The bad news just doesn’t stop for Sony. Exploding laptop batteries. Telling gamers that they’ll pay any price, regardless of how expensive, for the PS3. Kaz Hirai shouting “Riiiiidge Racer!” at E3. And now this.
1up News is reporting that according to the European Herald Tribune, the PS3 will be delayed in Europe until an unspecified date in March of 2007. Sony will instead be focusing it’s efforts on launches in the United States and Japan. Ken Kutaragi (President of Sony Computer Entertainment) indicated that he was “sorry not to be able to answer all the expectations”.
Clearly this is horrible news for Sony and for European gamers. My heart goes out to millions of folks in the U.K. and Germany and Russia who had ‘November 17’ circled on their calendar and were hoping to have a console this holiday season — particularly since the European market has been particularly loyal to Sony, accounting for a large portion of their market share.
I took a trip over to Microsoft Community Manager Major Nelson’s blog (great source of Xbox 360 news, but this guy almost always seems to catch the bad Sony news and has all of his fanboys lavish in it with their posts). Naturally he had the story posted. About a hundred gamers had already posted their poorly thought out comments about how this meant the death of Sony and “long live the 360.” But certain facts can be deduced from the announcement. Most of them bad for Sony. But some, not quite so bad.
Let’s explore them.
- Manufacturing Problems? – I would venture to say that the PS3 might be having some sort of manufacturing problems. People immediately took the news reported two weeks ago that production had not begun on the PS3 to mean that Sony is being lazy. What it translated to me is: “We’re having problems with the production ‘run’…we keep getting faulty units… and we don’t want to start the major ‘run’ until we can get them worked out. The most horrifying thought I keep having is that there’s a major problem in the production that they are working night and day to resolve. The worst possible scenario here — the one that will kill customer confidence and drive the final nail into the entire Sony (and I’m talking TVs, Blu-Ray….everything) empire is if they ship two million defective PS3s.
- European Gamers Feel Shunned? – Anyone who analyzes the reasons behind focusing on the U.S. and Japan should understand that this isn’t anything personal against the European gamers. I’m sure they’d sell to every country on day one if they could. But the fact remains… this will be viewed by European gamers as, “you put us on hold while you tended to the needs of your favorite child.” Looking at their websites, European gamers are just as gung-ho as anyone else. Adding another four months to their wait (that is, at least four months…Sony still hasn’t committed to a date in March ’07) has to be a dagger that makes them wonder whether Sony has their best interest in mind.
- Development Community Patience Wearing Thin – Developers of PS3 games have already been complaining about the system being ‘harder to develop for that other platforms’, not to mention Sony’s failure to provide them with a heads to the fact that the PS3 controller would have motion detection. Add this new news to the list of reasons that could make them start focusing on other platforms. With PS3s being sold only in the U.S. and Japan for almost a third of the upcoming fiscal year, companies making PS3 games will have to wait a bit longer to start seeing expanded profits. You can’t sell games in Europe if the system isn’t out. All of the recent bad news has to be making developers think about whether Sony is a partner they want to work with in the future.
Now, the “not quite so bad”
- Is the Xbox 360 a Substitute for PS3 Gamers? – As much as gamers will be upset at the delays of the PS3, I don’t think this automatically means that they’ll be flocking to buy 360s. Or Nintendo Wiis. While the PS3 and Xbox 360 are very close in spec, I don’t think the general public perception is holding to this. The majority of the non-techy, non-geeky gamers perceive the PS3 as the more powerful system. Perhaps that could change in time, and maybe it’s not quite as strong in Europe, but for the mainstream gamer, I don’t necessarily think that the 360 is a substitute for their Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy playing PS3 any more than the 360 is a substitute for the Wii.
- Opportunity to reward European Gamers? – For Sony, this has to be a public relations nightmare. But it presents and opportunity to reward European gamers for their patience. Give them a slight price cut. Perhaps throw in another PS3 controller? Give them a coupon for a launch game. Pack in a copy of a PS3 Preview Disc of games. Hell, do something. Folks who will have waited until March are true loyalists and should be rewarded for even considering a PS3 amidst all of the negative press and being “put on hold”.
- Shortages Create Unbelievable Buzz. – As bad as it is for consumers when you aren’t able to fill demand, it creates an unbelievable media buzz. People who don’t even want gaming systems all of a sudden recognize you as the hot, must-have item of the year. And for items like Cabbage Patch Kids, Furbies, Tickle Me Elmos and others, that buzz carries on into the next year. Microsoft benefited from it last year. Sony will this year. It’s going to be much worse for Sony, but hopefully things stay peaceful. (Of course this buzz will be completely countered if any news of ‘PS3 Defects’ start to arise.)
There’s no way to sugar coat this. Sony is in big trouble. And it’s going to take a Herculean effort this holiday season to bring them back. Europe is an important market for gaming. Let’s hope that confidence stays strong in gaming overseas and that regardless of who triumphs, there will still be competition and a plethora of great games to choose from.