TGS 06: Kaz Hirai video Q&A

EXCLUSIVE: Sony Computer Entertainment America's president lays out the US PlayStation 3 launch in detail at Japan's premier gaming event.

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When it was announced that Sony Computer Entertainment president Ken Kutaragi would be delivering the keynote address at the 2006 Tokyo Game Show, many of the Sony faithful were hopeful. Kutaragi's address would come nearly one week after Nintendo's tri-continental Wii press conferences, and many expected the executive to present a comprehensive presentation outlining the PlayStation 3 and its online capabilities.

However, when Kutaragi took the stage at the Makuhari Messe convention center, he laid out his "big picture" vision for the PlayStation 3. He promised it will be much more than a mere gaming machine and will be able to perform many functions of the PC--shopping, banking, online security--sometime down the road. However, besides a few trailers for games such as Ridge Racer 7, Virtua Fighter 5, Mobile Suit Gundam: Target in Sight, Final Fantasy XIII, and the mysterious Afrika, the presentation had few new revelations about the PS3's looming launch.

Luckily, GameSpot was invited to Sony's headquarters for an exclusive chat with Kaz Hirai, Sony Computer Entertainment America's garrulous president and CEO. There, he outlined Sony's preparations for the PS3's North American launch on November 17.

After reannouncing that the addition of HDMI high-definition video to the 20GB PS3 would be worldwide, Hirai delivered some not-so-welcome news. The Japanese price drop of the lower-end console--which knocked it to just 49,980 yen--won't be extended to North America, where the 20GB PS3 costs $499 and the 60GB PS3 costs $599.

Hirai also said there would be a "nice portfolio" of first- and third-party titles at launch in both Japan and North America. However, he also hinted that the 2006 PS3 titles might come in waves. "I think now," he said, "the thing for everyone from first-party to third-party to do is to take a look at their portfolio of PlayStation 3 launch titles to say, 'Which one is day one? Which one are we launching a week after the console launches, which one right before holiday? For Christmas?'"

The executive also predicted a steady flow of PS3 releases into January 2007. "One of the most important things is to make sure not only you have a great lineup of software titles on day one, but you also want to make sure the platform stays fresh by having a great software title come out week two, week three, and certainly after the holidays are over in January as well," said Hirai.

The SCEA CEO also shed some light on how users will set up their PlayStation Network Platform accounts. "From day one as you take the PlayStation 3 out of the box and you're connected to the Internet, you're able to first and foremost do the important things, like registering your ID and picking your online name," he said.

Hirai continued: "After that as you enter the online world, we're talking about the ability obviously to play online games--games with people across town, across the country, and sometimes across the world. That also means taking advantage of the rankings of the game, taking advantage of the lobbies for the game, and finding other people who want to play the same game."

Hirai also outlined how the console will be able to download nongame content. He promised that PS3 owners would have the ability to download "a variety of other content in the digital space, for example music, and/or video material--all of those things we'll make available basically free of charge to consumers," he said. However, he then said premium content will be sold via "microtransactions--so the downloading might be free, or in some cases, that will be for a fee."

Hirai went on to reemphasize that the PS3's video and audio chat capabilities would essentially be gratis. "We'd like to make sure that some of the basic community and communication functions is done for no charge at all," he promised.

Perhaps most importantly, Hirai said that, despite the fact that it was not shown off at TGS, the PlayStation Network Platform will be online from "day one" of the PS3's launch in every territory. "Most if not all of the functions I've talked about will be available day one to the consumers as they first take the PlayStation 3 out of the box."

Hirai also reiterated that Sony "is expecting" to have 400,000 PS3s in the North American market for the console's "launch time period." As for resupplying US retailers, Hirai said, "We'd like to manufacture and ship out of factories upwards of 1 million units [for North America] by the end of the calendar year." Worldwide, Sony has said it plans on manufacturing 2 to 2.4 million units, with the remainder going to Japan. (The console will not go on sale in Europe until March 2007.)

However, the executive quickly qualified his statement by saying that not every PS3 made will make it to America by the time the ball drops in Times Square. "Not all of it will be on retailer shelves; some of it will be on a boat or a plane on its way, which will make it into retailers' shelves in the New Year," he said. To prevent shortages, Sony is planning to "ramp up production as quickly as possible" and ship many PS3s via air freight.

Hirai also confirmed that, per the "overwhelming" request of retailers, the "bulk" of PS3s being shipped to North America would be of the 60GB variety. "Retailers think the initial consumers who buy the PlayStation 3 want to get it out of the box and onto the online environment as quickly as possible," he said. "That means they'll have a lot of fun downloading various content, so the bigger hard drive and the wireless networking lends itself to getting online very quickly."

To see and hear Hirai's comments in full, click on the video link below.

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