GameSpot Gut Reactions: PS3 Delay in Europe
GameSpot's editors weigh in on the recently announced European delay of the PlayStation 3, as well as its potentially limited launch quantities.
Hardware manufacturer and game publishing giant Sony recently revealed that the highly anticipated PlayStation 3 won't ship in Europe until March of 2007. The delay was due to a manufacturing issue related to the hardware that the PS3 will use to play high-definition videos on the Blu-Ray Disc format. The recent announcement also suggests that customers in Japan and North America may be facing a shortage of hardware when the PS3 does launch, possibly releasing in the neighborhood of just 100,000 units in Japan and 400,000 in North America--though Sony later refuted this by stating it hadn't confirmed launch numbers beyond its initial November launch of 2 million units worldwide, and 4 million units worldwide by the end of 2006. What do all these developments mean for the PS3 and its games, and for those pennies we've all been saving for our first console/Blu-Ray player? GameSpot's editors give us their gut reactions. Be sure to add your own thoughts in the comments field below.
It seemed optimistic, maybe even a little overconfident, but it was delivered by the characteristically ebullient Sony, and we swallowed it down. We overlooked the fact that, according to previous Sony announcements, the PlayStation 3 was already supposed to be out in Japan by Spring 2006. We forgot that the Blu-Ray format, which was the reason for both the console's hi-def multimedia capabilities and its astronomical price, wasn't even on the market until June of this year, and its final specs were only finalized in January. Even the powerhouse Microsoft, which didn't use any problematic new disc formats in the Xbox 360, had massive trouble delivering on the promise of a worldwide supply.
The delay of the PlayStation 3 in Europe to March 2007 is a huge blow to the game players on the continent, and you only need look at the feedback on the news to see that the mounting Sony backlash is now in full swing. I'm not about to jump on the bandwagon of hatred, as I wasn't even sure that I was going to buy the console at launch. But I'd certainly love to be a fly on the wall inside Sony's European offices right now. Take some comfort in the fact that, having just launched the PlayStation 3 Web site and presuming it would have this Christmas in the bag, that division's probably feeling just as alienated by Sony Worldwide as you are.
So is there anything good to come out of this public relations disaster? Well, as sure as I am that the console will still sell out at launch, I'm just as sure that the army of parents who'd have bought one at Christmas will balk at spending £425 on the machine in the New Year comedown. Hopefully then, Sony will reevaluate that astronomical price, or maybe offer Europeans a couple of exclusive bonuses. Secondly, the four-month gap should result in a wealth of launch titles for the console in Europe, and should ensure our selection of early games is of higher quality than those offered to the rest of the world. Lastly, Sony really does care about the European market. Game players are quick to forget the innovations that the company made on the PlayStation 2, with EyeToy, Buzz! and SingStar all originating from Britain and all available in Europe well ahead of the US and Japan.
While the PlayStation 3 delay is a blow to Europe, the only way consumers will be heard by the powers that be is if they express their anger with their wallets. There will still be plenty of great gaming options available come Christmas with the Xbox 360 and the Wii (unless Nintendo inherits a similar case of Europe-itis), and if you choose the best games over an allegiance to Sony, the company is bound to listen and give Europe the respect it deserves in future. Merry Christmas, Sony.
But much as I dislike the notion of not being able to get my hands on some sleek, new, cutting-edge gaming lounge-ware, from a business perspective, Sony was left with little real choice. Why mess up three markets, when you can just mess up two instead? At least, with the figures on actual consoles available even in Japan and the US, that's mostly how it looks.
And let's face it, when it comes to deciding on the two out of three territories to attempt, it's not really a contest. Sony would never want to screw its home market of Japan. It would also want to put on as brave a face as possible in Microsoft's home market, the US. And Europe? Well, we're just a collection of numerous different laws, import taxes, and a headache of language localizations. What would you do if you were Uncle Ken?
So what can we do about it? Short of petitioning Codemasters or Ubisoft to develop some mega next-gen hardware in Europe, our territory will never be top priority for anybody. And because gaming is such a massive global entertainment need now, the demand is simply too high for even universal megacorporations to deal with.
