State of the Game: Playstation 3

UPDATE (04-13-07): Sony has officially axed the 20GB model in North America. No longer will those models be shipped to any retailers. For the reasons stated below in the original article, this is absolutely ridiculous. This single move may mark the end of Playstation 3. I know you thought you’d never hear me say this, but Sony is dead wrong. What they have essentially done is taken the easy way out. While they could have launched a huge marketing campaign to educate the general public about the 20GB PS3 (it would be seen as a price cut, since most people claim the PS3 is $599 while it can [or could have been, before this shocking move] be had for $499) and in the process improve their current bad public image, they instead decided to just can the whole thing.

Because sales were low, they made the move that I predict will have huge consequences. $599 is a ridiculous price for a gaming console (especially when said console has so few good games), while $499 is only $100 away from the technologically-inferior Xbox 360. In a perfect world, Sony’s announcement would tell of the dropping of the 60GB SKU instead of the 20GB one. I look to the future with woe and hopelessness; MGS4 and Home may not be able to cure this damage. I can safely say, all Sony fanboyism aside, that I would not buy a PS3 if I were currently in the market. That extra $100 makes a huge difference, especially considering the fact that there are only one or two good exclusive games, a number that won’t grow to anything substantial for at least a year.

Note that this announcement makes the second rant/argument in the following article (about the 20GB version’s superiority) pretty irrelevant, considering buying one in the near future will be impossible.


I have decided to start a new type of column that would allow me to focus more on gaming, something that I have gotten away from in the recent posting. Dubbed “State of the Game”, it will focus on various aspects of gaming and discuss the latest news about it. All of this will of course be bundled with my commentary on the many issues.

First up is a subject of so much controversy and debate that it is almost scandalous: the Playstation 3. Released in Japan and the United States in November of 2006, the system has been selling relatively well. It was released in Europe, although in a modified form (no Emotion Engine inside, meaning no hardware PS2 emulations, which in turn means less PS2 games work on it) on March 23, 2007, and it’s launch cannot be seen as anything other than a success. There are many videos and pictures floating around on the Internet that show stores with tons of the systems on the shelves. While they are authentic pictures, the context must be considered.

Europe has never been a huge consumer base for gaming, and it doesn’t seem like it can ever catch up to the US and Japan. Unfortunately for those who do live there, this lesser demand means that almost all of their games are released months, if not years, later. This is seen with the PS3, as it was released over four months after the original US release. That said, this relative lack of gaming consumerism in Europe means that the sale of any system on launch day and the few weeks following will usually pale in comparison to US figures. Even so, the numbers for Europe are not at all measly. In all of Europe, the system sold 600,000 units during its launch weekend, about 150,000 of which were in the UK. This is pretty much equivalent to the US numbers, showing how well the system did considering the fewer consumer base. Interestingly enough, as those many Internet photos didn’t hesitate to point out, there was a surplus of systems. The game system did not sell out at launch, so everyone dubbed it a failed launch. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as the PS3 launch numbers in the UK dwarfed both the Wii and 360 launch. In fact, it was the largest launch in the country’s history for any video game console.

Aside from the Sony haters erroneously claiming that the European launch was a failure, there has been a recent retail trend that I care to point out and comment on. As you are likely aware, the Playstation 3 is available in two models: the $499 version that includes a 20GB hard drive in addition to the system itself and a wireless controller, and the $599 version that includes a 60Gb hard drive, the system itself, a wireless controller, a wireless internet adapter, media card readers for various types of flash media (MS, SD, CF, etc.), and of course the all-important chrome trimming on the exterior. While it may initially seem that the $599 is obviously better choice, you must consider what exactly it is that it gives you. All chrome trimming aside, it gives you 40GB more of hard drive space, the wireless internet adapter, and the media card readers. All of that is for $100. I, however, believe that the $599 version is a complete rip-off and that any gamer, no matter what their situation, should purchase the $499 version.

My rationale is simple. The chrome trimming is obviously worthless, and in some opinions even looks less attractive than the pure black model. The media readers are also pointless, as many cameras will work on the PS3 via USB; even if they don’t, who really wants to view their SD card on their PS3? USB thumb drives are a much more practical form of flash storage, since everything supports it (including the 20GB PS3). As for the hard drive space, I don’t think the average person will need 20GB any time soon. The Playstation Store has very little content overall, so there isn’t much to fill up that drive. Save games don’t even begin to scratch the surface of one gigabyte, let alone twenty.

The only thing that could use so much space is extensive music or video collections. However, I believe that if someone would fill 20GB with music and video, then the likelihood is that they will also fill 60GB. Therefore, the size of the disk is irrelevant because none of the pre-installed drives are enough for those who want to truly use them. In their case, they can upgrade the hard drive (which Youtube shows us is very easy to do) to a 250GB or greater drive. After all, the PS3’s video format, MPEG-4, makes HUGE file sizes for HD content. A few movies would fill the 60GB drive in no time (not to mention you’d spend half a lifetime converting the files to HD MPEG-4). Therefore, someone will either be content with 20GB or would require way more than 60GB, meaning that either way the 20GB model would suit them (the latter instance would simply remove the 20GB drive and replace it with a larger one; BTW, the $100 saved from getting the cheaper version of the PS3 can buy a 200GB drive last time I checked).

