"The PS3 will begin evolving on the very day of purchase" - Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Kutaragi

Jun 8, 2006

The PlayStation 3’s launch date and unit price have been announced, at November 11 and 59,800 yen respectively. On May 9, 2006, one day after the announcement, Ken Kutaragi, President and Group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, shared his thoughts with us at a hotel in Santa Monica.(Interviewers: Naoki Asami, ITpro Publisher, and Rocky Eda, Deputy Editor, Nikkei Electronics)

Q: Concerns have been raised that, in contrast to the considerable improvement in hardware, development is slow in the software area. What is your take on that?

Kutaragi: Generally speaking, it often happens when you launch a new platform that the software has yet to mature with regard to improvement in the hardware area. This time around, [with the PlayStation 3,] though, our software technology is unprecedentedly up to speed with the hardware. In the 20 years I’ve worked in the gaming industry, I have never seen so many titles in the playable phase, 6 months prior to a new platform’s launch date. When we released our first PlayStation back in December 1994, the cars in the “Ridge Racer” game were still flying through thin air – with no background whatsoever – one month before launch. Back then, we had the hardware, but were lacking the software. It was only in spring in the following year that the number of titles started to catch up. When we launched the PlayStation 2, it also took time for the software lineup to enrichen itself. But this time, even though some are still demos, we already have ten-something titles in actually-playable condition. Each and every one of them will be receiving a hefty load of polish before being released. The world has obviously underestimated our progress in software development. It’s likely that many shook their heads in disbelief at seeing the large number of titles actually working before their eyes.

No more excuses

Q: Will this allow you to silence those who label you as “Too Large, Too Serious”?

Kutaragi: Though we may have shown you the hardware, there is little point in measuring its weight, and I believe the only way to counter such criticism is to deliver interesting software. In fact, many of the titles presented [the day before] at the PlayStation 3 announcement were developed with extremely short development cycles. High-performance hardware does not automatically entail higher software development costs. I have the feeling people are using the “Too Large, Too Serious” phrase as an excuse for not tackling new technologies head-on. To my ears, such comments imply shying away from the challenge of taxing new hardware to do its utmost. But what have you, we had a long list of titles from various companies for the announcement. Until now, developers had no idea how much progress their rivals had made with their respective titles, but the event is bound to have helped them assess each studio’s progress. So it’s likely that many of those who were surprised by the number of playable titles were developers themselves. I hope this will remove any further excuses from the developers – which is an issue I was somewhat concerned about.

Q: The history of computers has been a cycle; better hardware enabling easier software development, leading to a larger market, in turn leading to even better hardware. What is your take on this?

Kutaragi: Computers are a prime example of “Too Large” and “Too Serious”. Yet the software industry is by no means growing smaller. Some titles with dozens of thousands of people working on them do end up with delayed releases, but on the other hand, there are plenty of examples of small teams successfully developing new software. The industry as a whole is growing. The PlayStation 3 is, in itself, a computer, so the same rules should apply.

Beyond the limitations of the packaged product

Q: Will you be displaying a large number of working consoles at this year’s E3?

Kutaragi: We’re in the era of networking – I figured that the need to prepare discs for each of the consoles is no longer a given. So, this time around, we decided to set up multiple development tools in the exhibition hall’s data center, connect it to a network, and have people play. The development tools are connected to the respective developer’s base of operations. Which means that we will be able to update game data via FTP transfer daily throughout the exhibition. This is a common concept among arcade game developers, whereas developers working on consumer titles have a nagging tendency to adhere to the “packaged product” format. From now on, consumer titles, too, will likely be shifting towards a network-based distribution model. It is possible that we will be seeing the developers, game stores and users already connected to each other by the time a title hits its release date. The Blu-ray Disc would function as a Key Disc of sorts, and you might have items constantly being updated via the network, or carry over your game progress from a session played at a game store to your own PlayStation 3 console. I believe it won’t be long before users will be owning a copy of the program and accessing game data through a network, widening the PlayStation 3‘s horizons to almost limitless levels. This means that the PlayStation 3 will begin evolving, together with the network aspect, immediately upon launch – as we will no longer need to confine its possibilities in a set product package.

Q: When will the average user begin to feel this new era of networking? In 2 - 3 years’ time?

