For more than 40 years, video game companies have been waging a bitter console war, dropping each successive generation of hardware like bombs on their competitors. When Stephen Turvey assumed leadership of Sony Computer Entertainment Canada in 2010, Sony’s PlayStation 3 was losing that war.
“PlayStation 3 entered the market a year behind our competitor, at a challenging price point and at a difficult time in our economy,” explains Turvey, who serves as vice president and general manager. “It was a difficult time and presented a lot of challenges for us.”
Under Stephen Turvey, Sony Computer Entertainment has vastly increased PlayStation’s Canadian presence and market share. Here’s how:
- Developed close and consistent partnerships with retailers, whose loyalty helped Sony to weather business downturns
- Grew and expanded its retail footprint in order to strengthen its position at the point of sale
- Developed dedicated digital and social channels through which to engage Canadian consumers, who reward brands that understand and cater to the Canadian market
- Established relationships with Canadian telcos to enrich its product offering for the Canadian market
Fortunately, Turvey is used to challenges. As one of three brothers, the Toronto native grew up having to constantly jockey for position. “It was a rough-and-tumble household; you had to have thick skin,” says Turvey, whose father, Peter Turvey, was a prominent figure in the toy industry, having launched such products as Cricket the talking doll and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles while serving as president of Playmates Toys in Canada. “I didn’t aspire to be in the toy business, necessarily, but as kids we were always around it. I always knew retail buyers and senior executives at toy companies.”
“I feel very fortunate that I fell into the video game industry when I did,” says Turvey, who spent two and a half years in sales at Sega, followed by three years in sales at Nintendo. “At that time, it was very much an extension of the toy business—video games were handled by retailers’ toy departments—so it really was a natural fit for me, given my childhood experience.”Turvey may not have chosen the toy business, but because he shared his father’s name and connections, the toy business couldn’t help but choose him. After Turvey graduated from Bishop’s University in 1992, a former business associate of his father’s offered him his first job as an account manager for Japanese video game developer Sega.
The same childhood experience that got him his first job also groomed him for his current one, where, in the past five years, Turvey has helped PlayStation recover its position as the market leader, making PlayStation 3’s successor, PlayStation 4, the top-selling video game console in not only Canada but the world.
“We sold more PlayStation 4s on its first day than we did PlayStation 3s in its first year,” says Turvey, who launched PlayStation’s latest-generation console in Canada in 2013. “It’s been a wonderful success for us right out of the gate.”
Target: Canadian Consumers
Although the success of PlayStation 4 is due primarily to the strength of the console itself, its performance in Canada is owed equally to the effort of Turvey and his team, who have spent the last several years building a Canadian version of PlayStation’s global brand.
“I see myself as the steward of the PlayStation brand and business in Canada,” Turvey says. “It’s my job not only to represent the best interests of Sony and PlayStation in Canada but also to represent Canada’s best interests to Sony and PlayStation.”
Although they’re part of the larger North American market, Canadian gamers demand a uniquely Canadian experience.
“We’re a unique country with a consumer base that is similar to the United States yet different,” Turvey says.
“Canadians like to be spoken to as Canadians. They don’t like to be compared to any other market or country. So it’s important to establish Canadian-specific marketing programs, social opportunities, and go-to market strategies.”
To that end, Turvey’s initiatives as vice president and general manager of Sony Computer Entertainment Canada have included launching Canadian Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages, developing a Canadian website, and building a bigger, bolder footprint in Canadian retail, all of which have made Canadian gamers more receptive to the PlayStation brand.
That’s especially important given the nature of gaming, which Turvey says is evolving from a “razor and razor blades” business model—one in which profits are made not from hardware but from software and accessories—to a digital business model, where profits, or ARPU (average revenue per user), are the product of brand loyalty and long-term relationships.
“It’s important to expand and grow our direct-to-customer relationships, so we’ve focused a lot of time and effort on speaking to Canadians directly,” says Turvey, whose next goal is to expand relationships with Canadian telcos in order to integrate Canadian entertainment services onto the PlayStation console, which already offers network services like Netflix and Hulu Plus. “This will give the Canadian consumer better and greater experiences than hopefully anyone else gives them.”
An Ethical Enterprise
Speaking directly to Canadians is one reason why PlayStation 4 has overtaken its competitors in Canada. Another reason is the company’s relationships with its retail partners, which Turvey learned to cultivate while working in his family’s business, L. Turvey Sales Agencies, created by his parents to represent overseas toy and housewares manufacturers in North America.
“Working in the family business taught me humility,” says Turvey, who worked there for three years before joining Sony in 2002. “Whether you have the hottest products or not, you want to be able to say you always acted fairly and in the best interests of both parties, because you generally meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down. That’s the philosophy you have to have to be successful in a small family business, and bringing that to the corporate environment has really served me well at Sony.”
“It’s my job not only to represent the best interests of Sony and PlayStation in Canada but also to represent Canada’s best interests to Sony and PlayStation.”
In an industry known for its cutting-edge technology and its rapid pace of change, something as traditional as ethics might seem old-fashioned. A more appropriate word, however, is “timeless,” according to Turvey, who says relationships—not technology—helped Sony overcome the challenges created by PlayStation 3 in order to seize the opportunities offered by PlayStation 4.
“Our business is cyclical,” he says. “When we were having challenges with PlayStation 3, we were still treated very fairly by our partners because we hadn’t abused our previous success. Now that we’re back in a leadership position again, we haven’t forgotten that; we don’t take anything for granted.”