Interviews// Sony Europe Founder, Chris Deering

Posted 31 Aug 2007 12:45 by
Chris Deering was founder and CEO of the London-based Sony PlayStation Division for EMEA and Australasia from 1995 through 2005, when he retired from Sony. Fondly referred to by many in the industry as the ‘father of the European PlayStation’ – a moniker that Chris tends to wince with a slight embarrassment at, when reminded. For a man that's achieved what he has in the games industry, his disarming modesty is one of his greatest charms.

It’s fair to say that modern videogaming culture in Europe would be a drastically different, lesser beast were it not for the major contributions Deering made at SCEE. PlayStation Europe now claims the highest cumulative installed based of PlayStation consoles in the world, and its local first party studios have created, amongst many others, the hugely popular EyeToy and SingStar franchises.

After graduating from Harvard with an MBA, Chris put time in at the product marketing department at Gillette Corporation for 10 years, moving onto Atari in the mid-1980s as VP International Marketing, followed by a 10-year stint as Senior VP at Sony Pictures, where he was COO (Chief Operations Officer) of International Video from 1991-1995 before founding Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.

Along with Ken Kutaragi, Deering played a major part in establishing what is often blithely referred to as ‘The PlayStation Generation’ - notably via a mix of edgy and underground marketing allied to a deep understanding of mass marketing and branding, helping to shift mainstream perceptions of videogames and gamers away from associations with lonely teenage boys in bedrooms and across to associations with 'must-have' fashionable, lifestyle accessorising.

Chris has been awarded the Computer Games Industry Achievement Award from BAFTA, and the 'Hall of Fame' from the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publisher's Association. As well as continuing to do consultancy work for games and technology companies, Chris is also the Chairman of the Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival.

SPOnG: Do you like being referred to as the ‘Father of PlayStation’

Chris Deering: [laughs] Well I don’t know how that came about. I’m not the father of PlayStation, Ken Kutaragi was working on it for four years before I became involved with it. I was working for Sony back at the time and I had been working at Atari in the early to mid 1980s. I think maybe I got associated with PlayStation’s success in Europe - probably because I was there throughout.

I added it on to a division I was running at the time that was distributing video tapes. Probably because of my knowledge of the industry and probably because of the infrastructure that I had available with Sony, we were able to do certain things in a more collective and planned-out way. Whereas previous giants in the industry, who of course are both still around – Nintendo and SEGA –had traditionally just used distributors in Europe and basically run the business from Japan.

SPOnG: Yeah, you’ve said before that some of the Japanese ‘big-hitters’ didn’t really take Europe seriously at the time.

Chris Deering: They thought they were taking it seriously, but the index of the business in Europe compared with the States was quite low, maybe 50 per cent. And we knew that in other fields such as music and movies it was closer to 75 per cent. We had every reason to aspire to reach US and North American sales, by virtue of having more people, for a start, but also because of the levels of education, literacy and interest in the arts. And we kind of proved that – at least in terms of the installed base of both PS1 and PS2, that is slightly above North America, if you take all the PAL countries combined. Europe is a bit of an unfair term in that context, because the PAL countries include the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand, Russia, India … so it’s not really the traditional definition of Europe… but ‘Father’?? [laughs] I’m not the father of PlayStation!

SPOnG: Are you still regularly in touch with Ken?

Chris Deering: Well, Ken has kind of stepped aside to let the next graduating class move up, with Kaz Hirai… I do see him occasionally. You know, ten years is a long time. It’s time for fresh blood and time for rejuvenation. I’m now doing a lot of different ventures with a lot of smaller companies. Really the technical side married to the artistic side is what I like and a lot of what I do is not really paid work as such, it’s pretty much a hobby… it’s kind of a calling really! Though I get some shares and hopefully one of these companies will do well some day!
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