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Sony delays 'Home' virtual world for PS3

In yet another embarrassing delay for Sony, the company is putting off the start of its "Home" virtual world services for the PlayStation 3, initially planned for later this year, until next spring.
Japan Game Show
Kazuo Hirai, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., speaks at a special session of the Tokyo Game Show 2007 at Makuhari, near Tokyo. The game show, billed as the world's largest of it kind, kicked off Thursday for a four-day run.Koji Sasahara / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

In yet another embarrassing delay for Sony, the company is putting off the start of its "Home" virtual world services for the PlayStation 3, initially planned for later this year, until next spring.

The announcement Thursday came from Kazuo Hirai in his first major public appearance as the new chief executive of Sony Corp.'s video game business, Sony Computer Entertainment.

"We wanted to wait until we could offer what would be totally satisfying for consumers," Hirai said in a keynote speech at the Tokyo Game Show, an annual event where game machines and new software are shown.

"Home" is a real-time interactive online world much like Linden Lab's "Second Life" and other so-called "metaverse," except it's designed for PlayStation 3, Sony's newest home console.

Millions of people now enter "Second Life" on personal computers, moving avatars, or computer graphics images of themselves, in a virtual universe.

Major companies are also setting up shop in "Second Life," and analysts see great potential for such virtual worlds as a communication tool and real-life business.

Sony officials have shown the demonstration video of "Home" with much fanfare on various occasions, promising new kinds of businesses, such as advertising and electronic shopping, as well as games.

The product's delay is the latest trouble Sony has had with the PlayStation3, whose European launch had to be postponed for several months due to production problems.

Hirai, named in November as president, replacing Ken Kutaragi, the "father of the PlayStation," sounded apologetic in several places during his speech, acknowledging that the PlayStation 3 had failed to live up to the company's sales targets.

He promised to listen more to complaints and suggestions from game software creators and game fans to improve the PlayStation 3 business.

"The results we have produced so far have been unfortunate," he said at Makuhari Messe hall of the more than 5 million global sales for the PlayStation 3, which went on sale late last year in Japan and the U.S. and in March in Europe.

Disappointed traders sent Sony's share price down 0.9 percent to 5,440 yen in Tokyo trading.

Sony once dominated the gaming industry with PlayStation 2, predecessor for the PS3, but now faces intense competition from Microsoft Corp., which has sold 11.6 million Xbox 360 machines in the last two years, and from Nintendo Co.'s popular Wii, which has sold 9.3 million units since late last year.

Hirai showed a new remote controller for the PlayStation 3, "Dualshock 3," that will vibrate along with games such as the shock of impact of a sword hitting an object or a race car swerving. Old games will require download upgrades.

The controller goes on sale in November in Japan and next spring in the U.S. and Europe, he said.

Hirai said the core strategy would be to position the PlayStation 3 as a game machine as well as a way to view next-generation Blu-ray disc video.

"We must get back to the basics," he said.

Hirai, who formerly headed Sony Corp.'s North American gaming business, has fueled some expectations about a new strategy at the electronics maker.

The departure of Kutaragi, an icon among gamers, marked the end of an era at Sony when it dominated the video game industry with its flagship PlayStation.

Hirai became president in December, but became also chief executive in June. Kutaragi remains honorary chairman at Sony's gaming unit.