Sony Corp. (6758) may stagger the global release of its next-generation PlayStation Portable game machine after the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last month led to production disruptions.
The new PlayStation Portable, dubbed “NGP,” may be introduced in a single region this year instead of starting sales in Asia, Europe and the U.S. in time for the end-of-year holiday shopping season, said Jack Tretton, president of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, citing production problems related to the March 11 disaster.
“It may be the straw that says ‘maybe we get to just one market by the end of the year,’” Tretton said in an interview last week. A delayed introduction may give game developers in certain regions more time to complete their software, he said.
A 2012 rollout some markets threatens to put Sony further behind Nintendo Co. (7974) in the portable-games market, said Edward Woo, a video-games analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles. Nintendo released its 3DS handheld player in the U.S., Japan and Europe in the past couple of months.
“It raises the bar on the competitive issues that Sony is going to have to hurdle,” said Woo. “As it is now, it’s already going to be almost eight months behind Nintendo, and a delay could push that to a year.”
Tretton declined to say which region Tokyo-based Sony may offer the device in first.
Sony and its executives have been unclear about specifics of the release. Sony said in a Jan. 27 statement that NGP would make its debut this year, without giving details. In a subsequent interview with trade publication IGN, Kazuo Hirai, head of Sony’s games business, described “holiday season” introduction. Tretton, speaking with the website Engadget, said the company was being ambiguous “for a reason” and that Sony may not get to more than one territory by year-end.
Sony’s U.S. shares fell 1.1 percent, or 34 cents, to $31.11 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have lost 13 percent this year.
Nintendo, based in Kyoto, Japan, said last month it sold a record number of handheld machines on the 3DS’s first day of sales in the U.S. The device, which allows people to play 3-D games without special glasses, sold more than 800,000 units in the first month following its debut in Japan on Feb. 26, according to Tokyo-based researcher Enterbrain Inc.
Japan’s disaster, described by Prime Minister Naoto Kan as the nation’s biggest crisis since World War II, has left more than 27,000 people dead or missing and caused estimated damages of as much as 25 trillion yen ($297 billion).
Damage sustained in the 9-magnitude temblor and tsunami that followed have forced Sony to shut down several factories in Northern Japan for repair. A lack of parts from component suppliers also is delaying production at locations not directly affected by the disaster, Tretton said.
Atul Goyal, a senior analyst at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Singapore, in March cut his estimates for Sony’s operating profit for the 12 months ended March 31 and this fiscal year, citing concerns over the economic fallout from the earthquake.
Hirai said in January that the NGP will deliver the power of the PlayStation 3 game console in a handheld. The new portable model will have a 5-inch (12.7 centimeters) organic light emitting diode, or OLED, display, and will offer location-based services as part of an application called “Near.”
The NGP features front and rear-facing cameras and a rear multi-sensor touchpad. The company also has developed a proprietary memory format for the NGP.
Apple Inc. (AAPL), Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) and other mobile-device makers are improving graphics capabilities on tablet computers and smartphones to deliver more realistic games to those devices.
Sony Ericsson (ERICB) Mobile Communications AB is set to introduce the Xperia Play smartphone in Europe over the next several weeks and this spring on Verizon Wireless’ network, the company said. The device uses Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Android operating system and is the first that will let users play Sony-developed games under its PlayStation Certified program that optimizes any Android handheld for a gaming experience.
“Expectations are pretty limited for NGP this calendar year, the idea being that they would need some time to build up a library,” said Jay Defibaugh, an analyst at MF Global FXA Securities in Tokyo. “Third parties carry more weight for the Sony platform and are going to need more time for development, so the medium-term view is more important for NGP than how it gets out of the starting block.”
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