Wednesday, September 06, 2006

More Broken Promises

But this time, they aren't from me.

Wednesday morning, at 06:40 Sony Computer Entertainment Europe announced the revised release date of March 2007 for the PlayStation 3 in European and similar PAL territories. They also announced that on release a mere 500,000 units would be split between Japan and Northern America, with only 100,000 of those going to Sony's homeland.

First off, let me say that I am not very surprised by this news. A few weeks ago we learned that the machine had yet to go into production! It hardly seems worth even feigning shock when told this most recent news.

Secondly, as I've stated before in long rambling posts, I'm a Nintendo fan. I'm not an extremist fanboy, I do own and very much enjoy playing my PS2, but I am looking forward to the Wii more than anything else. So feel free to colour this entire article with "Mario Red" tinted glasses.

Well, lets begin. This latest bombshell from the halls of Sony has got to have a massive impact on their own defences. Credibility has been taken a gut wound after promises about the release, the number of available units and the assured success of the PS3 in this very competitive market have been thrown overboard at this late stage in the war.

So how does this actually affect Sony? Stocks are certain to drop in light of the news, or at least will continue to decline as they have been since E3 this year. The sales of the PSP are certain to suffer. Plans to allow link-up features similar to what Nintendo have been promising for the DS would have boosted rapidly declining sales of this handheld. As it stands, the PSP is floundering in the shallow end of the pool, suffering desperately from a lack of ongoing support.

All because they announced a new, later release date for Europe.

But the truth is, we’re used to delays here in Europe. Many movies are still released here weeks after the American screenings, DVDs are worse, games can be delayed by months, and previous generation consoles have been over half a year after the Japan and American releases. And comics! The British Collectors Editions” of American Marvel comics are up to three years behind in the stories! No. We’re well used to delays. We sit back and savour the opportunity to compare the competition in another market, allowing us the chance to see both flaws and merits of the product in question, be it console machines, movies or fizzy drinks, before we have to worry about making our own purchase. So the delay really isn’t that big a deal. Worldwide releases for consoles are rare due to manufacturing constraints, and we all know that.

What has burned the gaming masses is the lateness of Sony’s announcement. Leaving it until it is so close to the expected date makes the news feel all the worse. Are we to believe that Sony were unaware of the problems and short supply in units until just earlier this week? Are we really expected to accept that the added difficulties of manufacturing the blue diodes only became apparent recently? Actually, no. We've known for a while now of Sony's difficulties with Blue-ray production.

In essence, it is Sony’s arrogance shining through again. The success of the PSOne and PS2 have put Sony in a position that they believe themselves invincible. And for a while they were right. Both machines were great, clearly superior to their competition in many respects. Though I never owned a PSOne, I do have a PS2 and love it dearly. I have owned every Nintendo console since the SNES, and even got a working NES recently. While I will defend them to the last, it is ultimately true that resent Nintendo consoles, specifically since the N64, have suffered from a lack of quantity in games, even if I still believe that, quality based, Nintendo is superior. Over two generations, Sony built up a dominating (and sometimes rabid) fanbase. Where parents used to use the phrase “playing Nintendo” in reference to any console of the 80’s, the parents of the 90’s and new Millenium use “playing Playstation” in the same way. “Playstation” has become the new “sellotape”, “hoover” or (one unique to us Irish) “Tayto”. True as this may be, that does not give Sony the right to treat their customers and fans in the manner they have chosen. But the delay is not the first time Sony has shown a level of superiority and egotism often associated with Hollywood megastar actors.

E3 2006 was a disaster for Sony, and began to hint at problems that have now become clear. Their keynote speech became the butt of a thousand jokes across the gaming public (Riiiiiidge Raaaaaacer!) even before it had finished, clocking in at an excessive two and a bit hours long! Where days before people predicted Sony would dominate the show with dazzling displays of the power of their new machine, now Nintendo and Microsoft were ahead in net-chat statistics. With the 360 already released, the majority assumed Microsoft’s involvement in E3 would be mute at best, silently watching as the unstoppable Sony flexed its muscle. However, a slew of new and interesting games, the announcement of add-ons such as the webcam and the HD drive and a general sense of fun pushed interest in the X-Box 360 to unexpected levels. In contrast to Sony, Nintendo’s keynote speech was packed with information and fun. Of course, things like release date and price point were absent, but the recording of the event proved to be hugely popular on Google Video and gave many their first glimpse of the Wii in action.