The final difference between the versions is the wireless internet adapter. This is the only feature that I consider to be very important in some cases. Simply put, some people cannot connect their PS3 to their Internet without wireless. The system may be in their living room, while the computer/router is in their bedroom. Whatever the case, it is a fact that some people require wireless. But the extra $100 is hardly worth it… luckily, in a recent system update for the console (something that Sony consistently does to improve the overall features and usability of the system), the PS3 enables the use of an external wireless adapter. It was originally known that Sony would support this, but most naysayers believed that adding wireless in this way would exempt you from using the PSP Remote Play feature; this is NOT the case, and the PS3 w/ external wireless adapter has been confirmed to work with PSP.

Now that I have hopefully established that the $499 20GB version of the PS3 is clearly the better choice for any non-ridiculously-wealthy-and-wasteful gamer, I will get back to my main point about a newly developing trend in retail. The 60GB, more expensive version, is outselling the cheaper one by vast proportions. In fact, an article over on the site posted earlier today tells how certain retail locations and even some online locations (including Sony’s own SonyStyle!) are dropping support for the $499 version. It simply isn’t selling, according to Sony spokesman Satoshi Fukuoka.

The fact that retailers are dropping support is simply them following procedure. If something isn’t selling well, they drop it from inventory to cut needless costs and boost profit. They’re in the business to make money, just like everyone else. It isn’t the retailers’ fault that the 20GB version is failing; they simply provide an outlet through which consumers can buy something. Rarely do they advise on what to buy, and consumers don’t expect them to (though I’m sure many retailer employees would tell PS3 shoppers that the 20GB version is inferior; they get more money that way). The lack of demand shows how American consumers are obsessed with anything that has the word “Premium” in it. The lack of knowledge about the two versions leads consumers to wrongly conclude that the cheaper version is inferior. After all, cheap things must be of lesser quality, right?

Perhaps this is in part due to the Xbox 360 launch a year earlier. The consumers were exposed to the two version system, and it was clear that everyone went with the Premium package. In 360’s case, however, the Core package is horrifically crippled, to the point where getting one is doing yourself an injustice (no HD = no XBL downloads, which means missing half the fun of XBL). No hard drive in that Core system ruins everything for the consumer (and also for developers who cannot assume a hard drive is present due to Microsoft’s publishing terms). When consumers viewed the 360 situation, they probably assumed the PS3’s lesser version was equally as worthless. However, that is not the case as I’ve explained above hopefully in clear detail.

As I’ve said, the retailers dropping of the 20GB version is simply them doing their job and trying to maximize profits. The consumers not knowing what to purchase is not their fault — their lack of knowledge on the subject is the fault of Sony’s marketing. I cast all blame regarding this trend on Sony itself. The fact that Sony is dropping the product from their online SonyStyle store shows how little commitment they have to the success of the product. Never before have I seen a company turn their back on their own product. It seems from the very beginning the 20GB version was setup to fail. It initially was going to come without HDMI and with a wired controller, which likely would have sent the version the way of the 360 Core package. But then when the announcements came that the 20GB version included all the features of the full version minus the minor features detailed above, gamers everywhere should have gotten excited. After all, buying a PS3 would mean $499 instead of $599. But nope… the $599 version eclipsed its cheaper brother. It seems that the general public was never properly educated about the fundamental equality of the two systems. Where is Sony in all of this? They’re nowhere! I believe Sony should make a major effort to educate the consumers about the validity of this cheaper version instead of simply cowering away at the sight of slumping sales figures.

The only reason I can think of for Sony to let the 20GB version fail is because it causes them to lose so much money. Having essentially all the same hardware as its more expensive variation, it costs $100 less. The differences between them clearly don’t add up to $100 from the manufacturer’s standpoint; I’d be surprised if one cost $20 more than the other. Even if this is the case, and Sony fears losing more money per unit than they do with the more popular $599 version, it is still not an excuse. They need to realize that selling the PS3s is absolutely essential for the future of their gaming platform. Developers need to see that making a multi-million-dollar game project exclusively on the PS3 will be worth it — this can only be the case if there are millions of potential buyers for that game, something that will only come to fruition if Sony gets its act together. More PS3s in people’s homes is what Sony needs to succeed, something that would be easier to accomplish if consumers realized that the cheaper version was a viable option and in no way hampered.

It is no secret that one of the biggest problems with PS3 is its price. Most people simply cannot swallow the $599 require to purchase one. But what everyone needs to realize is that it is actually $100 less (assuming the 20GB version doesn’t vanish completely at some point soon). The $499 number may still be high for most people, but once the inevitable price cut does come, that $100 difference may just put the less-than-premium PS3 in the price range of many more people. Say that Sony gives PS3 a $50 price drop in a year or two. Is $549 really that much more of an attractive number? $449, however, would be within one game’s price of a 360 Premium, and by that time the PS3 should have the games to make getting one worth while.

The bottom line: The PS3 is the best selling console in Europe’s history, and its European launch equaled its US launch. Considering it still had a surplus of systems does not mean demand was low, but only that Sony actually met launch demand (something that rarely happens during a console launch) and thus should be applauded for their manufacturing fortitude. As for the two versions of the system: If you are in the market for a PS3, do yourself a financial favor and get the cheaper version. If the 20GB drive gets too small, spend the money and upgrade later to something larger. Don’t be fooled into paying $100 for a 40GB hard drive upgrade or for a wireless internet capability; both can be had for half the $100 difference using third-party add-ons.