Kaz Hirai: PlayStation Playmaker

Sony's American playmaker talks about the PlayStation and beyond.

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Sony's American playmaker, Kaz Hirai, talks about the PlayStation and beyond. Here's what he said when we spoke with him in Atlanta at E3.

GameSpot News: What do you have to say about PlayStation 2, and what can we expect from Sony when it comes time to release it?Kaz Hirai: I think you can expect from Sony an announcement about PlayStation 2... or PlayStation Next, or whatever people refer to it as... when we feel that it's the appropriate time to make that announcement. That's pretty much all I can say about it at this point in time. But I think a lot of people ask that question. I come from a different industry - a music industry background - so it's kind of interesting.

I think Jack Tretton, our VP of sales, summed it up nicely when he said, "The more successful one platform is, there's a tendency for the industry to try to negate that and say all right, we know that's good - what's next?" But let's make sure we focus on the success that we have and the potential that still remains untapped.

GameSpot News: Where do you see the PlayStation two to three years down the line?Kaz Hirai: This is an industry where, even six months from now, it's hard to tell where you're going to be. That's a question I always have a problem answering. The reason is, we've never positioned the PlayStation as just a video game console. We wanted it to break out of that shell.

Given the installed base that we've gotten thus far - and hopefully the installed base that we will have by this time next year - we're going to be in uncharted territory. Which is exactly where we wanted to be because we wanted to offer the PlayStation as another entertainment option. So it's difficult to say where it's going to be two years from now because if you look at historical trends in the 8- and 16-bit market you see that clean bell curve that spans across five years. That's never where we wanted to be, and we've been successful thus far avoiding that kind of a curve.

As we move into where there's one PlayStation in every five households in the US, then we're talking about a mass-market item. Then it's going to be very difficult to try to forecast things based on historical trends.

GameSpot News: What is Sony's strategy going to be going into the second half of '98?Kaz Hirai: One of the founding principles of the PlayStation has always been to give consumers value and choice, and those themes are going to continue as part of our baseline strategy. The introduction is just that - to give consumers more value at the same MSRP or $149. Also, we've been very successful with the two-tier pricing structure that we have for first-party titles, frontline product at $39-49, Greatest Hits from $19-25, so that will continue.

The nature of this business is software, it's not technology. To that end, we're going to make sure that we have strong first- and third-party titles throughout the year. In addition, we are working with our third-party publishers to identify and help promote key titles which we believe are going to be platform drivers.

GameSpot News: When Sega introduces its new console, what kind of a challenge will it be for you to protect your shelf space?Kaz Hirai: Based on experience with the PlayStation and how it's been positioned at retail, shelf space is something you don't go in and just ask for. It's not something you go in and buy either. Shelf space is earned. That took time and a trusting relationship between the retailers and ourselves. Obviously it's a challenge for us to stay two-three steps ahead of the game so that we maintain that shelf space, but I'm confident that we'll be able to do that.

GameSpot News: What do you think about console Internet connections? Is Sony working on anything in that area?Kaz Hirai: From a technological standpoint I think it's a question of would or could. If it's a C-word, I think technologically it's very possible. As a matter of fact, we have a relationship with a company called Lightspan Partnership which does edutainment software. It sells PlayStations and libraries of edutainment titles to school districts around the country. As an experiment, the students were able to connect to the school's web site to check on homework and school events .

As a technological test ground, we did a web browser which attached to the PlayStation, and it worked very well. So could we? Absolutely. If it's a W-word, we've stayed away from introducing too many peripheral capabilities on the PlayStation because we were focused on getting the software from CDs as opposed to letting it browse the web, or attaching a camera to it so you can take a picture of your friends, or putting a phone on it so you can call with it. That really detracts from what the PlayStation experience is all about.

So we don't have any plans to introduce a web browser or any of those attachments. I think you need to be focused on what this piece of hardware is supposed to do, and you don't detract from that by adding things, because that basically dilutes your message, and at the end of the day, what is this thing supposed to do? That's not what we want to be.

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