Kutaragi: I, being the hasty type, don’t believe it will take us that long. Many people should be able to glimpse the beginning of the new era by March next year. We are increasingly watching video media over the Net; there’s no way games could be kept confined to packaged products for ever.

The PS3 on a Built-to-Order format?

The PS3 on a Built-to-Order format?

Q: Increased use of network capabilities would entail the hard drive unit playing a greater part. Aren’t the capacity options rather low, at 20GB or 60GB, for this?

Kutaragi: I consider the PlayStation 3 a direct incarnation of the [personal] computer. A computer does not run a program directly from the CD-ROM drive; it is downloaded to the hard drive first. The PlayStation 3’s hard drive will likely be used in a similar manner – in a cache-like function. Some users will definitely run out of hard drive space, depending on how they use their console. Such users will have the option of purchasing larger-capacity hard drives. We may be releasing 120GB drives by next year or the year after that. Differences in hardware specifications should be seen simply as differences in configuration for that particular PlayStation 3 unit, not as a difference in version. As the PlayStation 3 is, as I mentioned before, a [personal] computer, we might even want to offer it on a BTO (Built-to-Order) basis, customized to the needs of each and every user. The hardware components have been designed in a modularized format with this possibility in mind, based on a concept which is entirely different from those used in household appliances or conventional game consoles. We allowed for expandability, opted for a standardized interface, and chose what parts to use just as we would have if we had been designing a computer.

Q: Of the many game titles that were presented at the announcement, is there any that you would recommend in particular?

Kutaragi: They all have their merits, so it’s hard to choose just one, but I’m particularly pleased with the card-based game, “Eye of Judgement”. That title radiates potential. Not only does it use the “Eye Toy” camera to read the various cards, it uses the cards to express an entirely new world. This holds many possibilities for application. It is, of course, enjoyable enough as a card game in itself, but I believe we could open up new horizons – unreachable with the PlayStation 2 – by applying that idea in new ways. The current camera is a VGA unit – think of the possibilities if we could use an HD camera, or what we could accomplish by having the camera read something other than a card. What if a child placed a random, unexpected object in front of the camera, triggering the game to display something wonderful, as if by magic?

Q: Your planned shipping schedule is 6 million units worldwide by the end of March, 2007.

Kutaragi: We are planning a monthly production rate of 1 million units. We have secured the parts required to reach this mark. This has been verified, so we should be set to go, barring any major oversights.

Q: Does that include the “Cell” semiconductors?

Kutaragi: No worries there. We began the manufacturing process last year (summer 2005), and now have plenty of them – enough to sell on the street, even. We’re hoping to provide servers using Cell’s on our side of the network in the very near future, so the more we have, the better. What was actually more troublesome was securing the generic parts required. As the economy is strong now, we had a hard time securing all the necessary parts to meet a 1 million unit / month quota – passive components, RAM, hard drives, circuit board materials, and even plating alloys.

Q: Why did you opt for a simultaneous worldwide release for the PlayStation 3? Will a 1 million units / month schedule be enough to cover a single area, let alone the entire world market?

Kutaragi: It should be enough. 1 million units a month, 12 million units a year. We aren’t expecting the initial rush of sales in Japan to be that strong.

Q: Wouldn’t product availability for the first few months following launch be more important than the yearly output? Shipping numbers for the PlayStation 2 in the 4 months following its launch surpassed 10 million units for Japan, the U.S. and Europe combined. If the PlayStation 3 sells at a similar rate, you will be faced with a shortage. For previous launches, you evened out this difference in initial sales speed by setting different launch dates depending on the area.

Kutaragi: Actually, I’m looking forward to facing that dilemma... But now that we’re in the era of networking, and now that the world of the PlayStation has widened, I believe it is no longer acceptable for us to limit our initial launch to a certain area. We did give the Japanese market head starts of 1 year for the PlayStation 1, and 6 months for the PlayStation 2 – yet today, the world should be considered a single entity. It is important that we launch quasi-simultaneously. We have spent plenty of time considering and evaluating our framework, from logistics to production. If we had been able to pull off a launch this year in spring, we could have launched in Japan first, and moved on to the rest of the world. But our users have waited long enough now – asking our non-Japanese users to wait any further would be out of the question.