Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Opinion: Playstation 3

The Playstation 3 is only a couple days for release and even up here (Minnesota) people are already camping out to get one on Friday. Woke up this morning and the news already had that people had tents and were camping outside the Richfield, MN Best Buy (for those that don't know, Richfield is also the city where Best Buy HQ is located, but it is a separate building from the Best Buy store a half mile away). The Richfield Best Buy is the only one around here opening at midnight and when there are midnight openings for things, this is the store that is usually the only one open.

I have also heard reports of people already camping at 24-hour Wal-Mart locations (that would also sell at midnight) and I can only guess some Target stores may have lines starting. The problem with Target is that they also have a charity CD coming out for one of the local radio stations tomorrow morning.

I did not pre-order the PS3 or Wii and may or may not stand in line to get one or the other. My gut feeling is that the number of PS3 units available will be well below expectations, possibly a cut of as much as 50%. I can only guess there will end up being less PS3 systems at launch than 360 last year. I wonder if Sony will come out and say that they will not meet expectations or not. Chances are they won't since they haven't shown lately that they can be up front about stuff.

Much like the Wii below there are some valid questions to ask about the PS3, such as:

1. How big of a percentage of PS3s are going to go up on eBay by Christmas?
At this moment there are 2,441 PS3 systems up for sale at eBay. Back as far as October 31st at around 9am my time (Central) there were 2,260 that were put up for bid (but not necessarily sold). There can only be more that were put up between the pre-order date at Gamestop and October 31st. Given those first two numbers (and guessing that enough were sold in-between the dates I don't have) there are probably 5,000+ PS3s that have been put up for bid or sold at this point. Not knowing the full amount of units Gamestop, EB and Toys 'R Us have I can only go by Sony's initial 400k unit launch and say that a little over 1% of PS3s have been sold.

Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, Circuit City, etc. have not sold systems yet (Wal-Mart did do online stuff yesterday) and I can only guess a good chunk of those bought will go on eBay. The lure of money (most PS3s are going for over $2k currently...over 3x the price of the $599 system) is just going to be too great for people. The idea that you can make $1400 on this system and possibly make your family's Christmas a very good one is probably why people are already camping out here (in the's in the 40s, but the nights are below freezing) and elsewhere.

My best guess when all is said and done is that at least 25% of PS3s will be sold on eBay and I may be lowballing on my figure. The only thing that could screw up my percentage is if the saturation point of people willing to spend $2k on the system is hit. Chances are very good that that $2k price will go higher if you hold out past Thanksgiving on putting it up on eBay.
2. How strong is the launch lineup?
Much like the Wii below the launch lineup is not that exciting. Just like the Wii there is really only one standout game at launch, Resistance: Fall of Man. The other original games (not games on other systems) are Genji: Days of the Blade, Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire, and Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom. The last one could be another standout, but I haven't heard anything about it from any magazine at all. That's not a good indicator to be honest, especially since they are covering other games.

The rest of the games are multiplatform ones. Early reviews on the Activision ones (Tony Hawk's Project 8 and Call of Duty 3) is that there are major framerate hitches in both and the online component is either not there (THP8) or not as robust (CoD3). On the reverse side are the 2K sports games. NBA 2K7 has a 1080p output (supposedly running at 60fps) and the Sixaxis controller is used for free throws. Previews have noted that they can't tell a vast difference between the look of the PS3 and 360 versions, but I would guess once they have it in their hands and can play side-by-side they'd know.

Is the launch lineup stronger than the 360? That's more of a subjective opinion from anyone. From my vantage point the key games of the 360 launch were Project Gotham Racing 3, Call of Duty 2, Kameo (don't let anyone tell you this game sucks), Condemned and Perfect Dark Zero (hindered by the inability to meet hype). That's 5 worthy games in my opinion, but many people are not into racing or platform games for instance, eliminating 2 of those games. The key game to hone in on is Call of Duty 2 which really ran well on the 360 and the early review of Call of Duty 3 from Gamespot that says there is lots of slowdown even in empty places on the PS3.
3. Can the free online play challenge Xbox Live?
Sony has kept very quiet about this and maybe some of you don't know the full details, so I'll lay it out here. Unlike Microsoft who runs pretty much every game (minus EA games and some others) through their servers and Xbox Live service, the PS3 online service options will be limited by the publishers/developers who want to support it. Sony is leaving it to the companies to develop and run their online multiplayer. Sony is just giving us a way to connect to each other, but the companies will maintain and upgrade the servers the games run on. This is much like it was in the PS2 world with online, but with the move to PS3 I find that online multiplayer will become that much more important in the overall scheme of things.

