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Sony's marketing mastermind in the gaming world

Warwick Light sometimes has to pinch himself to realise how privileged he feels to have the job as general manager for sales and marketing at Sony Computer Entertainment. He talks to Jan Birkeland about how the gaming market has grown, the forthcoming Playstation 3 and his favourite game.

How did your interest in gaming and the industry surrounding it begin?

Looking back at my life I would say I was almost destined to be in a role like this, although it sounds like a big call. My father owned a chain of toy stores called Storkline, which had its flagship store in Newmarket, where Sony is today. I remember how he used to go to toy fairs and conventions around the world, and he would bring back toys for me. I had an interest for gaming already from a young age. My father would bring back small pinball games from Japan and even the very early computer games like Pong. He later opened up a bicycle shop where I would help out. One day he decided to throw out half the bikes and replace them with Commodore’s Vic 20 machines. We all thought he was crazy, this was still very early. A month or so later all the bikes were gone and I ended up working with computers at a young age.

How did your first contact with Sony come about?

I went on to Massey University to do a bachelor of business studies. This was during a quasi-recession in New Zealand, and it was hard to get jobs. Employers had the option of hiring people on their degree or hiring on their skill set. I always had a big interest in movies and decided to interview for a job with Columbia Tristar as a rep calling into video stores. I spent about five years with the company. At the time, CT was distributing videogames for Sega, and I fell into a product manager role for that. At the same time Sony Electronic Publishing was starting up and was also distributing games for Sega, and that is how I got my first feeling for the company.

How did that translate to you ending up with Sony?

Sony Pictures decided to set up a retail department to sell movies. It was hard work at the time and we had budget restrictions. I would edit trailers for the movies, prepare TV spots and even do voice-overs myself. After a while I was offered a role as national sales manager for Sony Computer Entertainment, working under Steve Dykes. Dykes had a background from Sony Hardware and he helped me a lot. He let me see into the marketing and how things worked at Sony, and when he left I guess I became the natural choice as general manager.

The Playstation 3, were you disappointed when told that it would not be released here until next year?

We knew the project was very ambitious, and we were a little disappointed that we would not have it in time for Christmas. Saying that, in this business space the first year is normally aimed at early adopters and hard-core gamers. I would say that we should sell about 6000 units in our first month when it arrives here. People are very brand loyal in this space, and I believe we have an inherit consumer advantage there. The preorder market is very important for us, and we have a large number preordered already. One store had about 400 preorders before the announcement of the delay. They called every single customer and all but six decided to stay with the product rather than cancelling the order. Markets can vary from country to country; Australia is, for example, a very different market.

Are you surprised at the level gaming is growing as an industry?

I am not surprised at all at how the market is growing. When the Playstation was first released here it had a penetration of close to 350,000 households, almost one-third of all households in New Zealand. I think that marked a point where people started to take the industry seriously. I believe playing games is a very natural thing to do for people. It is inherit in us to explore our possibility space. I don’t think any other form of entertainment creates a platform of exploration like gaming does. There is a growth in social gaming, something that was proved with the success of products like the Eyetoy and our Buzz line of games.

Working with games all day, what do you do when you get home?

I play videogames on a leisurely basis, probably like an avid movie fan would watch movies. I also play quite a bit of golf and I recently got my handicap down to 11. Swimming and playing basketball also takes up some of my time. I travel a lot with work and I am really starting to enjoy that. I feel very privileged in this job, I have to pinch myself sometimes. It has given me some fantastic experiences.

Favourite game?

That is a tough one; I think I would have to say the Gran Turismo series. I enjoy games I can play quickly because of time constraints.