Steve Boxer caught up with President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Kaz Hirai at PlayStation Day. Read on for more on the man who stepped into the shoes of the ‘Father of the PlayStation’.
As President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, Kaz Hirai is the big cheese at PlayStation. He took over from the legendary Ken Kutaragi, the man known as the “Father of the PlayStation” about a year ago, having previously run Sony Computer Entertainment America. Although of Japanese extraction, Hirai has spent most of his life in America, although now, he divides his time between the US and Tokyo. His keynote at the recent PlayStation Day marked the first occasion in which he has addressed the press in the UK, and Three Speech was privileged to catch up with him afterwards, and grab him for a quick interview. This is what he had to say:
Q: So here you are in the UK: is this the first time you’ve been here?
KH: I’ve been to the UK a couple of times on business, but it’s the first time I’ve been able to do a presentation and meet up with a lot of people in this kind of environment.
Q: Was it a bit of shock when Phil went to Atari?
KH: At the time, I didn’t know he was going to Atari. It was obviously a surprise when he told me he was going to move on. But, you know, it’s a small industry and he’s obviously remained in it and from his perspective, it was a great thing to move on to a new challenge. On his last day, I was in Tokyo and I called him, and said I was sad to see him go but, at the same time, I was very happy for him to take on some new challenges.
Q: The PS3 had a difficult birth. Would you say that now, the PS3 is really starting to get into its stride?
KH: I think that some of the initiatives that I put in place after I took over the job in Japan are starting to bear fruit. We talk about this all the time: the fact that we’ve repositioned the PlayStation 3 as being first and foremost a videogames console. I think that cleared up a lot of confusion in everybody’s minds – certainly people in the press as well as consumers. And if we’re saying it’s first and foremost a videogames console, we’ve got to back it up with some big games. So we’ve put some initiatives in place to make sure we have more and more titles coming out on the PlayStation 3 from both first-party studios and third-party publishers. So those things, I think, are starting to come together. It hasn’t been a year yet since Kutaragi-san left, but I think things are heading in the right direction, and I’m very happy with where we find ourselves today. But certainly, not happy to the extent that we can just kick back. There’s a lot more stuff that we need to do.
Q: What’s your policy on securing games exclusively for the PS3 from third parties? Because Phil Harrison changed the policy towards not paying for exclusives. Is that still the case?
KH: That’s something that we can re-evaluate, but it’s also something that the publishers need to make a business decision on. Ultimately, it becomes a dialogue – if it makes sense for them to go exclusive, that’s a business decision that they need to make. But generally speaking, because of the investments that publishers need to make in this round of hardware, it’s going to be more difficult for publishers to make that decision. Where we come into the picture is to have that dialogue with the third-party publishers, to say: “OK, what can we do together if it’s not exclusive that makes the PS3 version of the game more compelling for the consumers than any other version?” Let’s face it – all the games are coming out on a Blu-ray disk which has 50Gb capacity, so let’s put in some making-of content, or maybe additional levels. Also, it really becomes important for the first-party studios to really come up with some envelope-pushing, genre-defining content.
Q: You spoke about the PS3 having a 10-year shelf-life. Will that take it to the age of the diskless console, where games are distributed by downloading?
KH: I think that’s going to be a little way off. Even with PS3, today, you’re talking about games that take 14, 15Gb, even upwards of 20Gb. If you try to offer that complete game as a download, you can do that, but what is the consumer experience going to be like? You also have to realise that different countries all have broadband, but the speeds are different, and then there are some territories where there isn’t too much broadband infrastructure at this point in time. When you look at it from a worldwide business perspective, the most efficient way of delivering 50 gigabytes, say, is going to be on a disk for a while to come. That’s not to say we’re not doing the online stuff – which we are, through the PlayStation Store, but it’s basically a combination that makes the most sense for us and consumers. That’s why in some instances, we’ll offer both versions, like with Gran Turismo 5: Prologue.
Q: Are you now based in Japan rather than the States?
KH: I’m based in Japan, but I do spend time in the US every month – my family is still there. My day in Foster City starts at around 5.30pm: that’s when all the people in Tokyo shuffle into the office and phone-calls, videoconferences and emails start flying around. So I kind of do a double-shift when I’m in Foster City.