Bill Gates unveiled the XBOX at CES this past week. There is an interesting technical comparison between it and the other nextgen gaming platforms on the XBOX web site. http://www.xbox.com/xbox/flash/specs.asp
This release would have been a minor event if SONY had filled the channel with an ample supply of Playstation2 units and games for this Christmas season. Typically the formula for launching a new game platform is very simple: acquire a stable of marquee titles, announce at CES, beat everyone by one Christmas season, get your base installed before their hype machine gets started at the next CES, wield your userbase like a hammer to beat developers into launching their product on your platform.
SONY had the market advantage, but they pooched it.
First, the launch titles for the PSX2 are weak. The most marquee title is NHL 2001, which has a limited market. Other titles like Formula One, Nascar, Grand Tourismo are late. Football and Basketball titles are nowhere in sight, and SSX Snowboarding is a great game but a little on the obscure side. There are no cute character games for the kids. Other titles that were available for launch are very obscure and don’t really showcase the new technology. Apparently the PSX2 developer tools are difficult to use, require specialized development hardware, and are expensive and require constrictive licensing.
Second, the major bungle was in not filling the channel with just enough units for Christmas to meet demand. They had planned for 1 million, could have sold 2.5 million, and only shipped 500,000. This was a heinous error. Rather than creating a “tickle me Elmo” phenomenon the industry and therefore the hype machine simply adjusted their gaze to Microsoft’s XBOX. Consumers became disinterested and those who cared enough to do research saw lots of negative press. XBOX is now getting rave reviews for its technical superiority and kids will want one under the tree next year since this year they had to make do with non-gamer gifts like toys and clothes and (god forbid) books.
Now, left without a significant base and amid slow growth in a sluggish economy over the next year, SONY will roll into next season with a technically weaker platform and a scrawny userbase. Meanwhile, developers are complaining about their Developer Platform’s shortcomings. Many of them are simply porting games over from other platforms rather than building ground-up efforts that fully realize the benefits of the PSX2’s architecture. Many are not using SONY’s Anti-Aliasing (documented earlier on FOIB) technology and so as a result the graphics look just like they did on the old Playstation.
Companies like NAMCO are even porting their 1980’s-era arcade games, cheesy sprite-based graphics and all, onto the PSX2 using software runtime emulators. That’s a really pathetic way to broaden your range of titles.
Anyway, looks like the PSX2 is headed for a trench warfare when they could have launched a Blitzkrieg. It’s at once disappointing and gratifying to see that big companies make big mistakes, too.
I’ll bet that guy who was in charge of SONY’s manufacturing operations for the PSX2 is looking for work..