BY ADAM BONANNI VIDEO GAMES EDITOR Sony can tell you firsthand that there’s only one direction to go after being number one: down. After starting out with an enviable track record with the unprecedented, astronomical success of the Playstation and Playstation 2, Sony now finds itself in last place in number of units sold, behind Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s Wii. That includes Sony’s main entry into this generation’s console race, Playstation 3, as well as its much-hyped foray into the handheld gaming market, Playstation Portable, which is lagging noticeably behind Nintendo’s DS.
After Sony’s infamous E3 ’06 press conference, in which they announced the sticker-shock $599 price point of the Playstation 3, lackluster software including, things only seemed to pick up speed downhill. The consensus amongst both consumers and industry watchers was that games often looked better on the Xbox 360, featured more robust online options, and with once Playstation-exclusive franchises like Metal Gear Solid and Grand Theft Auto going multi-platform (with exclusive content for Xbox), the incentives to buy Sony’s big black box over Xbox almost ran dry. Developers, too, were having trouble making use of Sony’s complex architecture. This came to a head when Activision President Bobby “Balls-Out” Kotick issued the ultimatum heard ’round the world: “Either Playstation 3 gets its shit together, or we stop investing development time in it.” Although Sony’s rebuttal was cool and collected on the surface, the writing on the wall was clear: when the publisher of golden cash heifers Guitar Hero and Call of Duty threatens to pull the plug, its time to make some serious changes.
Well, a change has come, and the hefty PS3 has shed quite a few pounds, like its predecessors, to become the PS3 Slim. Cautious optimists rejoice, Sony has just re-entered the console race swinging for the fences with a competitive new price tag ($299), which will take some burden off Sony’s bottom line with a smaller and cheaper to manufacture microprocessor. Although when questioned, Sony President Kaz Hirai admitted Sony will still be losing money on every PS3 Slim sold, he is confident that the public will have renewed interest in the system’s software, which is the real money maker. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, since some great looking games are making their way to the system come fall/winter, including Uncharted 2, Final Fantasy XIII, and the masterful looking The Last Guardian. The redesign the PSP is receiving in the form of PSP GO also paves the way for some pretty new and innovative ideas. Eschewing physical media, the emphasis is placed on cheaper, downloadable games delivered right to the system’s internal flash memory. Sony doesn’t look like they’re about to sit by this generation and take the flack that’s been thrown their way, but we’ll see in the coming months if they can steer this sinking ship between the icebergs.