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Originally published June 8, 2011 at 8:01 PM | Page modified June 9, 2011 at 6:43 AM

E3 | Sony's a big believer in handheld game devices

Sony still believes there's a big market for handheld gaming devices like the PlayStation Vita that it launched at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, despite the surging growth of smartphones and tablet devices that run games.

Seattle Times technology columnist

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LOS ANGELES — Sony still believes there's a big market for handheld gaming devices like the PlayStation Vita that it launched at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, despite the surging growth of smartphones and tablet devices that run games.

That's according to John Koller, director of hardware marketing for Sony Computer Entertainment America.

Koller also weighed in on Nintendo's Wii U and Microsoft pitching Kinect to hard-core gamers during an interview at E3. Here's an edited transcript:

Q: There have been questions about the wisdom of launching the Vita when there's so much growth in smartphones and tablet devices that run games. What is the market going to be like for a dedicated handheld-game player over the next few years?

A: We see an absolute market for handheld gaming. There are deeper, richer experiences that are only possible on something like a PlayStation Vita. The connection to the console is a really critical part of that, but also the ability to interact with the world around you.

We spend 80 percent of our time outside the home. We need to make sure the portable portion of our strategy is significant. Being able to connect with the [PlayStation 3] through Vita allows us to have the entire ecosystem in play at any given time.

Q: Will you be able to do voice messaging on Vita, via its AT&T 3G service?

A: We're exploring. There's nothing on a telephony basis but there are certainly opportunities to be able to chat. We announced the "party" app during the news conference. Communication is so critical for this. ... Vita's designed to be social, to be connected.

Q: How is your business doing generally?

A: We've been really messaging two key things. First, evolution. If you look at five or six short years ago, we were a two-platform company. Now we're close to five if you include PlayStation network (in addition to PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable and Vita). It's an evolved company, we're a digitally connected company.

The second thing — innovation. It really goes into where Vita will be and where we see PS3 going.

Q: Does Sony finally have its stuff together now on the network security side?

A: We're back and we're more secure than ever. Ultimately it's about our consumers. This is a digitally connected company, our products are digitally connected, there's no going back. ... This is, for us, as important as anything we do and the consumers that have been coming back in droves have been so important to us, and the emphasis to us is they continue to feel secure and the security we've implemented will allow them to feel that way.

Q: I saw your demo of "Ruin," a game that can be played on both Vita and PS3, with progress saved online so you can pick up where you left off on either machine. How soon will that be a standard feature on your platforms?

A: This is a big idea. This doesn't exist in the market today but it will exist when PlayStation Vita launches. They need to buy a game on each platform — that's important to note.

Q: At the Consumer Electronics Show, Sony talked about offering cable-TV services through its TVs and set-top boxes. I expected to hear about that capability on the PS3. Did the network breach hold that feature back?

A: There's nothing tactically to announce but strategically that the idea of cutting the cable cord and allowing the PS3 platform to be that device in the living room is important. I think you've seen that leading into our strategy with the various streaming services we have — the Hulus and the Netflixes and the Vudus — and MLB and NHL.

The idea of allowing our consumer who increasingly is reliant on a Hulu or a Netflix and says, "I don't need my cable box, I'm good, I can rely on my PS3" is important. So I think you're going to see the consumer gravitate more and more over the next two years toward these services.

Q: Did the network outage delay this coming to PS3?

A: It's not because of the network-service issue that we did not announce certain things. We're putting together the tactical elements of our broader HD streaming strategy as we see the market evolving. As we see that market evolving, as we see that consumer migrating to those types of services, we'll add them.

Q: What do you think of Nintendo's Wii U?

A: We all view the market in similar ways and in different ways and that's what makes this industry unique. They've viewed this as an extension of their console and the way that they can compete with the PS3 and the Xbox 360 and get more core consumers into the market.

Our view on the PS3 has always been that we're a ubiquitous platform; we offer something for everyone. I think Nintendo's challenge is going to be that they're going to be looking to bring in that core consumer.

Q: Do you think Microsoft's Kinect announcements will draw in hard-core gamers?

A: They have made a very strong strategic push into the family area since launch. Their move into the core is maybe a bit of a left turn in terms of the strategy that they've employed since launch.

For us, we feel really secure about where Move [Sony's motion controller] is in that respect because we already have the core — "Killzone," "Socom," these [Move] titles have been big sellers for us and the usability with Move is integrated very nicely with the Sharpshooter peripheral we have. The others are playing a bit of catch-up trying to get to that consumer.

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687

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