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Sony's PlayStation 3 race

Come November, Sony's PlayStation 3 will hit shelves. Can the console catch up to the Xbox 360? Photos: PS3s onstage

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Sony Computer Entertainment's president on Wednesday confirmed a November release for the PlayStation 3 and said the company is also committed to a simultaneous worldwide launch of the PS3 in Japan, the rest of Asia, North America, Europe and Australia.

Reinforcing recent comments by Ken Kutaragi, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, SCE President Phil Harrison told an audience at the Game Developers Conference here that Sony will produce about a million PS3s per month and capacity will ramp up quickly.

PS3s

The question Sony will have to face until November, and for at least a year afterward, is whether the head start Microsoft got with its November 2005 launch of the Xbox 360 console will be too much for Sony to overcome.

Sony says no, and that the company measures its console successes or failures in 10-year life cycles--and therefore it has plenty of time to catch up.

"It doesn't put us at a competitive disadvantage at all," Harrison told a group of journalists after his keynote address. "Throughout our history, we have never been the first console (of each generation) to launch."

Indeed, while it competed during the current and previous generations with Microsoft, Nintendo and Sega, Sony has become the market leader with PlayStation 2 sales of more than 100 million units and sales of more than a billion games, Harrison said in the keynote.

Still, by the end of November, Microsoft will likely have sold 10 million Xbox 360s worldwide compared to about 1.5 million PlayStation 3s, said P.J. McNealy, a research principal at American Technology Research.

And while Sony sticks to its contention that it doesn't matter what happens in the first year or two of a new console generation, McNealy said the story's more complex than that.

On the one hand, he said, the next-generation console wars between Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo (which is expected to release its Revolution console sometime this year) will not truly heat up until 2007's holiday season, despite many observers' assertions that the measurement of success for each company will be performance during this year's holidays.

On the other hand, McNealy said, Microsoft's lead over Sony will be formidable and should not be underestimated just because Sony prefers to look at things over the long haul.

"You never like to be in a position where you're playing catch-up," he said.

Meanwhile, the other big question sure to dog Sony this year is what lessons it learned after watching the problems Microsoft had getting enough Xboxes onto store shelves last holiday season.

Harrison said he doesn't anticipate its November launch and somewhat slow initial production pace being major problems.

"I think that you can see from our history that (Sony Computer Entertainment) has been very effective at matching consumer demand with supply," Harrison told journalists. "I know that some consumers will be disappointed, but that's inevitable at launch." McNealy agreed with Harrison and said he's not too worried about Sony not being able to meet 100 percent of demand.

"The expectations will be low" for supply at launch, McNealy said.

But one thing that's crucial, McNealy suggested, is that Sony can't allow the PS3's launch date to slip past November. The company's ability to maintain that launch date has to be called into question since it has already publicly delayed the launch date once.

"That would be a significant (problem)," McNealy said, something that would give "Microsoft and Nintendo free passes" for the holiday 2006 season.

In any case, Harrison did unveil SCE's plans for what the company is calling internally the PlayStation Network platform.

Essentially, he told the keynote audience, the platform will be an ecosystem similar to Microsoft's Xbox Live, which allows players to play against each other online, as well as communicate via text and voice chat.

Further, Harrison said, the network platform will be the center of what he called the "wheel of fortune"--a collection of revenue producers that will include mobile games, incremental sales of game objects, merchandising, packaged games, network sales, in-game ads, subscriptions, and episodic content that could include audio or video of any kind.

He also said one of the most exciting things about the network platform will be how it enables players and users to interact with each other as if in a traditional social network. Members of the network would be able to chat, create friends lists and do other social networking activities.

And, as befits an online content ecosystem, community members would be able to create their own content for uploading and selling to the larger community, something that could turn the network into an open-ended marketplace similar to what exists for in-game weapons, clothing, buildings and vehicles in online games like "EverQuest," "Second Life" and others.

"The power of the network is the construct of the people in that network," Harrison said. What makes services like Amazon and eBay powerful is consumers, as well as the owners of the platform creating content "and we (plan) exactly the same metaphor."

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