Editorial: PlayStation 3 Pulls An Impressive 180
January 2007- It's less than two months since the launch of the PlayStation 3 in North America and Japan. The highly anticipated, supposedly ultra-powerful next-gen video game system from Sony has, according to just about every legitimate news source, flopped. Availability for the launches had been pathetic, must-have software remains limited to Resistance: Fall of Man, the console is super expensive ($599 for the 60GB model), Sony is mired in debt due to the outrageous production costs incurred by producing the console, and to make matters worse, Microsoft and Nintendo are soaring. The Wii caught on huge in Japan - and just about everywhere else - and the Xbox 360 had already enjoyed a one-year head-start, in which we saw more than a few great titles. Blu-Ray, still in its infancy, hasn't yet started to move much, considering the lack of PS3s in the marketplace. Whispers of "another Betamax" are rampant... Doom and gloom permeates almost every PS3-related news story, and editorials from jump-the-gunners say the console might actually fail. It's a dark time.
Fast-forward to one year later, 2008- Sales have been climbing for the PlayStation 3 for quite a while, and January 2008 marks the first month where the system outsells the Xbox 360 and essentially ties the Wii in North America. Availability for the 2007 holiday season was excellent - the Wii was still hard to find, for some reason - and perhaps surprisingly, the PS3 has proven itself to be an immensely reliable system. At the same time, the hardware reliability catastrophe centering on the Xbox 360 exploded last summer, and the latest reports show this problem hasn't disappeared. The Wii continues to lack compelling software (with one or two exceptions), and PS3 owners were able to play the likes of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Unreal Tournament III, Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, Warhawk, Folklore and Heavenly Sword. Granted, the Xbox 360 did have the perennial Game of the Year contenders in 2007, with Bioshock, Halo 3 and Mass Effect, but the 2008 lineup for each console is shaping up to be very, very different.
The PS3 is looking at potentially unbelievable exclusives like Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Gran Turismo 5, Killzone 2, Haze, Final Fantasy XIII and more, and developers everywhere are beginning to come around to the PS3's complex architecture. Analysts and industry experts are starting to release heavily revised predictions and projections, most of which say the PS3 will definitely catch up to both the 360 and Wii at some point. The price of the system has dropped by $200 (even though the 40GB model is definitely gimped in comparison to the original 60GB version), and another model with a massive hard drive is apparently right around the corner. On top of it all, Blu-Ray has evidently secured a complete victory in the format war, which immediately places the PS3 in an enviable position. The only console that can currently play high-definition movies? Yep, that's a strong selling point. Vile rumors revolving around ticked-off developers simply refusing to develop for the PS3 have disappeared, and overall, the aforementioned doom and gloom from last year has been replaced by several dozen roses.
Revelation? It shouldn't beWhy this should shock anyone, however, is beyond me. How much of this situation is almost identical to the first year of the PS2? Let's see: availability upon launch was terrible (although not as bad as it was with the PS3), and made even worse by a significant hardware issue that generated a very high defective rate early on. The launch was arguably great - most people forget the scores Tekken Tag Tournament, SSX, Madden 2001, etc. received - but we see next to nothing for another three months until Red Faction and Onimusha: Warlords in March of '01. Many were saying the graphics were actually inferior to that of the Sega Dreamcast, and developers never ceased complaining...bitterly. If you could compare the news in early 2001 for the PS2 and early 2007 for the PS3, many articles would be almost identical because the two predicaments are extraordinarily similar. Then, 2001 quickly became one of the most memorable years in gaming history, due almost entirely to the PC and PS2; the latter's contributions being Twisted Metal: Black, Devil May Cry, Silent Hill 2, Final Fantasy X, Grand Theft Auto III, and more. Over six years later, the PS2 is the most successful gaming console in history, with 120 million units sold worldwide.
Granted, the PS2 didn't have any competition during its first year of existence (the Xbox and GameCube didn't arrive until November of '01), and it arguably had a better first year than the PS3 in terms of software. But it wasn't trying to introduce a high-definition movie format, and it wasn't battling a major price issue. $300 may have been a bit steep at the time, but nowhere near as bad as $600 six years later for the next system. Now, with Blu-Ray emerging as the victor, an extremely impressive 2008 (and beyond) lineup, developers already creating better multiplatform PS3 versions of titles, and a significant price reduction, the PS3's surge shouldn't surprise anyone. Even so, it's worth mentioning, just because the contrast between early 2007 and 2008 is mind-boggling. The other two systems seem to be experiencing a time of either no news or bad news, and that's also helping Sony's console. We're still wondering where all the Wii software is, the 2008 Xbox 360 exclusive lineup is nowhere near as impressive as last year's, and the DVD format for games is already beginning to pale in comparison to Blu-Ray. Oh, and let's not forget that the 360 is still the least reliable console on earth.
They say things can change overnight in big business, and while one year isn't exactly overnight, we're still looking at a slick 180, performed by a system with a full head of steam. Bottom line- a year ago, everyone (everyone) was down on the PS3. Now, it's the toast of the Internet news town. Just wanted to point this out; only listing out the facts, here.
2/18/2008 Ben Dutka