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The Console Wars Claims Its First Victim?

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For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground/And tell sad stories of the death of kings; How some have been deposed; some slain in war…Richard II

Pardon the college sophomore Shakespeare citation, but the latest news in the next gen console wars brings out my sense of the tragic. (As it did last week.) “The Father of the Playstation” and the “Gutenberg of Video Games”, Ken Kutaragi, has just been nudged from his position as president of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SCEI), hereby replaced by Kaz Hirai of SCEI’s US wing.

In one of those lovably surreal corporate moves, Kutaragi is actually being promoted, while losing day-to-day control over Playstation development.

(Moving up while moving out?) According to KBC analyst Hiroshi Kamide, bringing Harai into the position is a way to repair relations with all-important third party developers of Playstation games, since Harai is better equipped to communicate with them. (While Kutaragi, according to Newsweek’s N’Gai Croal, was slow to return their phonecalls.) Another Japanese analyst even goes so far to speculate that this move means the end of Sony’s days as a console maker; no Playstation 4, in other words, with the company instead shifting to become, like Sega before it, a mere game developer.

Once a rising star, last year Kutaragi was demoted, with the Playstation 3 seen as his chance to redeem himself. This latest move almost certainly confirms that this redemption has failed, and that Sony is acknowledging (belatedly, or perhaps far too late) that their status as console king is in grave peril.

“For a while, Kutaragi seemed untouchable at Sony,” a former Sony executive in digital music and entertainment tells me. “In fact, we all heard he was on the shortlist for head of the company (if a bit of a bad-boy darkhorse), before [Howard] Stringer was confirmed. This seems like quite a fall, becoming emeritus and what seems like minister without portfolio (i.e., no direct ownership or control of Playstation that isn’t vetted by the board)… unless I’m reading too much between the lines.”

Almost surely not. So let us sit on the ground and recall the days when Kutaragi was king, for God’s sake. For all the grand mistakes and missed opportunities made in bringing the PS3 to market, let us remember the time when Kutaragi ruled. His Playstation 2 ranks as one of last great technologies of the 20th century (or if you prefer, the first great device of the 21st), a console that helped make great gaming a true mass market phenomenon. An elegant, beautiful piece of hardware, it finally made videogames seem grown-up, cool, even sexy, and I will remember Sony’s legendary E3 parties of yesteryear (thousands of Los Angeles’ most gorgeous in attendance, some of the greatest rock bands from Sony’s labels performing live, all lit up in the company’s trademark electric neon blue) as emblematic of the Kutaragi era. With Microsoft’s ascension to the console throne, those golden days may never come again, but never forget that Kutaragi was the man who helped create this worldwide empire of gaming we all live in now.

22 Responses to “The Console Wars Claims Its First Victim?”

  1. Interesting article though I doubt Sony will stop making consoles as most of the gamers I know either go for Nintendo or Sony consoles, I know very few people going for an Xbox console. And Xbox is not taking the throne, always remember Nintendo brought gaming to the world and they will always be there. Kutaragi was slightly important in video game history but there are many more important characters than him such as Shigeru Miyamoto, and as I said, Nintendo brought games to the world and are the most important thing ever to happen to video games.

  2. the console war is not about hardware performance, its a popularity contest. The way Sega was big in europe but nintendo was big in the US. It is how it is perceived by the public and then how the pblics demand evoloves into publisher investment. There has always been better consoles such as the atari jaguar the sega cd etc but they didn’t take off because of public interest.

    The over pricing of consoles is also a factor! the reason why sony was so succesful is that its console was ready to play off the shelf the new genration of consoles need four or five additional items!

  3. The PS3’s long term success is reasonably assured. It will probably not dominate the market as the PS2 achieved though because Microsoft really has done quite a good job with its X-BOX live. However I think slipping through the middle is Nintendo. Like the DS, the Wii is going to expand into market areas that Sony and Microsoft have failed to address: girls, older gamers and families! The X-BOX really is rated X – males, 18 to 24 year old only! Sony may go the same way. The Wii offeres something new, fun and family friendly. And games for the Wii cost just a fraction to develop compared to the hi-res games on PS3 and 360. Let me see… low cost to develop and bigger, wider markets? Er… I don’t know about your accountants and CEOs but I’m betting mine would bet on the Wii. Actually I would really like Nintendo, purely a “games” company, to succeed – what about you? :-)

  4. To declare anyone a winner or indeed a loser in the current console war would be absurd, also to try and compare it to the previous round of consoles(or indeed the previous 2,3 etc rounds).

    The PS3 has come late to the market particularly Europe and will suffer from missing out on 1 xmas compared with the wii and 2 on the Xbox360, however no console war has ever been won on the strength of a launch of a console and I have a massive problem believing that Sony will withdraw from the market place without even engaging in the current console war (altho not anyway near as much of a problem as believing the “Gutenberg of Video Games” comment considering viedo games had been around over 20 yrs before he even got involved, and if you must insist on Gutenberg being a console game developer im afraid that Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo would suit the crown alot more).

