Let’s get this off our chest right away – Sony’s unveiling of the PlayStation 3 Slim, quite frankly, could not have come at a better time. As the company itself recently conceded, fiscal 2008 proved a decidedly stormy period for the platform holder, despite offering a substantial 2008 holiday line-up further solidified by big hitters including Killzone 2 earlier this year. Indeed, figures for North America in particular (see April, May, June & July NPD) have indicated that the electronics manufacturer has witnessed a considerable slump in its attempts to flog its latest home console as of late – a situation further exacerbated as a result of ploughing through turbulent market conditions brought on by the global economic downturn. And, while financial doom and gloom has resulted in sales lagging across the board for all three major companies, PS3 has ultimately had a tough time appealing to consumers in the face of its main rival, Xbox 360, which Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter recently attributed "due to a higher perceived value proposition."
Regardless whether or not you perceive the PS3 as an expensive piece of kit, numerous industry folk have continually called for Sony to slash the cost of its black behemoth, from publishers including the likes of Tecmo KOEI and Activision Blizzard (the latter causing a heap of controversy after threatening to ditch PS3 support if a price cut was not issued), to ubiquitous analysts too numerous to mention. Unsurprisingly, Sony obstinately adhered to its ‘no price cut policy’ whenever need arose, though for many, the prospect of a price reduction was inevitable– more so, in fact, when rumors began cropping up of a revamped slim version of the machine. Fast-forward to August 2009 at the firm’s GamesCom press event, and sure enough, our prayers are answered – a swanky new PS3 Slim for the reduced price of $299 USD, and a cost cut on the regular model until stock is depleted.
^ Let's face it, we all knew it was coming - and it's been flying off the shelves ever since.
It is with this move that, in our humble opinion (which we hope will be echoed by a substantial chunk of our readers) has put Sony’s high definition box in its strongest position since the machine’s inception back in November 2006. Aside from the obvious tweaks and changes – such as boasting a more aesthetically pleasing design and less power consumption – the platform’s revised price point puts it on equal footing with Microsoft’s high-end Xbox 360 Elite unit, and a mere $50 USD higher than the Wii. In a climate where punters are becoming increasingly price sensitive and are thus less likely to invest in high tech hardware (much less plump for a console priced significantly higher than it’s stable mates), PS3 Slim now gives Sony the shot in the arm it needs to stimulate sales and slug it out in the battle for hardware supremacy as we enter that ever crucial holiday season. Still, a console is only as good as its software, and fortunately, PS3 boasts a stellar back catalogue and an equally stunning line-up for the remainder of the year that is poised to continue into 2010.
Past gems such as LittleBigPlanet, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Resistance 2 and Killzone 2 are just the tip of the iceburg in terms of the quality of titles available on Sony’s platform, many of which are now made even more tempting given the inclusion in the PS3’s vastly growing library of budget re-releases – ample pickings for cash-strapped gamers and new adopters alike. Furthermore, Sony’s black box looks set to play host to a sumptuous line-up of exclusives offerings in Q4 2009 with the likes of Naughty Dog’s stunning sequel in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo 5 and From Software’s Demon’s Souls (as well as a healthy batch of multi-format entries including the likes of Tekken 6, Assassin’s Creed II and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2). Take a gander past Christmas, and the triple-A first-party onslaught continues in to 2010 with heavy hitters such as Heavy Rain from Quantic Dream, God of War III from SCE Studios Santa Monica and Zipper Interactive’s Massive Action Game (MAG). Then you have Sony's mammoth PlayStation Network service, an exponent of PS3's online and multimedia capabilities, allowing users to duke it out with other players online, purchase add-on content and full games, not to mention download TV shows and movies via a handy video download service (which the company plans on rolling out across European territories this winter). Fortunately, PSN shows no signs of slowing down, with regular updates plastered on to the PlayStation Store on a weekly basis, though admittedly, the lack of PSone classics in PAL regions still leaves a bitter taste in our mouths. On the other side of the spectrum, meanwhile, you have the online social phenomenon that is PlayStation Home, not to mention the ability to play Blu-ray films, the latter of which has a knack for attracting consumers looking for a cheaper alternative for playing high definition movies.
