an entire universe almost, right? And then you had PlayStation Plus, which was, like, VIP access. How do you think that’s going to work, in terms of the new multi-player aspect?
Matt: Yeah, I mean, obviously, we’ve been quite clear on this fact, too. In order to play multi-player on PS4, you have to be a Plus member, so it’ll be $50 a year. For the most part, I’d say, to be completely honest with you, we haven’t had a lot of negative feedback on that yet, and we really don’t expect it, because a lot of people that have PS Plus recognise that there’s really, really great value in that. So, for $5 a month, you get three PS3 games at any given time, you get a couple of PS Vita games at any time, so now, that same $5 a month extends to PS4, and we’ve already said we’re going to give you a Drive Club PS Plus edition and a couple of indie games, of which, I think, one of them is Outlast. I mean, you get real content. It’s not just a gate. We’re not throwing up a gate, saying, “Pay us $60, and we’ll bring the gate down, and you can access the content.” It’s like, we have a lot of content and a lot of backend stuff we need to do for servers and for functionality for the PS4 that have to get paid for, so that requires a bit of monetization, but then, also, you’re going to get something for your money, so you’re actually going to spend this money to get discounted DLC and all kinds of other stuff.
Rachel: Absolutely. I think I’m good. I’m just going to probably play a couple games.
Matt: Yeah, for sure! Rain and Puppeteer are free. Rain’s kind of one of those cool, smaller PSN games. Knack is our PS4 platformer – definitely try that…. […] The cool thing about Knack is that we’re not going to have a lot of E-rated platformers at launch, so if you’re going to buy a PS4, and you’re going to have, like, a seven-year-old in your house, there’s going to be a lot of M-rated content that you’re not going to be able to play with them, so you’re going to want something like this for anybody to come over and check out.
Keep your eye out for more news and previews coming down the pipe on Gamer Living with content coming out for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and the PlayStation Vita!
About This Post