TOKYO — Sony's PlayStation2 may be more than just a toy.
Japan's Trade Ministry will require special permits to export the new, hot-selling game after labeling it a device that can be adapted for military use, the Mainichi newspaper reported Sunday.
Parts of the machine resemble a small supercomputer in their ability to process high-quality images quickly--a characteristic of missile guidance systems, according to another newspaper, Asahi.
Trade Ministry officials were not available to comment Sunday, but Sony spokesman Kenichi Fukunaga confirmed that special export regulations had been imposed on the game, which is due to hit U.S. and European markets this fall. He declined to comment on the reported military applications.
Under Japanese export and trade law, those who wish to export more than $472 worth of products that can be used for military purposes must get a license from the Trade Ministry, the Mainichi said.
Given PlayStation2's $376 price tag, anybody wishing to ship or carry more than one machine out of Japan would first have to obtain special government permission. Failure to do so could result in a maximum five-year prison sentence or a $18,900 fine, the Asahi said.
Fukunaga said that the company expects to receive an export permit to market the PlayStation2 machines, 1.4 million of which have been sold in Japan since it debuted there in March.
He added that other Sony products have in the past come under the export control law for goods that have potential military uses.
The PlayStation2 can carry four times as much information as the original PlayStation system, which was released in 1994. The console has stereo-quality sound and vivid graphics and can connect the user to the Internet.
Missile-guidance systems typically consist of a missile-mounted camera that transmits images to a remote firing station, where an operator can send signals to adjust the rocket's trajectory. Officials are apparently concerned about rogue states that have military hardware but lack the sophisticated technological components.
Fukunaga said government regulation will do little to hinder already intense competition among game makers to produce more powerful machines.
"The technology in this machine is at the cutting edge, but the competition is catching up, so the regulations will eventually have to be reviewed," Fukunaga said.
Sony rival Sega Enterprises launched its Dreamcast game console with Internet access last year. Nintendo Co., maker of N64 and the portable Game Boy, will release its new machine this year.
Meanwhile, Microsoft Corp. plans to introduce its own video game machine, the X-Box, in late 2001.
Sony owns about 60% of the game-machine market in the United States and Japan.