Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Arrogance and the Industry Part Two - Sony’s Bad Case of (Giant Enemy) Crabs

We’re still a year or two (perhaps more if Mircosoft and Sony’s statements hold any water) from seeing most of the next generation of game consoles which will be the eighth thus far. People are already giving sideways looks to the Nintendo Wii U, but it’s easy to forget that going into the seventh generation it was Sony’s game to lose, and they’d have had to screw up royal in order to blow it.

And that’s exactly what they did.

Fanboys will argue until they are blue in the face, but I’m not one of those so that’s a moot point. Hell, of the three consoles I only have a PS3 and I will still tell you that Sony blew it. Out their ass. HARD. No amount of petulant whining and desperate clasping of hands over ears will change that fact.

Everyone that watched it (or, hell, let’s face it, has been on the internet in the time since) has probably heard some of the memes that were spawned by the Sony E3 press conference when they first unveiled the PS3 and announced the initial line-up and price point. You might remember “Giant Enemy Crab”, “$599 US Dollars!”, or “RIDGGGGE RACER!”. While it seems comical now - or rather it would be if you hadn’t already heard it possibly literally a million times - the truth is though, that some of the people laughing hardest probably were doing so because if they didn’t they’d be crying until they ran out of tears.

The release of the PS3 turned Sony from the dominant market shareholder into a laughingstock that was fighting for a distant third and only recently able to recover into a close competition with the Xbox 360 for second. Consider though that the PS2 has almost sold as many units as the three current generation consoles combined.

So. What went wrong?

Well, there isn’t one singular factor to blame in this case, but if you want to say that one came pretty damn close it would have to be the price point first and foremost. A lot of people balked at the 600 dollar price tag for a game system when the base Xbox 360 launched for half that and the launch of the Wii with a price tag of 250 USD. The competition had a definitive edge in that you could by a system and five or six games for the price of the PS3 alone. Still, people have proven that they are willing to spend the cash when what they think they are buying is worth it. So something - or rather some things - must have made the PS3 not worth it.

When it comes to the reasons why the PS3 lost the seventh generation it’s most useful to look at the reasons why the PS2 won the sixth. When the PS2 came out it’s launch line up was actually not a whole lot more impressive than the PS3’s. There were a couple of decent games, but nothing that had a hell of a lot of brand recognition that could really get the units to sell. So why did the PS2 sell almost a million units in a single day? Part of the reason was that it was the first console that boasted backwards compatibility: so if you had an extensive number of PS1 titles, you could play those on your PS2 right out of the gate. The huge reason why it was so successful though was actually not because of the games, but rather because of what the PS2 offered: a cheap (comparatively) reliable DVD player. A lot of people, especially in Japan, bought the PS2 for it’s DVD playing capabilities first, and as a console in a close second.

I think that Sony wanted to, or thought they could at least, do the same thing with the PS3 and Blu Ray. In their minds the PS2 had justified the fact that if they had the hardware people wanted that the price point and the lack of a really strong starting line-up wouldn’t hurt that much and could be quickly overcome by the money they made off the initial sales.

The problem is that in-between the launch of these two systems the market had changed. DVDs were the big thing when the PS2 came out, but the PS3 had come out during the war between HDDVD and Blu Ray when there was no clear winner in sight. Sony had shrugged off the early launch of the 360 and the low price point of the Nintendo Wii because they had thought that Blu Ray was their trump card, along with brand loyalty.

Neither of those things justified 600 dollars in the minds of a lot of people.

Sure, there were good games in the launch line-up. Resistance: Fall of Man was a stellar title. But without any big name games coming out to whet the appetites of the public most people didn’t bite. With the loss of a lot of exclusives and the rise of the multiplatform release Sony saw it’s advantage dwindle to nothing. Then, rather than admitting they had made a mistake, they were the ones who ignored reality making themselves into the butt of a lot of jokes, but not into the homes of a lot of gamers.

Right now both Microsoft and Sony say that they’re only halfway through an unheard of 10 year cycle for these consoles. Whether or not that’s the case or just hot air is anyone’s guess. Regardless of when the next Sony console comes out, I certainly hope that Sony has learned something from the debacle that was the PS3 launch, because they honestly can’t afford another one.

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