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SCEE PlayStation Day: Kaz Hirai interview

Kaz is a nice chap. He only flew in to the UK this morning for the SCEE PlayStation Day in London, but he was still the consummate, media-trained super-exec we know and love when we tracked him down on the O2 showfloor. Hit the link for the SCE president's thoughts on Europe, "changes" to E3, Grand Theft Auto and selling PS3 as a games machine.

We also asked him what keeps him awake at night. See if you can guess the answer.

VG247: When was the last time you spoke in Europe?

Kaz Hirai: Actually, I think that was the first time I’ve ever given a presentation in Europe.

Does that signal anything to do with the importance of Europe to Sony at all, or is this just part of your tenure?

Well, it’s part of my tenure and basically just trying to map out my schedule. Unfortunately it took a while before I could actually block out a good four to five days to come to the European territory, check out the market and meet a lot of people. And basically [this] coincided very well with PlayStation Day, so I thought, ‘Hey, if I’m going to block out five or six days let’s do it [for] an event like this so I can meet as many people as possible, see what the market is like and get some feedback.'

An event like this pretty much replaces E3 as the main event for Sony. Would you agree with that?

Well, I think that E3 is going through some changes, and they’re trying to find the right formula. I understand that they’re going to change the formula again this year. They’re going to tweak it a bit more. But we’ve always had in the US what we call “Destination PlayStation”, and that’s an event we do usually in February, and we invite all the retailers, and all the third-party publishing partners, and we talk about the business and we recap the holiday season from the year past, and we talk about the business for this year. And that’s where a lot of the business gets done.

E3 is an event to kind of confirm the things we talked about at DPS, and at the same time it’s also an industry statement as well. So it’s not just a PlayStation event for PlayStation messaging: there’s a part of that, but I think it’s also an industry event for industry messaging as well. And I think, as I said, that they’re trying to tweak the formula to get it just right.

It was interesting what you were saying in the presentation about PS3 having a ten-year lifespan, and also the fact that David said you’ve now accelerated past Xbox 360 in Europe. Do you think that the acceleration of PS3 sales and a dropping off of Xbox 360 sales is a trend? Do you expect it to continue?

I think it’s basically going to be up to software titles that we’re going to be able to offer to the PS3 consumers, or potential PS3 consumers. Whether it’s from first-party or from third-party, and so long as we can keep the consumers excited and engaged, I think we’re going to have a good run.

Do you think you have the line-up this year to keep consumers excited and engaged?

I think if you just look at the titles we can talk about today, between third- and first-party I think we have a pretty compelling line-up. Obviously there are some titles that we didn’t talk about today that I’m sure we’ll be sharing information on as the months go along, but I think one of the first things I did when I came on board last year, was to reposition the PlayStation 3 as being first and foremost a videogames console. If it’s a videogames console, you’ve got to have a lot of titles. That’s why I put in some initiatives to make sure that we get a good line-up of titles, both from our internal studios and from third-parties, and we’re starting to see the fruits of their labour come to the forefront.

Talking of PS3 as a games machine, how significant was Grand Theft Auto for you as a launch? I mean, you can’t buy it here. It’s completely sold out. There’s been a lot of talk of it driving the PS3 platform because people associate the brand with Sony. Would you agree with that?

I think Grand Theft Auto, the franchise, has always been associated with the PlayStation platform first and foremost, and so I think consumers are coming back again. They had previous versions of Grand Theft Auto on previous platforms, so it’s always good to come home to PlayStation 3 as well, I think. But between Grand Theft Auto and Gran Turismo, and all those compelling titles that are coming out on PS3, again from first- and third-party, that’s what’s really driving the excitement for the PS3 users.

Do you think Microsoft wasted its money by buying that downloadable content? Do you think it’ll make a difference to the way GTA is actually perceived on Xbox 360?

Well, it’s really up to the consumers to decide. In my opinion, I’m hoping that, as I said before, it’s been on PlayStation, you know, it’s a franchise that’s associated with PlayStation for the longest time, and I think that based on the numbers I’m seeing right now, I think the consumers feel that way as well.

As an event [today], what would you be pushing journalists to be looking at? The multimedia message was very heavy in [the press conference], there’s an awful lot of product on the floor, ranging from kids titles to adult titles; which do you think specifically is the driver for the back half of this year?

Well, I think if you’re talking about the real important message points, first is that we’re not deviating from the basic strategy that I put forward last year, that it’s first and foremost a videogames console. That’s where the core, fundamental foundation of our business is going to be.

But we want to build on top of that, because the PS3, technologically, can do a lot more, because it’s networked, it’s got a hard drive, it’s got a Blu-ray drive in there, so we want to start seeding that message as well. Again, to talk about the ten-year lifecycle, there’s a lot more that PS3 can do, so we need to take it in baby steps so we don’t confuse the consumers, or the press for that matter.

And I think that now that we’ve gotten that basic message across, we can now branch out into other entertainment content as well. Because we’re increasing installed base, we want to have games that really are none core gamer titles, like for example Buzz, like for example SingStar on PS3, and that will allow us to expand the demographics a bit more as we increase the installed base. They kind of go hand in hand.

In terms of competition, what actually keeps you awake at night? What’s worrying you? Are you worried by Microsoft, are you worried by Nintendo, or are you just happy with the way things are going?

What keeps me up at night, quite honestly, is the competition for the consumer’s mind-share, time-share I guess, and also financially - dollar-share, euro-share, pound share – in terms of just wanting entertainment. That could range from videogaming all the way to, you know, bowling with your friends on a Saturday night. That’s entertainment as well. If they’re bowling with their friends on a Saturday night, they’re not playing PlayStation 3. That’s an extreme example, obviously, but what keeps me up at night is, ‘What can we do to make sure that the consumers see the PlayStation 3 as being the premier device or platform to enjoy obviously their videogame content, but also other entertainment content as well?' And I think really proving that point with additional services, additional content, is going to be the key.

That’s the sort of thing that keeps me up at night number one, number two quite honestly – again, this is a bigger industry picture issue – is that there’s still a lot of rampant piracy going on, and that’s not good for anybody, whether it’s us, or Microsoft, or Nintendo, or EA, or anybody else. How we combat that issue in all the markets, not just the emerging markets, is something that really keeps me up at night, because that could really do a lot of damage to our business.

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