^ Nathan Drake returns in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, just one of many triple-A offerings Sony has up its sleeves to bolster its efforts this holiday season.
Of course, huffing and puffing as we extol the merits of Sony’s machine is one thing, but ultimately, it’s the PS3’s performance at retail that decides whether or not our faith is dumbfounded or not – and fortunately, early sales figures pretty much speak for themselves. Just this past week, we’ve been privy to some juicy tibits surrounding the Slim’s success in all major three territories. In Britain alone, the revamped console sent PS3 sales soaring over 999 percent, outstripping Microsoft’s performance with the 360 by a staggering 3:1, despite the console also receiving a price cut around the same time. Concurrently, PS3 Slim also planted its size nines firmly over Nintendo’s offerings – not too shabby for just a week on the shelves. Meanwhile, over in the land of the rising sun, the system managed to shift over 150,000 units, eclipsing launch numbers for the original PS3 back in November 2006 in just three days, while claiming the number one position in the hardware charts for the first time in months. Finally, while exact figures for North America have yet to be divulged, Sony revealed that hardware sales for the platform increased by a whopping 300 percent, while NPD figures for August 2009 – prior to the Slim’s launch – puts the console snapping at Xbox 360’s heels with an impressive 210,000 units sold at retail.
Thankfully, after all the moaning and groaning calling for a price cut, Sony’s decision to introduce the slimmer console and cut costs has been met with unanimous praise from some of the most prestigious names in the business. SCE Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida was among the first to comment on the situation, describing the price cut as a “relief.” Ubisoft head honcho Yves Guillemot also pitched up a couple of days after the announcement: “It's exceptional news, actually,” he beamed. Likewise, in the same report, Electronic Arts bigwig Frank Gibeau proclaimed, "I think it's awesome," before labelling PS3 as an impressive piece of kit. Elsewhere, retailers such as SimplyGames and ChipsWorld also tipped their hats to Sony’s efforts, with the former stating the move will spell good fortunes for the industry as a whole, while the latter described the initiative as “excellent,” observing that PS3 sales are currently outpacing those of Xbox 360 for the company.
^ Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida was among the first to heap praise on the company's decision to cut the cost of PlayStation 3 last month.
Now, it would be disingenuous of us to even suggest that Sony has a walk in the park as far as triumphing over Microsoft is concerned – after all, Big Bill’s former company has more than its fair share of heavy hitters on the horizon (Alan Wake, Forza, Halo to name but a few), an equally compelling online experience in Xbox LIVE and has already established a firm lead over its rival in terms of raw sales. But that’s beside the point. Thanks to Sony’s recent efforts, the conglomerate is now in a position of unprecedented strength (let’s face it, things have never looked so rosy for PS3 as they do now, save for a few blips on the radar over the past few years), which, combined with the firm’s decision to reposition the system as a 'total entertainment solution', should ensure that new adopters are easily swayed over to our beloved black box. As for the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut that is the Wii, Nintendo may do well to look over their shoulder come 2010, when both Sony and Microsoft make their foray in to the world of motion-sensing mayhem and cracking the casual market with PS3’s colloquially dubbed ‘wand’ peripheral and the 360’s Project Natal – needless to say, it’ll be interesting to see which company succeeds in this area, which over the past couple of years has been firmly synonymous with Nintendo’s white wonder.
While early days yet, not to mention the fact Sony aims on keeping PS3 on store shelves for at least another decade, it’s hard to not admit the arrival of the sleek Slim model, price cut and revamped PS3 logo signifies a fresh and ultimately invigorating chapter in the console’s lifecycle. As such, we feel that, unequivocally, Sony has pulled enough punches to ultimately come close to - if not fully succeed - in recapturing its glory days and cement PS3 as the high definition videogame console of choice. One thing's for sure, though -- it'll be a long and arudous battle.
^ Sony's motion technology is just one of the many highlights that awaits us in 2010.
As we wrap, we’ll leave you to stew Sony’s newly unveiled slogan – “make.believe.” As ever, stay tuned to PSU for all the latest developments on Sony's progress in the console war as they become available to us.