The problems continued as Nintendo and Microsoft put out press release after press release of new games, new partnerships and new announcements. Nintendo has built anticipation up to fever-pitch, while the X-Box 360 continues to turn heads with not only its steady flow of quality games but also it’s distinctively designer looking appearance. Many have critisised the PS3s bulky features and, rather interestingly, the controller was changed back to the PS2 style after fans slamed the original new look online. Sony seemed to be making mistake after mistake right from the start.

And what of the PSP? As sales continue to slowly spiral downwards, and the UMD market collapses in on itself, surely Sony were hoping that the connectivity between PSP and PS3 would boost sales for both machines. With a post Christmas release, will people just ignore the PSP in favour of *shock* *horror* a DS and Wii combo? Or forget about handheld fun entirely and get the stand alone power of the X-Box 360? If early rumours are to be believed and a Wii ends up costing as little as €170, a Wii/DS bundle would cost just €320 in total. Half the cost of a PS3! Crazy! Admittedly, I can’t really force myself to believe that one just yet, it’s just too good! But worse case, the Wii costs €250, making a bundle still only €400. That’s cheaper than the release price of the X-Box 360. Double crazy! And that’s with a DS Lite too. Sweet deal.

So what does the PS3 actually have going for it after yesterday’s announcement? The motion sensor added to the controller a few months back is one in their favour. Ok, so it’s true that they are in part just copying Nintendo’s innovative ideas, but in the end it will benefit both companies. As when Nintendo released the N64 controller with a 3D stick and later the Rumble Pak, Sony’s inclusion means that game developers no longer have to worry about the cost of designing a game utilising the technology knowing that their sales can only come from one console. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft release a controller with some form of similar technology in the near future also, allowing them access to all the same games. No-one likes to get left out.

Left out. That’s what Sony is going to start to feel. Cold. Unwanted. You get the picture. But we should remember that, in the loong run, fans are ultimately hard to hurt permanently, and fanboys are even less likely to hold a grudge passed release. Once everything is released and all the good reviews start rolling in, all this will be forgotten. PS2 owners who were looking forward to the PS3 will consider turning back to familiar territory. Hardcore fans, regardless of the damage they feel now will have the PS3 prebooked long in advance, whatever the ultimate release date. But that may be it. With no Christmas season to buy for, parents are going to be reluctant to shell out for the new machine. Spoilt kids with birthdays around that time might get one, but not many. Be aware, unless Sony drastically changes release trends, the €700 pricetag is for the console alone. Parents will have to pay more for the games unless their little darling really does just want a super expensive DVD player.

Then again, the PS3 is very clearly geared toward the young professional that likes to relax at home after a long day prosecuting criminals, stitching up open chest wounds or working in the leisure industry. But even said young professional will have to put some serious thought into handing over that much cash in one go.

So what does all this mean? Angry fans, annoyed parents, upset youngsters this Christmas, some very happy Nintendo and Microsoft executives... the list goes on.

Sony need to start into some serious damage control. People need to start seeing good things coming after this. Hearing that game developers are abandoning the platform is not a good thing. They need to learn from this mistake also. Waiting this late to announce something you knew weeks, if not months ago is not clever. Staying quiet and hoping everyone will go away is equally not clever. Be a man, Sony! Next time you get a bad report card from your manufacturing team, step up and admit it early. We'll go easier on you. Promise.

Finally, Sony need to read up on their history. As the says goes "a man who does not know his history is doomed to repeat it". Sega thought they were invincible. They released a cutting edge console that failed due to lack of development support. The DreamCast is an awesome machine, with some great games, but there just wasn't enough. And the market at the time could not support three consoles, especially when one was the all consuming PS2, it's biggest advantage being a DVD drive, something Sega just barely missed out on. It's failure directly lead to Sega dropping out of the console development market. Seeing Sony limping in the open grass, away from the other Big Two may cause a hungry and revenge driven Sega to pounce.