But what now for Sony? Well, it will no doubt suffer--I can't see things happening any other way right now. Too few consoles for Japan, too few for the US, and none for Europe will point people toward the cheaper and more readily available alternatives, especially for Christmas-present-buying parents. Picture the scene: Under the tree on Christmas morning, the merry glow of fairy lights, the flush of excitement on a young child's face as he or she tears away the paper to find an envelope, inside of which is a decidedly unfestive PS3 preorder voucher, redeemable only three months hence. Who wants that?
But let's not get carried away. Many will be upset with Sony, but that won't stop us from snapping up every last console that's available...when they finally are available. Sony has too much of a draw for us to ignore, and much as we in Europe might feel the desire to punish them for passing us over once again, come March we'll be desperate to get our hands on the kit. We're beginning to form a love-hate relationship with Sony, it seems; but once this all passes, we'll be too busy playing PS3 games to care.
Until the next time, that is.
Yes, it's a shame that the system's release is getting pushed back all the way to March for Europe. But frankly, Europe rarely gets priority when new game systems are released, so this just seems like a case of something that was too good to be true to begin with. As for the apparent shortage of systems at launch, even that fact wouldn't have seemed like as big of a deal had Sony not set much higher expectations earlier this year. The launch period will probably be a lot like the 360 launch last year, where a lot of people scrambled to find a system, and many failed. (The difference is, people will also scramble in Japan in this case.) Weeks or months later, the shortages will be addressed, and everyone who wants a PS3 and can afford one will have one. As for who's going to "win" the next-gen race, Sony, Nintendo, or Microsoft, I've got news for anyone who thinks they know the outcome: It's still way too early to tell what's ultimately going to happen regarding their three consoles.
In turn, a year from now we'll have long since forgotten all of this, probably because PS3s will be all over the place and a lot of people will have bought them, high price and all. This news also doesn't change my mind that the PS3 will be a powerful system with some great games.
But in the short run, Sony seems to be making a hard road even harder for itself by making a lot of bold, even arrogant claims and then having to revise those claims in this type of fashion. So this will be the type of reality check that the company needs. Now more than ever, it seems that big companies are at the mercy of their public images.
It'll be interesting to see what happens. This news just makes Sony's lineup at the forthcoming Tokyo Game Show seem all the more critical. My confidence in the PS3 is admittedly shaken at this point, but for better or worse, I didn't have high hopes for the Xbox 360 or DS this close to their release dates, either. And I love those systems now.
Of course, the 400,000 units for North America and 100,000 for Japan figures are just for day one. Through the holidays, Sony is claiming the number will creep up to somewhere over a million pieces. This is where having two versions of your console out there starts to get really annoying. I don't know if this happened to you or not, but I continually heard stories of people trying to buy an Xbox 360, finding out that a store had them in stock, and getting there only to discover that the store only had the lower-priced, less-interesting version of the system available. It'd be interesting to know how many of the PS3 launch units will be the more expensive premium units, and how many will be the dumbed-down basic boxes. Considering how Sony's going to sell out of however many PS3s they can manage to get onto shelves this year and well into next year, they might as well just ship all of them as $600 premium packages and launch the cheaper one next year, when you get past the early adopters and demand stabilizes a bit. Anyone willing to run out and fight the crowds for a $500 console would almost certainly be willing to do the same for a $600 one.
Then we have hardware "shortages" to look forward to, accompanied by the same shameless eBay price-gouging that has pretty much become commonplace whenever console hardware is launched. On top of that, you'll probably be forced to buy some bundle package containing games you might not want, more controllers than you probably need, and a smattering of incredibly lame third-party accessories. Disc doctors and funny-looking cooling devices for everyone! Considering this industry still can't get its games into stores across the country in a timely, measured fashion, I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the amount of crap people have to put up with to buy a console at or near its release.
As for you Europeans, yes, obviously, this sucks. But look at it this way, you guys. Maybe by the time the system launches over there, all of this mess will have been sorted, and the end result may very well be a smoother and better-stocked European launch. With the way the quantities are shaping up, you probably would have had to wait until March to find one, anyway.
It'll be interesting to see if Nintendo has any of these kinds of issues. Since the Wii uses proven technology rather than cutting-edge components, manufacturing shouldn't have any issues. Meanwhile, you just know that J Allard and the folks at Microsoft are probably licking their chops at the news. Microsoft has had over a year to smooth out production issues on the Xbox 360 and ramp up to full speed, so things are looking pretty good for Sony's competitors.
