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?