Summary: With E3 now gone, we look back on how the consoles clashed. Will Sony demolish the competition for a third time, or has their Blu-Ray venture induced a fatal flaw in PlayStation strategy?
Sony dominated the previous generation with the PlayStation 2, Nintendo got along quietly with the GameCube but failed to make a serious dent in the market, while Microsoft established itself and the Xbox as a solid contender. The Sega DreamCast, despite being arguably as technically competent as the PS2, got crushed under the weight of public expectations and Sony hype.
When this generation began surprisingly early with the Xbox 360, some predicted that it would follow in the unlucky footsteps of the DreamCast, buried by the public expectations for the new PlayStation. Yet, it turns out that Microsoft’s biggest issue with satisfying demand for their new console. True, much of the fault is Microsoft’s – they rushed the 360 for a holiday launch last year, but the demand for their product is undeniable.
During the previous generation, Sony was coming off a dominant win by the PlayStation against the Saturn and N64. Sega and Nintendo fought from underdog positions, while Microsoft came late to the party. However, the PlayStation 2 did not live up to the hype generated around it. The GameCube’s graphics remained competitive, despite many predictions at the outset that it would be inferior. The Xbox had a clear advantage with its hard drive, graphics, and internet connectivity.
Consequently, while Sony is rolling into the new epoch off a decisive numbers win last time around, they are not the technology leaders and they know it. Microsoft successfully stole that momentum with the Xbox, and the PS2’s own failure to distance itself meaningfully from the GameCube didn’t help matters. As a result, the PlayStation brand name is eroded somewhat, now known more for being popular and having the most games, than for being the best console.
To make matters worse, Sony’s PR machine has been turned against it in recent months. Whereas everyone was expecting the PlayStation 3 to rule this generation as early as a year ago, with all the talk about Cell and Blu-Ray, this year Sony finds the media and hardcore gaming public hostile. Jokes about the hype of years past, like the “Emotion Engine”, are so commonplace they are now cliché. This ties back to the PlayStation 2’s failure to not only not beat the Xbox, but even the GameCube, which had been derided in preview press as underpowered. Worse, the press not only didn’t cut Sony any slack when it came to their pre-rendered movies at last year’s E3, they flat-out called Sony’s bullshit. Predictably enough, this year, the games demonstrated didn’t look anywhere near as good as those overly optimistic renders. Undoubtedly the PS3 looked good, but it didn’t live up to expectations Sony created for itself.
Quite simply, of all the attendees this E3, Sony had the most to prove. They came in with a plan to deliver the goods, the fastest, most powerful console to date. The PS3 was going to have the most graphics and processing power, it would definitely have a hard drive, and its media would be stored on Blu-Ray, the more advanced of the two next-gen disc formats. Perfect, right? Then Sony announced the price.
On top of it all, you do not have the hot-head in charge of the PlayStation go out in public and say how the most expensive console of this generation should be even more costly. Yes, Ken, more of our hard-earned money should go to Sony, because the company deems it necessary to push its strategic HD content delivery through a gaming platform. The ultimate utility of high capacity next-generation DVDs on current games is debatable right now, to say the least. Ken’s statement is provocative, at the least, and only adds to Sony’s public relations issues. In a sense, it may be true – the PS3 may be a great deal if HDMI isn’t necessary and if Blu-Ray takes off, but that’s a lot of caveats.
Price is a major issue for a console that aims to have broad appeal. The original PlayStation caught everyone’s attention not because it was immediately better than the Saturn – it was too early to call that – but because it was cheaper. The PS2, while more expensive, was still quite accessible and sold extremely well. How many of those families and students will be able to afford a PS3?
The Nintendo Attack
Last generation, Nintendo said it wasn’t about the hardware, it was about the games – and an affordable console. They offered a system that didn’t play DVDs, didn’t have a hard disk attachment, was the cheapest on the market… and they ended up third in the race.
Furthermore, Microsoft has Halo 3, Gears of War, and Mass Effect lined up as AAA titles exclusive to the 360. On top of that, there are other titles near the top tier, like Too Human, Forza 2, and Ninety-Nine Nights, as well as multi-platform games like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and the new Splinter Cell. Finally, Microsoft stole a blue chip away from Sony by ensuring that the new GTA game will no longer have a delay for other platforms. This says as much about Microsoft’s bargaining power, as Rockstar’s calculation that Sony will not resume its dominance.
Quite simply, Sony blew it. The PS3 didn’t have a bad outing at E3; in fact, it was quite a good show for a console that’s being hurried into production. Several of the games featured for it, notably Assassin’s Creed, and of course MGS4, garnered considerable attention.
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