So that's it. In the end, I don't think Sony suffer excessively from this delay. They'll get back up, dust themselves off and hopefully chalk this one up as a learning experience. Never, ever promise things you can't deliver. They have left the door wide open for Nintendo and Microsoft to make the most of, stealing as many customers as they can get away with. The PSP may well become a write-off after this, though in truth I think Sony has enough money to pump into it to keep it alive if they so desire.

Now we Europeans have to sit back and watch Japan and America scramble for all those Version 1.0 PS3's. I'm sure we'll all laugh come November 17th when it is revealed that the fan is too noisy, or the transformer overheats. And by the time it hits our shores in 2007, hopefully some of the bugs will have been worked out of the system. And think of the number of games we could get on release date! Most game developers were gearing up for a world-wide release too. Now they can have all those games due to be released from here until March released on the same day!

I'm still not getting one. Roll on the Wii. Excuse me now while I go rearrange my living room to allow for four sets of wildly swinging arms at a decent distance from my far-too-small tv. Thankfully I ungraded from a portable tv last Christmas, thanks to my girlfriend. Now I need a 48" widescreen... hmm... Christmas is happening this year, right? That hasn't been pushed back too, has it?

Additional: Please feel free to comment on any aspect of my writing style, formatting, image useage, whatever! I enjoy honest critisism, even if I blankly ignore you. What to people think of my review in general? Was I objective in my critisisms? I quantiied my bias at the start, but do you think I still showed too much bias against Sony in the article? Any comments at all, as well as just responses are welcome.


Cian said...

I think you're overreacting a bit.

Ok, so the PS3 is going to be late, missing Christmas and leaving the door open for the others. Sony are in difficulties at the moment and it looks like PS3 isn't going to be an instant solution, but are they screwed? I don't think so.

I think Sony is actually going to be in a pretty good position because its real battle isn't going to be with the XBox, and it sure as hell won't be with the Wii, it'll be with Windows Media Centre. If you read the feature list for the PS3 it reads more like a Media Centre PC. Ok so it doesn't have a TV Tuner so you can't record TV, but other than that it has a very respectable and somewhat threatening set of features.

I think a huge benefit to the system is the inclusion of Linux as the OS, though we still don't know how it's included. I would imagine that the main interface is going to be a basic Linux kernel and you can reboot the machine into a full Linux distribution, well that's what I'd like to see happening. Sony have been publicly supportive of the idea of independent PS3 game development, no need for a license and the software for the PS3 is predominantly open source so independent development is going to be a breeze. Also Sun are progressively making Java more and more open source so the idea of Java on the PS3 is quite plausible. Can you imagine what that would do to the market? A console, that is also a desktop PC, supporting independent game development through well known systems, with amazing hardware and it can run any Java application! So sure it's expensive for a console but for a desktop PC it's reasonable and as a hi-spec gaming PC it's a steal.

Of course all that is presuming that the machine is in some way dual boot, that it can run in console and PC modes but I think there's a strong possibility of it working that way. From my experience with the PS2 Linux Kit and from what I've heard of the PS3 package, there are definite similarities.

I'm also not so sure that the delay is going to be too disastrous to Sony's business, I mean, there's always another Christmas and remember, by that stage the XBox 360 will be two years old. So at Christmas 2007, PS3 will have very little competition and I'd say some of the market share that Microsoft will have cornered over the previous 2 years will be about to free up. Also I'm not sure that the PS3's delay will hurt the PSP as much as you think. I think maybe you're confusing what matters to early adopters and what matters to the general population. Early adopters are a fraction of the market and if an average consumer is going to buy a PSP, the fact that the PS3 is delayed won't stop them.

Weefz said...

It's a well-written article. I'm not convinced the lack of PS3 will destroy the PSP so much as not give it the sort of boost it could use. Then again, with the right advertising campaign (and we know how good Sony are at those ;) it could still sell well at Christmas. Or it could be totally dwarfed by the Wii selling at the same price point.

Sony bias - nothing wrong with a bit of bias if you're upfront about it. I think it was fine since you're not writing for a publication that claims to be objective or anything.

With regard to the layout, I'm not keen on the frequent bolding to emphasise words. I find it draws the focus away from what you're saying.

