TOKYO--The last time Kaz Hirai fronted a major games conference, the Sony Computer Entertainment CEO and president made one of the biggest announcements in the PlayStation 3's short history. Last month at GamesCom in Cologne, Germany, he unveiled the oft-rumoured Slim model with its ultra-competitive price point.
Now, Hirai is set to take the stage as the keynote speaker at this year's Tokyo Game Show. And, sure enough, the speculation mill has started to grind again, with reports that another version of the PS3 Slim--one that houses a 250GB hard drive and that will possibly be bundled with the PlayTV peripheral--will be unveiled.
Another likely top of Hirai's speech will be Sony's plans for its new motion-sensing controllers for the PS3. The LED- and camera-based system was first unveiled at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, and Hirai recently revealed that it would be out sometime in spring 2010. As of yet, no firm release date has been announced, and the only game that has been confirmed as using the system is EA Sports' Grand Slam Tennis.
Hirai's keynote address--tentatively titled "Sony Computer Entertainment 2009 Strategy"--is slated to start at 10:30 a.m. Tokyo time (6:30 p.m. PDT).
[6:20] It's 10.20 a.m. Tokyo time, and Sony Computer Entertainment president Kaz Hirai is about to take the stage. As opposed to previous years, when TGS keynote addresses where held in large conference halls, this year's keynote address has been placed inside one of the gigantic halls of the convention center itself. Even though there are a few hundred people here to listen to Hirai speak, the place feels cavernous and empty.
[6:23] As has become standard for Sony, there have been plenty of rumours about what exactly will be unveiled, with the latest being talk of PS2 and Dreamcast games heading to PSN. That and the supposed 250GB version of the Slim.
[6:25] The speakers are blaring some Mariah Carey-like easy listening tunes. Hopefully the crowd won't fall asleep before Hirai hits the stage.
[6:26] Standing room only now. Thankfully there's plenty of space to spread out.
[6:27] Housekeeping announcements: no photography and filming. Better tell all the camera crews already set up that minor detail.
[6:28] A large ring of people are now standing around the dozens of rows of seats in the middle of the hall. Sony sure knows how to pull in a crowd.
[6:30] OK, here we go. Lights dim, music gets all techno for TGS video sting.
[6:31] TGS logo pops up. Ironically, it looks an awful lot like the 360 power button.
[6:31] Nice Japanese lady onstage presenting Hirai--and he walks on to a decent amount of polite applause.
[6:32] The Japanese-born, American-educated Hirai speaks in his native tongue. Luckily there are translators on hand.
[6:33] Hirai says the PlayStation business started in December 1994, saying today is the 15th anniversary of the PlayStation brand.
[6:33] Hirai does a quick recap of the PlayStation's history, thanking all the game creators and developers who have supported the platform. Oh, and the gamers around the world, too.
[6:34] Hirai wants to give out his heartfelt appreciation to everyone. Very sweet, and very Japanese.
[6:34] Now he's asking for people's further support as the games industry moves forward.
[6:34] In the last 15 years, he says major changes have happened in technology, environment, and the lifestyle of users.
[6:35] "If we stick to conventional business, we won't be able to survive. We have to consider how we can actually drive the industry forward," he says, "It's quite a serious challenge."
[6:36] One of the major changes is, of course, networked gaming, where connections are increasing in a connected manner. Networks and game consoles are now inseparable, he says.
[6:37] "Where it was, at one time, only with your family you could play games, the network now allows you to play games with anyone, as well as form communities," says the translator. Hirai is usually a bit more eloquent than that.
[6:37] "So, how can we define this? Listening, viewing, communication, sharing, learning. These are all elements for interactive entertainment experiences, which are essential for enjoyable experiences."
[6:38] He points out Little Big Planet as a key example of a game that gets all these elements right. User-generated content of LBP has been supported by many users. As of today, network stages amount to 1.28 milion user-created stages!
[6:38] That means people have to play for 29 years straight to get through every created stage for LBP.
[6:38] SingStar now gets a nod as another game that gets it right.
[6:39] As well as the songs on the Singstar disc, people are "flocking" to get DLC songs. Communities are being formed around these songs and the content they create. So the game has moved well beyond just packaged content.
[6:40] Enjoyment is always a core element, Hirai says, but networks can create brand-new entertainment.
[6:41] "So, what do we need to develop now?" Hirai asks. "Well, we have to be always open to what people want."
[6:41] PS3 and PSP, he says, are well positioned to take advantage of these future changes. Shocker.
[6:42] Moving on to the PS3, Hirai says the new Slim model has sold 1 million units in just three weeks. (Not two, as initially reported by the translator at the conference.)
[6:43] He shows a graph with crazy spikes for added effect.
[6:43] "With the new PS3, we have been doing great, with one of the main reasons being the price drop." Naturally.
[6:44] He says prices shouldn't be dropped after a set amount of time. It's more about having a great lineup of games to make it worthwhile. But Sony has been able to lower the price because of lower manufacturing costs, he says.
