Can the PS3 Be Saved?

The PS3 hasn’t performed as well as expected. In fact, since E3 last year, not much has actually gone Sony’s way. There was the removal of features, loss of exclusives, extreme price and severe supply constraint… and that’s just leading up to the launch. Once November 17th rolled around, there were people camping outside of Best Buy to get PS3s so that they could scalp them on eBay for extreme prices, and that worked for a while. Then buyers got sick of paying for a system with one semi-desirable game, a blu-ray player with questionable usefulness and a really bad PS2 emulator. They’re not the only one. Gabe Newell, Co-founder and Managing Director of Valve Software, had this to say about the PS3:

“The PS3 is a total disaster on so many levels. I think it’s really clear that Sony lost track of what customers wanted and what developers wanted. I’d say, even at this late date, they should cancel it and do a ‘do over.’ Just say, ‘This was a horrible disaster and we’re sorry and we’re going to stop selling this and stop trying to convince people to develop for it.’”

Even after all that, it’s still possible for the PS3 to turn it all around. With that in mind, I decided to try and figure out a way for the PS3 to make a solid recovery, so I started sending emails and making calls. I talked to N’Gai Croal of Newsweek, Chris Baker of Wired and several others in my quest to see what could change and bring Sony back from this black hole of negative buzz. Here’s what we came up with.

Cut Off the Head

It’s absolutely true that Sony has had better PR moments than what we’ve seen recently. What could be the root cause of all this bad PR? “Sony’s PS3 problems stem not from production issues or even pricing – though both are significant problems, both can be overcome with time and effort,” said Jakub Wojnarowicz, Games Editor-in-Chief of Firing Squad. ” What cannot be overcome without Sony’s active involvement is the rooting out of the cause of these problems: Ken Kutaragi.”

Kutaragi, the father of the Playstation, has made Sony quite a bit of money over the years, so it seems that they aren’t too keen to get rid of him. However, Kutaragi was recently “promoted” out of his job of President of Sony Computer Entertainment (SCEI) and given the position of Chairman of SCEI. Though this “promotion” isn’t attributed to bad PS3 press, it surely couldn’t have helped.

At Least the PS2 Was A DVD Player

No matter what could have happened up to the point when the console launched, as soon as the first really great game comes out, all is forgiven. However, that hasn’t happened yet and it doesn’t really look like it’s going to any time soon. “Nothing in the launch lineup is going to convince people that the PS3 does anything that the XBox 360 can’t, and the killer app exclusives are still several months away,” said Wired Associate Editor, Chris Baker. “The Gran Turismo giveaway was a very smart move—Sony needs to flood the pipeline with more free (or at least very cheap) exclusives like that. The faster they can fill the pipeline with free demo levels of Motorstorm, Heavenly Sword, Warhawk and etc., the better.”

Chris isn’t alone is his assessment of the launch lineup situation. Tom Chick, freelance journalist and editor, agreed with Chris’ viewpoint. “I think their biggest problem is the launch line-up,” said Chick. “They really needed a powerful franchise as a hook, and Ridge Racer ain’t it. The PS3 launch was the absolute worst time to have a developer like Insomniac try to launch a derivative concept like Resistance, which is Half-Life meets Call of Duty. Instead, they should have had a new Ratchet & Clank ready. There should have been a GTA or a Final Fantasy.”

Well, that’s one problem that’s basically out of Sony’s hands, other than pressuring companies to produce faster, or even making their own successful game. However, that may not be very easy considering the tools that most developers currently have.

Better Development Tools and Support

Sony, historically, hasn’t had the easiest-to-develop-for consoles, and this one doesn’t seem to be an exception. Though the PS3 isn’t as notoriously hard to program for as the PS2, it has that stigma hanging around it. Sony has tried to counter-act that bit of unpleasantness by purchasing SN Systems, a software tool development company, but it just isn’t quite there yet.

Erick Schonfeld with Business 2.0 said, “They need game developers to come out with unbelievable games that you can’t get on the XBox or anywhere else. This should be possible given the capabilities of the Cell processor powering the PS3, but programming for the Cell is not something that most developers can do easily right out of the gate.”

Is All This Negative Buzz Just Us?

The one question that keeps nagging at me is, “Why are you being so hard on the PS3?” You know, it’s certainly early in this cycle and no one has lost yet, so why are we all judging? Our friend N’Gai Croal, a Newsweek columnist, had this to say about the subject:

“What you’re seeing is a supply problem. According to Sony, they shipped a million units in North America. I spoke to Jack Tretton, CEO of Playstation America, and he said that they’re not sitting in a factory in China, they’re in the US and on store shelfs or moving through the chain. We don’t have any visibility of what’s going on in Japan, but anecdotally, there are supposedly units on the shelves. If that’s so, then we may have turned the corner on the supply issues and that’s what they’ve said publicly. If that’s the case then we have to see what the demand is, and that’s 45 to 50 days after the launch. It’s a little early too tell. What you’re talking about is the negative buzz that popped up around the PS3 this last year after E3. If they launch in Europe in March, that would suggest that they’ve worked out their supply problems.”

“People like you and me, other game journalist, bloggers and people who post on forums may be typical of the hardcore, but are atypical of the entire population. Absent some sort of real market research, while there is buzz among the console intelligencia, I don’t know how that buzz is reflected in the population of PS3 owners.“

You know, maybe he’s right. They’re Sony after all, and it’s very early. The Playstation name and some price-dropping could turn this thing around quickly. I could look back on this article in a year and think, “How could I have been so silly?” I really think that Mr. Chick summed it up best:

“However, it’s important to remember that stumbling out of the gate isn’t a measure of anything but the first stretch of the race. I’d say Sony has a year to do things differently before things get really dire.“

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