Anyway, it strikes me that this wouldn't be so much of an issue if Sony hadn't come out and publicly announced such completely unrealistic launch numbers in the first place. The claim that Sony would have 2 million PlayStation 3s available worldwide at launch always struck me as silly considering the experience of previous console launches. Microsoft couldn't make Xbox 360's fast enough last year and fell far short of that number, and Sony had similar shortages with the PlayStation 2 launch. Now we're apparently being told the actual number is only 500,000, which is a far cry from 2 million. It's getting to the point where gamers are having a harder time trusting Sony. The Killzone flap, the lackluster E3 showing, the $600 price tag, the grandiose statements from the executives, and now this are starting to take their toll. Two years ago, the PlayStation 3 seemed like a sure thing, but today, a lot of people aren't so sure. Still, Sony remains in the driver's seat thanks to the incredible popularity of the PlayStation brand. But the company needs to wise up to the fact that it is its own worst enemy right now.
Sony's previous successes with the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 appear, at least from where I'm sitting, to have made the company complacent. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who will fork over the cash for the PS3 regardless of its price and launch lineup simply because of the PlayStation name, but I doubt there are nearly as many of them now as there were six months ago, and I imagine the number will continue to fall steadily as Xbox 360s find their way into more homes and Sony continues to shoot itself in the foot with its seemingly never-ending supply of bad news.
It wasn't just European early adopters that got bad news, after all. The Japanese will be lining up for only 100,000 PS3 units on November 11. And less than a week later, North American hopefuls will be competing for only 400,000. That North American number actually compares favorably with the number of Xbox 360 units that Microsoft is generally believed to have launched with, but while I happily camped outside a store to get my hands on a 360 with Project Gotham Racing 3, I've yet to see a single PS3 game that I'm that excited about.
The bottom line for me is that Sony needs to have a spectacular Tokyo Game Show later this month. Good press coming out of that event won't put extra consoles on shelves or make the European delay any easier to swallow for the Sony faithful whom it affects, but maybe some exciting new exclusive games and something resembling good news will be enough to dissuade PS2 owners who have yet to enter the next generation from exchanging their PS3 piggy banks for shiny new Xbox 360s--which is what I've been advising most of my friends to do.
Final Fantasy XIII, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, and Resistance: Fall of Man, and I'll admit they're impressive (although only one of them is actually a launch title). However, I can get just as excited about games like Gears of War, Okami, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess--and I don't have to spend $600 and join the mobs of rabid Sony fanboys on launch day to play those games.
Even if Sony were able to launch the PlayStation 3 worldwide this November with 50 million available units, I still wouldn't buy one. I'm not the type of person to rush out and buy any console on launch day. The only console I've actually purchased within the launch window is the Nintendo 64, so I don't qualify as an early adopter by any means. I waited seven months to buy my Xbox 360, a year for my PlayStation 2 and GameCube, and four years for my Xbox. Some people have no doubt seen their hopes dashed by the news of the PlayStation 3 delay, but I've learned that patience pays off when it comes to investing in new game consoles. Not only will you likely pay less up front, but you won't have to fight the annoying store clerk for your preorder, and when you do finally get the system it will already have a decent library of games.
The delay of the PlayStation 3 is not only welcome, but absolutely necessary if it gives Sony more time to work out the kinks and deliver a solid system, rather than pushing an unfinished product on consumers just to get a piece of the holiday market. At this point I won't be surprised if the PlayStation 3 also misses its target launch in the US and Japan--and I won't be disappointed, either.
The recent news that the PlayStation 3 launch has been delayed in Europe until March 2007 due to Blu-Ray issues can't be good news for the console. Also, the recent report suggests that there may be shortages of the hardware at launch--only 100,000 units in Japan and 400,000 in the US (though Sony apparently later claimed that it "had not announced specific ship numbers for Japan or North America"). Like one caller who dialed in to a previous HotSpot podcast, you might be wondering, "where's the good news, Sony?" If there's a silver lining anywhere, I'm having trouble finding it. Remember the Xbox 360 launch, when retailers took advantage of the scarcity of the units to mark up bundle packages to insane prices? I remember seeing some going for as much as $10,000 (and keep in mind, this is for a $300-$400 system). Apparently, retailers have already started putting together some very pricey bundles for the hardware, and considering the base price of the PS3 is $499 with the smaller hard drive, if the console does launch in short supply, the sky's the limit on the prices that retailers can use to gouge early adopters.
