TGS: Sony conference report
Kaz Hirai on the need to listen and collaborate.
Sony president Kaz Hirai announced a new PlayStation 3 controller featuring vibration support along with the acquisition of MotorStorm developer Evolution Studios during his keynote address at the start of Tokyo Game Show in Makuhari this morning.
There was no news of a price cut - although it is still "a possibility" for the future - but Hirai said that he was confident that new software releases and a refined PlayStation strategy built around better interaction with developers and a stronger response to fan feedback would help the platform holder achieve its goal of 11 million PS3s sold by the end of the year.
DualShock 3 - the highlight of the conference - is indistinguishable at a glance from the PS3's existing controller, Sixaxis, but having overcome feasibility concerns about integrating vibration into a pad that already incorporates motion-sensing, the revised hardware will now launch in Japan in November 2007 and in the US and Europe next spring. Actual dates and pricing will be announced "at a later date".
However, developers are already taking advantage of it, Hirai said, with games including Devil May Cry 4, Metal Gear Solid 4, Metal Gear Online, echochrome, Ratchet & Clank and Uncharted playable on the TGS floor using DualShock 3. A chart shown briefly following its announcement suggested that in addition to the dozen or so DualShock 3 TGS titles, more or less the entire PS3 line-up going forward will harness its vibration capability.
Meanwhile, the purchase of Evolution Studios - incorporating Evolution's satellite BigBig studio - will help drive internal development. Evolution's launch title MotorStorm has sold more than 1 million units worldwide, and its WRC titles, familiar to PS2 owners, enjoyed widespread success in the previous generation.
One of the themes of Hirai's speech was Sony's attempts to learn from the past. DualShock 3 was the most tangible example of that, but Hirai also said that Sony Worldwide Studios was sharing technology and expertise with first- and third-parties, while the voices of consumers are being listened to and acted upon with greater purpose than ever before.
One much-requested feature was the facility to browse the PlayStation Store using a PC, and access content using a PSP. The PSP will be able to do this by connecting to a PC via USB cable, rather than having to go through the PS3 as had previously been the case, and that functionality would be online today, according to Hirai.
Describing the success of the Store as "explosive" - with over 500 pieces of content added since its launch - and claiming that PlayStation Network sign-ups now exceed 2.7 million, Hirai went on to announce a Japanese launch date for Gran Turismo 5 Prologue of 13th December. Not just online, but also at retail on Blu-ray disc.
However there was disappointment at the discovery that the launch of PlayStation Home - Sony's virtual world - has been delayed until next spring in order to bring the range of services offered and worldwide accessibility up to a level that meets Sony's satisfaction.
One feature that already exists to harness the PlayStation 3's connectivity is Remote Play - a PSP function that allows users to operate their home consoles remotely. A portion of the speech was dedicated to demonstrating the free software, which can even be used to turn a PS3 on from standby remotely, and Sony's director of product planning took the stage to illustrate its potential. In the future, gamers will conceivably be able to use a PS3 as a host platform for multiplayer sports games played out on their and their friends' PSPs, while other users spectate.
Following an hour at the podium, Hirai sat down for a public question-and-answer session with a Japanese journalist, and after last year's similar Q&A saw Ken Kutaragi announce a pre-launch price cut for the lower-end PS3, many stuck around to hear what he would have to say. In the end, the answer was "not much" - instead of announcing a price cut, he joked that two years of successive surprise announcements would be too much for the audience to take. Pushed on the question of price, he said: "Price is a very important aspect, but at the same time the urgent matter is to what extent we can further enrich the software titles."
Hirai was also asked about Nintendo Wii. "We belong to the same industry and I think we seem to be aiming to different targets," he said of Nintendo. "I think we are really good competitors," he said, ducking the question of whether Nintendo and Sony might do better if they worked together.
Sony, of course, prefers to go it alone, and, despite having only sold between 5 and 6 million PS3s worldwide to date, Hirai was still keen to point to past successes as justification of his confidence. Indeed, he began his speech - the first since he succeeded Ken Kutaragi as head of SCE - by pointing out that the PlayStation group of platforms has sold more than 250 million hardware units worldwide since its establishment in 1994, and that around 130 million of those are PS2s.
That console will continue to be pushed, he said, including in emerging markets, while the PSP - launching in a new form factor in Japan today - is also key to the company's future plans, with investment in services like the "Go!" range of products announced at Games Convention key to the company's thinking. The collaboration with Square Enix on a Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII edition of the unit - 77,777 copies of which were made, and have now sold out - is an example not only of the format's popularity, Hirai said, but of Sony's desire to more closely collaborate with third parties, something that will extend to the sharing of marketing resources as well as development insight.
In all, the message from Hirai at TGS was that Sony is listening to and trying to assist those who own and wish to develop for its platforms. That may not satisfy the voices screaming for a European price cut, but it will likely be welcomed by developers and publishers keen to see their investment in another generation of PlayStation rewarded.