    The way I see the current console bout devloping in the long term is unclear Microsoft put massive pressure on Sony by rushing its comparative console to the market 12months earlier, while Nintendo is attempting the avoid the proverbial Mhz war by completly differentiating its console from the others. I think the Wii will have initial success but will suffer from a lack of third party games and developers who in the long term dont want to spend the level of extra time developing watered down versions of their games and new control mapping when they can easily port them between PC/Xbox/PS3. I think the console will be great fun and have some great games but will ultimately fizzle out and possibly spell the end of Nintendo as a console developer if it doesnt manage to shift enough units. I think the PS3 will gradually close the gap on the 360 not least because it is still the brand in the market. Parents still substitue the word playstation for games console. The race will be much closer though than this time around and I think we will see Microsoft once again rush their next console to the market where I feel they may ultimately reign supreme then.

  5. I’m not sure when Microsoft became king of the console exactly.

    So the story goes: Limited availability due to manufacturing delays. Popular after its release so it was quite hard to find one on retailer shelves. Overpriced at the start. The launch seemed unimpressive and gaffe-prone, compared to the well-planned launch of the competitor, which was making a genuine attempt to woo developers and which had better launch titles.

    But the odd thing is that’s the PS2 story, not the PS3 one.

    The competitor was Sega, not Microsoft, the price was £299, but other than that the PS3 has mirrored it’s predecessor – too long in coming, couldn’t meet demand, too hard for games producers to write for, to expensive, predictions of doom…

    Current total sales of the PS2 are 111,250,000 and they’re still selling 5 million a quarter ( Microsoft has sold 24 million Xboxes and it took them 9 months to sell as 5 million Xbox360s. Analysts are skeptical they’ll hit their target of 10 million by the end of 2006.

    Let Sony get their console out in all markets before you declare them dead in the water.

  6. Boondock Saint

    To say that Sony is egressing from the console wars is a bit hasty. The company has had its problems lately, and Microsoft isn’t about to let off any of the pressure. Here’s how I see it (for what that’s worth):

    Sony will finally catch up to the demand for the PS3. The games themselves are what sells the consoles, however. Good games will come out and sales will steady.

    Microsoft’s XBOX 360 will continue along at its current pace, and spike when certain new titles come out (Lost Planet, Mass Effect, Halo 3).

    The Wii will find a much wider audience because Nintendo knows that graphics are not as important as gameplay in the minds of the masses. It will continue to create innovative, fun games and will always have a piece of the market. At it’s current pricepoint, less than even the basest of XBOX 360s, the Wii will propagate (sp?) the current phenomenon – people owning multiple consoles.

    When it comes down to brass tacks, Sony, MicroSoft and Nintendo all have their places – which is at the altar of comsumer spending, praying that the games are good enough to justify the cost of the system. Some must pray harder than others.

  7. Anonymous

    Sony are a spent force who are withdrawing from their markets at a frightening rate…

    the people at the top are too concerned about making their division (or section/department/office) profitable without actually having any ideas about how the company can be an innovator…

    they’re running scared and the climate within the company is one of absolute panic and ruthlessness, with the main management concentrating only on staying out of the firing line so that they are not the next to be made redundant.

    exactly the same thing was happening at ICl before Fujistsu engulfed them.

    Sony are going down.

  8. Sony’s had a lot of bad PR recently – the exploding laptop batteries, the botched Jap release of the PS3, the non-release in Europe, the DRM spyware on CD’s etc. Its not surprising there’s been a reshuffle at the top but Sony are playing catchup to Microsoft who have stolen a huge march on Sony with the x-box this year.

  9. The PS3 is more like a Diesel Turbo than an Ferrari when it comes to taking the lead. It has started off slowly but once programmers start to reap the reward of getting their heads round the sheer power of the PS3 then sales will rocket ahead of the XBox 360.
    I only hope that the game design houses invest in the Long term potential of the PS3 and the superior gaming experience it truly has to offer, rather than short term profits on glossier same old-same old

  10. Mohammad

    Every single PS3 that Sony made has been sold. Every PS3 Sony will make for next year will be sold too. I just do not see Sony getting out of the Game console business. Comparing Sony to Sega is like comparing apples to all the other fruits out there. Sega did not have much of a choice, gaming was their bread and butter. Sony on the other hand is all over the map. Here are my futuristic speculations:
    – Sony Ericsson Playstation cell phone will come out some time in late 2007, early 2008. Maybe this will be called the PSP2.
    – Sony will take a long time to come up with PS4. Not because they are getting out of the console business, but because it will take the other game console makers a long time to catch up with the PS3 in terms of gaming power.

  11. This is quite an informal jump of the gun for a blog that specializes in technology news. Seems misguided, opinionated, and short-sighted as well.

    I doubt the playstation is dead, and you can quote me on that.

  12. I don’t know, it looks like the typical easy opinion from an ‘analyst’. Two years down the road, if there’s a PS4, nobody will remember or care, if there isn’t he’ll just claim he knew all along…

    Come to think of it, analysts are pretty much like any other future-teller (and I’m including fortune cookies and slot machines in the bunch… ;)