Denis said...

Ok. Thanks, both of you for the comments.

With regards the effect on PSP, it is just a theory of mine, with no support that I can cite... yet! ;)

About all the extra "media centre PC" stuff the PS3 can do: I didn't realise all that. Which brings up two interesting points:

As you said, Cian, the price isn't too unreasonable when you compare it to a PC, which is what it's looking more like! But Sony isn't marketing it that way. So far, all their advertising and their big push is on it as a powerful gaming console. Maybe they need to start pushing other aspects of the machine as well. Show the public and intended market everything it can do. I certainly didn't know about all that extra stuff, and I think I'm in their target bracket. I'm 26, and I do own and enjoy a PS2, as well as just playing great games.

But the other thing it brings up is: Who is Sony trying to sell the PS3 too? As I stated, it appears to be the young professional, but now it's even more specific: The young professional who dabbles in programming, and wants to make his/her own games! But the truth is, no matter who they market it, kids are still going to go crazy asking their parents to shell out for one. The PS2 sells huge numbers to kids. Fact.

In light of this, perhaps what Sony needs is to adopt a more drastic version of the X-Box 360's Core/Premium packaging. The Premium set would cost €700, and include everything they've been talking about. The Core set would just be a gaming console, stripped down to the bare essentials. None of the added PC-like features. None of the programming bits. None of the extra cost features that a huge, HUGE proportion of the final user numbers will not use. Sell that at a much lower price. That's the one I'd buy. All I want is a gaming machine. The gaming machine Sony are currently advertising as €700. I don't want the "media centre PC" they are instead making me pay for.

The PSOne allowed people to make games for it. Official PlayStation Magazine used to include one homebrew game every month. I remember some of them were better than any of the other demos included on the disk! But how many people actually used that feature?How many PSOne owners actually made games for the machine? Granted, this is slightly different in that you had to purchase extra stuff to allow you to make games. For the PS3, Sony is forcing everyone, regardless of interest in the feature, to pay for the same (albeit far more advanced) privilege.

I just feel that, as with the PSP, Sony are putting too many things into the PS3 that most people don't want. The PSP is a nice little machine, but I'll never buy one, because I'll have to pay for an MP3 player, an image viewer and all sorts of other stuff that I'll never use. I just want to play games. That's why I have a DS. If I want to, I have the OPTION of paying for the add-on that allows me to watch cartoons, listen to music or view photos on my DS once it's released over here. And it'll still work out cheaper than a PSP!... well, ok. You have me there. The image quality probably won't be as good. But still...

Sony need to stop charging everyone for things that only a few people want, or will use.

And finally, about missing this Christmas season. I agree that it won't really affect Sony. But I said that in my original post. They'll dust themselves down and have an awesome marketing campaign that will make even me consider (but not) purchasing a PS3. While the first wave of sales may not be as big as if they released it before Christmas, in the end, everyone who wants one will get one. But even Sony has acknowledged that hardware sales will suffer somewhat because of the delay. I'd link to the Joystiq article on this, but I can't link without the little "Add Hyperlink" button to help me, and "Leave your comment" doesn't have that. I'm useless with html!

Mark said...

I agree with weefz about the comic-style highlighting. It doesn't really work.

Also, I think Cian makes some good points, but I think you misunderstand him slightly.

The fact that it is easy to develop for is not just something that will benefit those like Cian who enjoy dabbling in coding. It is something that every user can benefit from, including you. The fact that it might be able to run Java does not simply mean that you can write your own programs for it, it means that you can use other people's programs, in fact, potentially any regular Java program, such as Azureus.

This means you could probably use it instead of your pc.

You said you were considering getting one of those pc's from Realms for 350 euro. If the ps3 was out, you could effectively get a far better pc and a state of the art games console for the total price of 700 euro, which doesn't sound bad to me.

Also, you're not quite the target market, if they are targeting the young professional. Put simply, you're not earning enough. You're a student. There are plenty of people who will fit into their demographic nicely.

Also, you have some spelling errors. I don't know if that's the kind of feedback you were looking for, so pardon me if not. At one point, you used "passed" instead of "past", and I seem to remember there was an error in the last paragraph somewhere.