Also, apparently, the delay was caused by a Blu-Ray manufacturing issue because of a specific part that proved to be more difficult to mass-produce than Sony thought. It'd be easy to dismiss this kind of miscalculation as hubris, but considering Sony's recent issues with overheating computer batteries and its spotty record of reliable PS2 hardware, it's hard not to look at this development and not wonder about Sony's ability to research, develop, and manufacture durable computer hardware, period. It's pretty clear that Sony had hoped that the PS3 would be both a popular game machine and the first Blu-Ray media player for most consumer households, the same way the PS2 was more or less an ambassador for the DVD format--but the DVD was basically uncontested at the time. It didn't seem like there was a clear winner in the HD-DVD versus Blu-Ray video format wars (with the possible exception of this hard-hitting development), but this delay could really tip the scales in favor of HD-DVD as a popular, established format that gets the jump on household purchases this holiday season, especially if the PS3 isn't on store shelves to compete with it for our friends in Europe.
The launch delay in Europe means that a few of our friends on the other side of the pond will have to wait a few more months to play, but the ramifications of the rest of Sony's press release also tosses the rest of the gaming world for a loop.
Initially, Sony forecasted that it would ship 2 million consoles during the launch time frame. Now that number stands at a quarter of the initial value: 500,000 units. Personally, I think Sony's new number might still be on the optimistic side. Traditionally, the company offers up rosy scenarios in its press releases.
Even if the company meets these new goals, I can't wait to see the prices. We can all agree that Microsoft botched the 360 launch, and it still managed to ship 1.5 million units. Put your hand in your pocket if you got a 360 last year. Now open up your wallet if you paid through the nose for it. The PlayStation 3 is already set at an exorbitantly high $500 (and $600 for the package with the larger hard drive)--those numbers will easily double, if not triple, in the grey market.
You might as well start waiting in line now if you've got money. Otherwise, find a bat and wait at the back of the line. Or, you could pick up a 360...or swing your way into a merry Wii-nter wonderland (which will likely be the scenario for most).
While it's not at all clear that the battle between the two formats will be concluded anytime soon, Sony's delays in the production of the Playstation 3 is mirrored in its repeated delays of its flagship stand-alone player, the thousand-dollar BDP-S1, which was originally scheduled to come out this summer but has now been pushed all the way back to October 25. If the drive in the BDP-S1 is basically the same as that of the Playstation 3, then Sony may face an interesting choice of whether it should simply push back the launch of the stand-alone player indefinitely and use the drives intended for those machines to bolster the number of PS3s in the retail channel. This wouldn't exactly be without repercussions for the publisher--as the champion of the format, Sony is expected to deliver some kind of standalone Blu-Ray player (however ugly and expensive it may be); but on the plus side, there are plenty of other stand-alone players coming from Samsung, Philips, and other manufacturers. Of course, even those players might not be enough to push Blu-Ray over HD-DVD. The first Samsung player is apparently incapable of playing the upcoming 50-gigabyte movie discs, and Sony's first writeable PC Blu-Ray drive actually shipped in Australia without the ability to play back Blu-Ray movie discs.
The home-video market is a fairly large slice of the home-entertainment pie, with DVD sales and rentals alone racking up more than 22 billion dollars in revenue in 2005. Sony definitely wants its format to be the winner in the next-gen home-video contest, since each Blu-Ray disc sold will net them royalties. (Time Warner and Toshiba currently get hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties for the DVD format, and Toshiba is leading the development of the HD-DVD technology.) Of course, Sony also wants to be the leader in the next-generation console market, but if the company is facing production difficulties this close to its launch, then we have to wonder whether or not its attempts to get its fingers in both pies will eventually wind up costing it one--or both.
At any rate, one thing is clear: We can all look forward to being forced to buy superexpensive bundles if we want to get a Playstation 3 this fall.
Editor's Note: Both Sarju's and Andrew's entries previously made reference to the $500 unit not having a hard drive, when, in fact, it will ship with a 20GB hard drive, as opposed to the $600 unit with a 60GB hard drive. GameSpot regrets the error.