Bigredcoat

Videogames, politics, science, all the important things in life.

Sony’s Lazarus Pit

Posted by nfinit on February 21, 2007

(Submitted for approval to The Platformers on February 21st, 2007)

And on the 95th day, Sony declared victory.

Perhaps not in the manner they had wished- after all, subsiding $1200 high-definition movie players to wealthy A/V junkies doesn’t exactly rake in the same cash as dominating the console gaming industry for two generations in a row, but at least it provides attention in the trade journals and serves a talking point for fans, something Sony’s had a hard time providing. But asserting arbitrary victory in a largely unwanted media format is easy. However, that’s not the real fight, it’s not the battle Sony fans or shareholders care about. Instead, they want to know- is Sony still capable of winning this console generation?

The PS3 has, three months into it’s cycle, sold 1.7 million units worldwide, with systems readily available on shelves. Within the first ninety of the PS2’s life, it had sold over 3.2 million consoles in Japan alone. Not that the PS3 is without company. It’s handheld sister, the PlayStation Portable, has sold 20 million units compared to the Nintendo DS’s 37 million, and is in steady supply. Indeed, one may find enough PS3 and PSP boxes at their local Best Buy to build a tiny, horrifically expensive fortress which to huddle inside and play wireless SOCOM 2. Meanwhile acquiring a Nintendo Wii or DS Lite involves waiting in a secluded alley for someone to sell you some merchandise that fell off the back of a truck. In many ways, the PS3 is starting to look a lot like Sony’s PSP campaign. Only this time without Lumines. So perhaps worse. Complicating matters is that this time Sony faces not one competitor, but two, and Microsoft holds an advantage in price well as year’s head start on sales.

As an old Sega fan from back in the 16 bit Usenet wars myself, I admit a certain thrill to the prospects of seeing the PS3 become Sony’s Waterloo. But still, we’d be remiss to forget that Sony is still entirely capable of pulling this one out.

A lot of people are placing parallels to Sony of 2007 and Nintendo of 1997, shortly before the first PlayStation relegated Nintendo to also-ran status. I don’t think this holds true. The failure of the N64 was a culmination of disparate events- long-held publisher dissatisfaction with Nintendo’s business practices during the NES era, a stubborn refusal on Nintendo’s part to switch to optical disc, Sony’s ability to shift the gamer demographic from preteens to college-age kids with disposable income. Perhaps most damning was Nintendo’s shrinking market-share from the NES to the SNES while the gaming market itself grew.

Sony has only increased console sales over the past two generations as the market has continued to expand. They have dominated the console industry for for thirteen years. Surely this has bought the company more than three months worth of benefit of the doubt. So how can Sony pull this out?

Hire some PR already. What’s the most controversial thing you’ve heard from Nintendo lately? That no one was ever shot waiting in line for a Wii? Microsoft, for their part, spent most of the time after E3 convincing people they need to buy a Nintendo. Sony? They’ve got Phil Harrison saying:

[The] PlayStation 3 launch has been, objectively by any measure, more successful than PlayStation 1, PlayStation 2 or other competing system out previously.

Or Jack Trentton’s recent gem:

If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that’s been on shelves for more than five minutes, I’ll give you 1,200 bucks for it.

These aren’t even the worst of the quotes, merely the most recent. Since E3 of 2006, Sony’s suffered from a crippling case of verbal diarrhea. It may seem silly to propose that Sony’s biggest problem stems from their near total lack of PR oversight, after all, the mainstream public has no idea of Sony’s continued and constant PR gaffes. But the hardcore public certainly does, and when you’re trying to sell a $500 movie player on the prospects of being able to play Metal Gear Solid 4 at some vague, undefined point in the future, the hardcore market is all you honestly have. Hardcore games are quite aware of the consequences of owning a losing console, and right now Sony’s CEO class’ inability to stop talking out their collective ass just goes to show a level of disconnect from reality not seen since Marie Antoinette’s attempts at social welfare.

Give us a reason to spend that $500. Grand Theft Auto 4 will be appearing on the 360 before it reaches the PS3. Square/Enix is making bedroom eyes at Nintendo. Metal Gear Solid 4 won’t be appearing for at least a year, possibly longer- and that’s working under the conciet that Metal Gear Solid can still sell systems. Sony needs game you can’t get on the 360 and Wii, and that requires the in-house developers to start delivering. These are the same devs that gave us Shadow of the Colossus, Jax and Dexter, Rachet and Clank, Sly Cooper, God of War, Wipeout and Gran Turismo. But where are they? Polyphony Digital won’t have GT5 ready until early 2008 at the earliest. Incognito’s remake of Warhawk hasn’t been seen since concept renders were released 18 months ago, despite it’s supposed “Summer 2007” release. Killzone 2 won’t be appearing until the later half of 2007, pitting the underachiving series head-to-head against Halo 3.

To be fair, Heavenly Sword, Lair and Motorstorm are coming up in the next couple months, and these games may indeed be worth buying a PS3 for. But compare Sony’s proposed 2007 lineup to the 360’s 2007: Crackdown, Forza 2, Mass Effect, Halo 3, Blue Dragon, Eternal Sonata, Guitar Hero II, Lost Planet, Shadowrun. For this year at least, Microsoft will be able to match Sony blow-for-blow with exclusive titles that at least match, if not exceed, the efforts of Sony’s vaunted first party teams. At this point, Sony may be reduced to paying for 3rd party exclusive titles. Grand Theft Auto went a long way towards selling the public on the PS2 lo so many years ago, how much money would it take to convince Rockstar to return to the Sony fold? It couldn’t take much to lure Team Ninja the superior graphical prowess of the PS3, something which would be an enormous talking point for Sony. Acquiring Dead Rising 2 as a PlayStation exclusive would be planting a dagger in Microsoft’s spleen.

Finally, do something about the price, even if it’s trivial. $500 is hard to swallow, even if a 20 gig PS3 a greater value than the 360 Premium. But sacrifices could be made that would not directly touch the already negative price margin on PS3 hardware. Imagine if Sony included a copy of Resistance: Fall of Man with each sale- then you’ve effectively reduced the price difference between the 360 Premium and the 20 gig PS3 to $40. There are other options that don’t involve Sony losing their one sure-fire sale though, perhaps a Ridge Racer 7 pack-in, or a voucher good for $60 worth of new games bought anytime in 2007. They perhaps offer a high-resolution directors cut version of an existing PS2 title, say Gran Turismo 4, even Metal Gear Solid 3. You wouldn’t be closing the gap nearly as much price-wise as you would if you threw in a free PS3 game, but there would be added value vs the 360, an idea Sony has has a hard time getting across to consumers.

In conclusion, I don’t think it’s time for Sony fans to start looking for ways off the ship just yet. Sure, Microsoft is going to to have an incredible 2007, but they’re not leaving much left for 2008, and by then there will be worries that the 360 has but a year left in it’s cycle. As far as the Wii, Nintendo has yet to prove they’re capable of producing a steady stream of titles for one successful system, much less two at a time. This year isn’t a complete waste, either. There’s every chance Heavenly Sword and Lair will live up to the promises of their screenshots, and Motorstorm is already well-received in demo kiosks.

That said- if the spring trade shows roll around and the public is given no reason to stop holding out on a 360 or Wii, it may be time to start carting out Marie to her date with the Guillotine.

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