Playstation 3: Failure to Launch

by Samm Bennett
Despite the hype, the long lines and the violence, the launch of the PlayStation 3 has been the most lackluster since that of the Sega Saturn (which was barely marketed). The reason for this is quite obvious, as the system is nigh impossible to find. Sony's "worldwide" launch landed an estimate of 200,000 consoles in the United States, which was promised 400,000, and around 80,000 consoles in Japan, which was promised 100,000. The lack of consoles can be blamed on manufacturing difficulties due to a shortage of the diodes used for the system's Blu-ray drive.

While Sony did create an impressive machine that they are selling for a hefty $500 to $600 (depending on the configuration), one might be inclined to wonder if such a model is a good idea. The complexity of the machine caused a fairly botched launch, allowing the easier-to-find Wii and Xbox 360 to bask in the next-gen hype. Furthermore, the high price of even the low-end version of the PS3 places it out of many consumers' reach.

There are several strategies that Sony has focused on with the PS3. Primarily, they want users to bring home a powerful machine. Unfortunately, power does not mean everything. Both the Xbox and the GameCube were architecturally superior to the PlayStation 2, and both consoles lost in the last console war. Sony has lost many of its exclusive third-party titles, claiming people care most about first-party titles such as Gran Turismo. While GT4 may have sold more copies, the popularity of the Grand Theft Auto series should not be taken lightly. The system promises cutting-edge, high-definition video via Blu-ray, a Sony-backed video format. For reference, in the past Sony has backed Betamax, MiniDisc and the UMD.

The real reason why the PlayStation 3 uses Blu-ray is that Sony hopes the market penetration will provide them with a Trojan Horse to win the format war. Sony is banking on the success of the PlayStation 3; if it fails, the company very well may fall apart. Such news isn't really surprising, as the company has been living in a public relations nightmare for the past few years. In 2005, Sony had to deal with the fallout from releasing CDs that automatically installed rootkits on PCs to protect the music from digital piracy, and in 2006, the company recalled millions of potentially exploding batteries. Playstation fans have also been hurt; at the 2005 Electronics Entertainment Expo, they were promised odd PS3 features such as two HDMI outputs, seven-controller support and three Ethernet ports. The PlayStation 3's new controller also lacks the rumble effect, which Sony has claimed is due to an engineering problem. Given that the Nintendo Wii's controllers provide similar functionality and rumble support, one would be more inclined to pass the blame to Sony's legal loss against Immersion Corp. in a suit regarding Sony's DualShock controllers infringing on Immersion's patent on rumble technology. In other words, Sony doesn't want to have to pay for using technology that is owned by Immersion.

The number of units sold ultimately determines the winner of each iteration of the console wars. As such, Sony is in last place, and is likely to be in that place for quite some time due to low production rates and a high price tag. If Sony wants to pull off a hat trick, they're going to have to take their competition a bit more seriously.

Originally published in The Triangle Newspaper.