Saturday, February 28, 2009

Is the PS3 on life support?


I have owned my 20gb Sony PlayStation 3 for over a year and it's been a blast. The Blu Ray playback is awesome - just watched 'Madagascar 2' on Blu a few nights ago and played "Kill Zone 2" on it this morning - and the ability to play PS2 games saved my bacon after my fatty PS2 gave up the ghost. But with Sony letting killer sequels to games on their PS2 slip to the Microsoft side of the fence, and the demand for the 360 still hot, is the PS3 about to go on life support?

Before this generation started, a close friend of mine was convinced Microsoft would be victorious over Sony. Why? He said Microsoft had learned its lesson before being pummeled by the PS2 and would use their own tactics against them. I wasn't faded. I was sure Sony would continue the momentum and keep MS against the ropes. Shoot - the largest console in history, easily reaching around the world - and they were going to cede that this generation. L to the out to the loud.

Yet, his words seems somewhat prophetic. 3 years into this generation and Nintendo is on top, Microsoft in second but dominating the HD console realm and Sony solidly holding down third. Of course, no one predicted the economic downturn, the casual crowd and nongamers embracing the Wii, nor the way Sony traded 'core values' to promote Blu Ray. No, I was sure the ton of exclusives would migrate to the PS3.

This generation, MS was first out of the gate, passed on an HD-format for games and has secured several exclusives. The PS3 came out good - though if you are comparing launches, the 360 was often out of stock until late March/early April of 2006. The PS3s, initially sold out, was available a week before Christmas. Even diehard PS2 fans complained about the price.

Fast-forward to 2008. The 360 has a commanding 8-million lead on the PS3, has made downloadable content a must-buy and has expanded LIVE to stream Netflix videos. As far as HD consoles, it's holding off the PS3 handily. Though the PS3 has a much powerful processor and has a way-cool program called 'folding@home' (It helps researchers at Stanford find the cure to diseases). It is one of the most powerful gaming machines on the planet and no one is disputing that. However, Sony created a machine that is very hard to design games for, is the best Blu Ray player on the market, but is now being beaten by standalone Blu Ray players in price, and shares most of its games with the 360 and PC.

What made Sony the king of last generation - offer a wide variety of games, console exclusives and a lower price point - are things Microsoft has adopted this generation.

And don't think I'm just blowing smoke. When I talked to the PR firm that handles "Guitar Hero: World Tour," I was informed the 360 version of the game was out - but gobs of the PS3 version of the game were ready to ship. Madcatz told me today the 360 version of their tournament fightsticks were depleted, and the other 360 controllers were very limited, but the PS3 versions were in plentiful supply.

I think the PS3 is a console that does it all - plays Blu Rays, has a good gaming lineup, but often finds itself on the outside looking in this generation. From allowing "GTA IV," "Final Fantasy" and a host of others to migrate to the 360, to allowing the 360 to get several exclusives ("Ace Combat 6," "Mass Effect" and "Dead Rising" and timed exclusives like "Bioshock" and "Star Ocean 4"), not to mention a lower price point for HD gaming ($150 for a 360 at closing Circuit City stores), the 360 will continue its dominance.

What can Sony do to pull itself out of this nosedive? I'd recommend lowering the price to $299 - work as hard as the devil to get exclusives, even exclusive content, and lastly - give PS2 owners a REAL reason to upgrade to a PS3. The worst move Sony made next to the uber high sticker price was removing backwards compatibility. Sony said the ability to play older PlayStation games was a core value. Don't believe me - read it for yourself.

"...On Backwards Compatibility

[The PS3 will have] almost perfect backwards compatibility. There will be some exceptions, but we believe those will be even less than we saw from PSOne to PS2.

"Backwards compatibility, as you know from PlayStation One and PlayStation 2, is a core value of what we believe we should offer. And access to the library of content people have created, bought for themselves, and accumulated over the years is necessary to create a format. PlayStation is a format meaning that it transcends many devices -- PSOne, PS2, and now PS3."

"If the developer wrote the game according to our technical requirements checklist, we will have what we believe will be almost perfect backwards compatibility. There will be some exceptions, there always are, but we believe those will be very few and far between. Even less so than we saw from PSOne to PS2."


Sony urgently needs to win back gamers in a huge way. Granted, a pricecut would bring sales, but to really improve their standing, they have to offer a departure from the 360 in HD gaming. They have to figure out how to get exclusive content back on their console and then working some form of BC back into the PlayStation. Without it, Sony, you will struggle and find yourself behind the 360 until Microsoft leaves this gen with their next-gen offering.

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