If it wasnâ€™t for Ken Kutaragi, there would have been no PlayStation. The games industry legend, whose job title is President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment (so thereâ€™s no doubting that heâ€™s the head honcho) is known as â€œthe father of the PlayStationâ€. For good reason: an electronic engineer by trade, he designed the original PlayStation and much of the PS2, PS3 and PSP.
Despite his incredibly lofty status, Kutaragi in person is surprisingly approachable and open. Although itâ€™s not often that you get to see him in person, as heâ€™s one of the worldâ€™s busiest men. A naturally smiley and sunny chap, he used to have a penchant for Chairman Mao jackets, which now seems to have given way to sharp charcoal suits. Coincidentally, that was exactly what he was wearing, when we managed to accost him for ten minutes or so, at a PS3 showcase event held after the first day of the Tokyo Games Show. Taking place at Sonyâ€™s incredibly impressive central Tokyo HQ (apparently, Kutaragiâ€™s office overlooks the Royal Palace), we joined the press scrum that surrounded him, and got the chance to ask a handful of questionsâ€¦ maybe down to Kenâ€™s broken English, or our poor hearing, some of the answers came as a bit of a surprise.
Q: Surely the next generation of consoles will have no disks, but use streaming media?
KK: With the next generation, that may well be right (laughs).
Q: What PlayStation 3 games will be on sale at launch in Japan?
KK: There will be approximately 20 games on sale at launch.
Q: Have you announced which ones?
KK: No, because a lot of the titles are still going through QA (Quality Assurance), and we have to speak to our third parties, in order to determine which of their titles will be ready for launch as well.
Q: And there will definitely be games with an online component on sale at launch?
KK: Yes, weâ€™re trying to include online elements into all of our launch titles, and are encouraging the 3rd parties to do the same.
Q: Do you think the PS3 will outsell the Xbox 360 and the Wii?
KK: We donâ€™t care.
***We spoke to Sony about this response, as it seemed a pretty ballsy statement to make, especially in light of how theyâ€™re being perceived (arrogant, out of touch, losing the battle etc.) by press and consumers alike at the moment.
They told us that what Ken will have meant is that, while they have a great deal of respect for the â€˜competitionâ€™, they have always worked to their own business plan. In essence, regardless of what anyone else does, theyâ€™ll be sticking to their original plan where PS3 is concerned and wonâ€™t be changing things, just because company A does this, or company B does that. So there you go!***
Q: Do you think the PS3 will have a longer life-cycle than those consoles?
KK: Because we implanted a lot of new & cutting-edge technology in the PlayStation 3, it will have a long life â€“ Future-proof, this is the answer.
Q: Were you surprised by the bad publicity Sony received after E3?
KK: I want to ask you (laughs). It always happens. When we released the PlayStation and even the PlayStation 2, I didnâ€™t see any favourable articles. Press coverage always said: â€œPlayStation will fail,â€ or: â€œWe have lost our momentum,â€ and blah blah blah. But we have lots of passion and confidence in both the PlayStation 3 hardware, and the software titles being produced for it.
Q: After the launch period, how many PlayStation 3s will you manufacture per month?
KK: The target is one million per month. But right now, we are making tiny amounts for the launch, because of the blue laser diode problem. We clearly need to catch up â€“ but are still confident that we can meet our projected 6 million shipment figure by the end of the financial year.
Q: Is the blue laser diode manufacturing problem fixed now?
KK: Right now, it is an issue, because we canâ€™t manufacture enough blue laser diodes for enough PlayStation 3s. But we will resolve that, and then question becomes how many PlayStation 3s we will be able to market.
Q: How important for Sony is it that Blu-ray is a success?
KK: It is important not just for Sony, but for the movie, component, software developer and even the TV industry. The PS3 has a perfectly nice graphics capability, allowing non-compression and high frame-rates, so it works well together with BD. Every manufacturer releasing flat-panel displays â€“ not only Sony, but the likes of Panasonic, Samsung and Sharp â€“ everyone is now welcoming PlayStation 3 and applauding todayâ€™s announcement about HDMI features.
Q: So how important is it that Blu-ray beats HD-DVD?
KK: It is important. Personally, I love Blu-ray, because Blu-ray has higher capacities than HD-DVD. Also it has a better bit-rate, which allows a differentiation in picture quality. So, right now, while the PC manufacturers are supporting HD-DVD, it is clear that current PCs cannot pick out the specification of Blu-ray using current CPUs. This is the main reason why the HD-DVD picture quality is not sexy enough. So we only have the PS3.
Q: But surely, you can only really tell the difference between Blu-ray and HD-DVD on a progressive-scan TV?
KK: On any TV, you can distinguish the difference.