Today Sony Computer Entertainment America held a teleconference to discuss its network plans for the PlayStation 2. While most questions went unanswered by Sony executives, a few details that were not included in the press release issued earlier today were divulged. Sony Computer Entertainment president and chief operating officer Kaz Hirai fielded the majority of the questions from the press, along with SCEA senior vice president Andrew House.
Hirai opened the teleconference by stating what he believed the PlayStation 2 network strategy will not entail. "We're not interested in becoming an ISP, we're not interested in becoming a closed, gated environment with controlled network guidelines, or an online-only platform," he said. "And certainly, we're not looking to define the PlayStation 2 brand solely by the online experience."
He then went on to explain that SCEA wants the PlayStation 2 to become a mass-market broadband platform in the home and that Sony has spent a great deal of time monitoring and studying the broadband market in North America. Based upon these studies, Sony concluded that consumer expectations of PC online gaming are different than those of console users. Hirai then outlined the PlayStation 2 network strategy.
The PlayStation 2 network will launch in August of this year with the release of the PlayStation 2 Network Adapter for $39.99. The adapter will include connectivity for both broadband and narrowband applications. PlayStation 2 owners who have an existing Internet service provider (ISP) will be able to use the network adapter with virtually any service provider in the US--no matter how large or small. Sony is also working very closely with national ISP providers such as America Online to make sure that online gameplay is available to most players. The installation disc that will be packed in with the Network Adapter will include connectivity and registration options for America Online, Earthlink, AT&T Worldnet Service, SBC Prodigy, and Sympatico.
When speaking about the software available for the launch of the Network Adapter, Hirai stated that all initial first-party online PlayStation 2 games would be available for play free of charge. Hirai then presumably took a shot at Microsoft by stating, "We believe that this approach is truly extending the PlayStation 2 gaming experience into the world of online content versus forcing a strategy on the market that it is not ready to embrace." Sony has reportedly handed down a mandate to its internal developers to include online functionality in its first-party products. To promote the same sort of ideals among third-party developers, Sony has instituted what it calls an "evangelization fund" that offers financial incentives to developers that produce online content for the PlayStation 2. This fund extends into both marketing and content development. Sony predicts that by August there will be a wide selection of online content available, but Hirai was unwilling to announce specific numbers or games, only saying that more details will be forthcoming leading up to the launch of the Network Adapter. Beta testing for the network will begin later this month, and Hirai stated that when more users are connected to broadband, the downloadable content Sony spoke about at last year's E3 will be made available.
After Hirai's short presentation, SCEA fielded questions from the press. Sony was first asked for a list of third-party games that would be available for the launch of the PlayStation 2 Network Adapter, but it was unwilling to commit to any specific games. Sony added that it is not looking for impressive revenue generation from the network at its outset. The teleconference then began to concentrate on the PlayStation 2 downloadable content. Sony stated that it doesn't have a definitive plan for when downloadable content will be available in North America, but it expects content to be available in the "immediate future." When asked for clarification, Hirai stated that it was not something that would take two or three years to develop and that it was dependent upon partnership relationships, content creators, and the deployment and penetration of broadband.
Sony stated that it does not know how many Network Adapters will be available in August or what the demand for the peripheral will be. But the company is still receiving feedback from third-party developers, and it believes the price point is attractive, so it has high hopes for a high attach rate. Sony was then asked if third-party developers were free to charge monthly fees for playing their games online and Hirai conceded that they were. The PlayStation 2 hard drive (HDD) then became the topic of discussion. Sony maintained that the HDD will not be needed to play the initial batch of online-compatible PS2 games such as Twisted Metal: Black and SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals, but when content is ready that makes use of the add-on, it will be made available. Sony also went on to state that browsing the Internet using the PlayStation 2 is no longer one of the company's goals. "We are still continuing to work with AOL," Hirai said. "Right now the most important thing that we're focusing on is making sure that we get the connectivity to AOL going on the start-up disc. And that has been our primary focus. As far as browsing on the Web is concerned, I think we may have talked about this before. If there is an application that can be published on the PS2 that is a Web browser there's certainly nothing stopping that from being technically feasible. But we don't know if first parties or third parties would view browsing the Internet as an entertainment proposal at this point in time."
We'll continue to follow further developments regarding the PlayStation 2 network leading up to its launch in August.