[6:44] Hirai says there will now be more than 300 titles for the PS3 available by Christmas.
[6:46] Cue flashy video showing off the PS3's Christmas releases and 2010 lineup. Uncharted 2, God of War III, Yakuza 4, and FFXIII make cameo appearances.
[6:46] Footage of Team ICO's The Last Guardian shows up, and it looks like the main boy hero has gone through a bit of a visual upgrade since we saw him last, sporting a shawl.
[6:47] Now on to Blu-ray. Hirai says three years ago, Sony got a lot of flack for putting it in the PS3, but Sony still believes it's the only way to go.
[6:48] Now Hirai is chatting about the DualShock 3 and other controllers for the system, including the EyeToy camera, which he says is for casual users to get into the action.
[6:48] The PS3's motion controller is now onscreen, with Hirai referring to the big reveal at E3 this year. He says even core gamers will be into this.
[6:49] He has a motion controller with him, and he's holding it up now. It looks like a black flashlight with a round ball on top, which changes colour once in a while.
[6:50] Hirai says the tech inside the controller can detect movement very accurately when used in conjunction with the PlayStation Eye camera. "Very real enjoyment can be contained," says the translator.
[6:51] He repeats the motion sensor's 2010 release date, but nothing more specific.
[6:51] Hirai then calls out to other developers to work on getting games out for the motion controller.
[6:51] Now it's the PSP's turn to take center stage. Cue the obligatory video montage.
[6:52] It starts with some shots of the PSP Go, followed by gameplay footage. Gran Turismo PSP heads the list, followed by plenty of Japanese games.
[6:53] Little Big Planet for the PSP is onscreen now, as well as EchoShift, the EchoChrome sequel.
[6:54] Hirai recaps the PSP Go release dates around the world and runs through the key features of the new UMD-less device. It comes out in North America on October 1.
[6:55] He says the number of downloadable games available for the PSP Go will be "greatly accelerated."
[6:56] Hirai hints at other applications that will be available for the PSP soon, but isn't talking about it just yet. Oh Kaz, you tease.
[6:57] Is the PS2 still around? Of course it is, with Hirai announcing that more than 130 million units have been sold worldwide.
[6:59] EDITOR'S NOTE: Classy. Nintendo decided to announce the Wii price cut in the middle of Hirai's speech. $199 starting September 27, people.
[7:00] While the hardware is their vertical axis, Hirai says, the PSN is their horizontal network.
[7:01] PSN is now traded in 22 different currencies, with sales so far exceeding 25 billion yen (nearly $274,000,000).
[7:02] "We expect to triple last year's sales in 2010," says Hirai.
[7:02] Hirai is now talking about the video download service in the US for PSN, with more than 33,000 movies to date. It's now expanding outside of the US, with November launches for UK, Germany, and Spain. The rest of Europe gets it in 2010.
[7:03] He recaps some of the GamesCom announcements, including the BBCi player announcement for the UK.
[7:03] PlayStation Home now has more than 8 million users.
[7:03] Hirai now asks people to make sure to visit the booth on the show floor and heads off to another round of applause.
[7:03] But wait! That's not all folks!
[7:05] A table and two chairs are set up, and Hirai heads back out accompanied by a journo from Nikkei Business Publications, one of the sponsors of the TGS Forum. Guess it's question and answer time.
[7:05] The journo starts off by asking about the differences between the Western and Japanese game industries.
[7:06] Hirai starts right off with Guitar Hero and Rock Band, saying there was considerable attention about Beatles Rock Band in the US.
[7:07] He says games like Beatles are being covered by non-gaming media outlets, which may lead to an an even stronger growth in the games industry.
[7:07] Next question: What's the next stage of evolution for gaming?
[7:08] Hirai says 3D gaming is the next step, recapping the Sony Group's recent commitment to 3D in HDTVs and 3D gaming.
[7:08] Hirai says experiencing 3D gaming and TV is "quite enjoyable" and it's well suited to television gaming.
[7:09] Next question: With the motion controller, what's your expectation of what you can achieve?
[7:11] Hirai says there are a lot of emotions you feel in gaming, but they're not possible to reflect in a game. He thinks there's plenty of potential in that. An example: If an RPG character can tell if you're lying or excited by looking at your face (via a PlayStation Eye, presumably), then that would be very exciting.
[7:11] He says that's his dream, and it could include things like heartbeat monitors, eye monitors, or even sweat!
[7:13] Hirai says the network is a bigger issue--if you don't have network connectivity, then you're not really there in gaming.
[7:17] He says new synergies will be created within Sony to better take advantage of the company's network assets. Hirai says Sony Corporation places plenty of focus on how the network can impact users.
[7:19] Next question: What messages are you giving games publishers about the PS3?
[7:19] Hirai says the world is becoming borderless, and companies need to have a global perspective.
[7:20] And the journo is wrapping things up, thanking Hirai for his time. So much for the 250GB PS3 announcement…
[7:21] And that is actually it. Check back soon for more of GameSpot's coverage of the 2009 Tokyo Game Show.