Don't be surprised if some games come out where the company releasing it would like to see you pay an amount per month to play the game and keep the servers up and maintained. For a company like Electronic Arts it isn't too much trouble because they usually phase out online play on old games every year as the new iteration comes out, but for the smaller companies out there the only way for them to see a profit and not a loss via online play is to charge a fee. With Xbox Live almost all servers are handled by Microsoft and that is what we pay the $50 for. The companies develop the netcode for their games via the Live SDK, but Microsoft runs the servers the games run off of.

Neither way is necessarily perfect, but I don't see the PS3 online section being on every game like it pretty much is for the Xbox 360. With production costs already high for both systems (and the PS3 development is evidently higher than the 360), companies may decide to drop the PS3 online component to be cost effective.
4. Will the price keep people away after the initial release?
This will be the true test for the PS3: How will sales go once it is readily available? As noted above I figure a good percentage will be bought just to sell on eBay, but what about once all the craziness settles down? Can the PS3 outsell the 360 at the +$200 price point? It will be interesting.
5. Will the 20GB version be enough in memory space?
Word already is that there is an option to install several gigabytes onto the hard drive to run Ridge Racer 7 (5GB) and Genji: Day of the Blade (2GB). It is confirmed as an option on Genji, but no idea if it is one on RR7. The original Xbox cached a lot of stuff onto the hard drive in order to play a game faster and this is pretty much the same type of thing although the hard drive hit seems to be of a larger quantity. No word yet on other games needing this space, but it is quite possible that the 20GB version will be tapped out rather quickly. The good news is you can put any 2.5" hard drive into the PS3, but that's an extra price hit.
6. Can Sony overcome their overall bad PR moves?
Granted, most people won't know all about Sony's missteps with the PS3 and other things this year. E3 was a disaster for Sony, especially in comparison to the Wii and 360. The first big misstep was the announcement of the price. Sony believes enough people out there trust the name brand that they won't be pissed to pay $200 or $300 more than they did the PS2 at launch. Some polling place, which could be valid or not valid, even said a lot of people thought the PS3 was $300. Could there be people in the lines that don't know the actual price of the PS3? I think it would be tough because if they saw Sunday ads they would have seen the price.

Sony is also reliant on the Blu-Ray player on the PS3. This is them trying to push that format as the defacto one of the new generation of DVD players. It works well for those people that have 1080p systems in the fact that they get a player and game system for $400 less than a standalone player, but is the PS3 a better Blu-Ray player than the standalone one? I don't know. There may also be loading issues given that this is a first-generation Blu-Ray system versus one down the road that may speed up loading quite a bit. The good news is that it is probably quieter because it runs at a lower speed than the 360's DVD drive. It also allows for larger information to be stored on the disc. Whether that is good or not is up for debate.

The other misstep was obviously their battery problems with many notebook computer manufacturers. This will cost Sony a lot of money and I don't know whether people should be worried about the PS3 controller or not with the battery in it. If that battery blows up Sony could be in a world of hurt more than they are now. Sony is on its way to the toilet as a brand and they've put all their eggs into the PS3 basket hoping it will pay off as it did the 2 generations prior.
In the end I'd have to say the smartest move is to pass on the Playstation 3 at this moment. Resistance: Fall of Man is the only game to pick up and play and hopefully you'll have a friend that has the system and game and you can play it. The news is much more rosy as we move into next year with more (supposedly) exclusive offerings like Metal Gear Solid 4 and possibly Final Fantasy XIII along with many others.

In many ways I am sure people wished they would have waited a few months on the Xbox 360 because that was when things started to get good for many. I think the same thing is going to befall both the PS3 and Wii. There will be a quiet quarter after this one and then some standout things will start to emerge as we move into the spring and through the rest of the year next year. I just hope nothing hardware based goes wrong with the PS3, that could also doom Sony pretty quickly. For those getting in line I wish you luck and hopefully we'll have some hard numbers before the systems actually go on sale.