PlayStation’s New Golden Age

When Sony entered the videogame console business some 15 years ago with the introduction of the PlayStation brand, it forever changed the way we experience games. Fast forward six years to when the PlayStation 2 hit store shelves, and we witnessed the release of arguably the greatest console of all time. Both systems were met with critical and consumer acclaim, though in terms of the latter the PS2 was initially somewhat of a slow burner. Still, in comparison to its predecessors, the PlayStation 3 has endured a decidedly tumultuous first few years on market, remaining behind competitors Nintendo and Microsoft in terms of overall consoles shifted. However, that appears to be changing with the enormous boost in sales due to the price drop and the introduction of the PS3 Slim, the launch of the PSPgo, a growing emphasis on the PlayStation Network, the availability of huge exclusive software, and the promise of a technologically advanced motion controller. We at PSU believe that Sony has finally settled into the ‘next gen’ era and the PlayStation is cresting on a new golden age.

Nothing but the numbers

According to statistics provided by Sony, the launch of the 120GB PS3 in September resulted in the following:

– Nearly 500,000 units sold in September in the U.S.
– More than 1 million new PS3 systems (120GB) sold worldwide in three weeks on shelves
– PS3 hardware sales were up 112% year over year in September
– September marked the first time PS3 hardware beat out Wii and Xbox 360 as the top home console
– In November, Sony pushed 710,400 PS3s
– October saw some 320,000 units sold

Overall sales figures for the PS3, also provided by Sony, include:

– More than 27 million units sold worldwide
– Nearly 9 million units sold in the U.S.
– More than 1,000 titles available worldwide
– More than 300 titles available in the U.S.
– More than 200 titles are coming this holiday worldwide, which is the strongest line-up since the PS3 launched

In a recent interview with PSU, Sony explained that it expects strong sales figures for the month of November.

The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and Sony is certainly not being left out in the cold. The first week of the holiday shopping season proved to be very strong for Sony, with the hardware manufacturer shifting more than 440,000 PS3s during the week of Black Friday.

‘It’s a great time to be a PlayStation fan and loyalist’

Going into 2009, Sony was preparing for the inevitable price drop and the release of the PS3 Slim. The company knew it had a lot at stake. The idea was to draw new consumers to the PS3 brand, show off the strong software releases, and highlight the technological power of the PS3.

So, was Sony successful? Looking at the figures so far indicates a significant increase in PS3 sales, but a comment from John Koller, SCEA director of hardware marketing, puts a human face to the numbers.

“Everyone here is walking around with big smiles on their faces,” he said. “We’ve had a very significant year. This was a very critical year for us. Not only with the PS3 price drop, which brought new consumers to the PS3, but also the software line-up for all our platforms has been outstanding. It’s been a great run and consumers are responding.”

The momentum for the PS3 has certainly shifted since its release, and Koller says Sony is excited about sales figures for November. “We’re excited for the November numbers. We had a well above forecasted Black Friday.”

To sum it up, “I think it’s a great time to be a PlayStation fan and loyalist.”

The goal is pretty simple – sell more PS3s by introducing new consumers to the product. By doing so, developers will put more money into PS3 games, resulting in a stronger gaming experience for both the serious and casual gamer.

Nonetheless, since the start of this generation of consoles, Sony has been playing catch up to Nintendo and Microsoft in hardware sales. When asked if Sony will get a leg up on its competition, Koller said, “We are making every effort to do so.”

He went on to say, “We know our heritage with the PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2. We’re a company of strong sales. We really enjoy providing consumers with what they ask for.”

PlayStation – the wind is at its back

Momentum looks set to continue for Sony’s black box as we approach 2010, with Koller remaining confident that the platform will remain in high demand among consumers in the New Year.

“Going into next year, we have so much wind at our back,” Koller said. “The consumers are still going to be heavily demanding our product in 2010.”

Part of what will make 2010 so interesting for PlayStation fans is Sony’s entrance into the motion controller market. Microsoft also has plans to release its motion controller next year, both of which will compete with Nintendo’s extremely strong presence among casual gamers.

“Motion control has always been the holy grail of gaming,” Koller said, referring to the controller’s ability to make people feel like they are actually in the game. “The PlayStation version will be the most precise and fun product on the market.”

One of PlayStation fans’ biggest fear is that the new motion controller will take over all of Sony’s games once it is released. Or, perhaps even worse, that there will be no good titles that support the peripheral. Koller assures us that we’ll see a tremendous line-up of games that support the motion controller next year, and that we should hear more on the motion controller soon.

Motion Controller games so far:

– LittleBigPlanet*
– Resident Evil 5*
– Pain*
– Flower*
– Hustle Kings*
– High Velocity Bowling*
– EyePet*
– Ape Escape (Working Title)
– Echochrome 2 (Working Title)
– Eccentric Slider (Working Title)
– Sing and Draw (Working Title)
– Champions of Time (Working Title)
– Motion Party (Working Title)
– The Shoot (Working Title)
– Tower (Working Title)

*Motion control function will be added by network update, etc.

The year ahead in software

Even if you are a bit skeptical about the motion controller, the software launch next year has something for everyone, both in PS3 exclusives and multiplatform hits. Indeed, part of what made the last quarter of 2009 so positive on the software front was the quality of PS3 exclusives on offer. Sony’s console was home to the year’s best reviewed/rated game, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and it saw exclusives like Demon’s Souls and Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time receive universal acclaim from the media and gamers alike. It wasn’t just Q4 that provided such a strong showing; in fact, we saw huge hits like inFamous successfully launch earlier this year.

Still, so many games were postponed until 2010 because of major releases like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Uncharted 2, meaning we’ll have an abundance of quality releases to look forward to in the New Year.

Here are some of the PS3 exclusives you can expect in 2010. Keep in mind, this is not a complete list, and we should expect it to grow as Sony makes more announcements in the near future.

PS3 exclusives:

Final Fantasy XIV (also available on PC)
God of War III
The Agency (also available on PC)
Eye Pet
Eight Days (not confirmed; on hold)
The Getaway (not confirmed; on hold)
Gran Turismo 5
Heavy Rain
The Last Guardian
ModNation Racers
White Knight Chronicles (western release)
Yakuza 3 (western release)

“Going into next year, the game line-up is fantastic, both first and third party,” Koller said. “When you start getting success you start seeing development dollars being put into your platform. I think PS3 fans have a lot to look forward to in 2010.”

PS2 – Ten years and still going strong

It’s hard to believe that a 10-year-old console is still getting attention, but the PlayStation 2 is still an important part of Sony’s business. As the best-selling console of all time, with more than 138 million units sold globally, the PS2 is now only $99 USD. Just this year, Sony released about 75 games for the system, and you will likely see more games released next year.

Retailers are still very supportive of the PS2, and many of the systems go to families looking for a more affordable gaming option. “Particularly in this kind of economy, it’s a tremendous value,” Koller said. “It’s seen a lot of traction.”

But for the diehard PS3 owner, the PS2, and to a greater extent, the PS1, likely represent nostalgia. With a host of PSone games available on the PlayStation Network, and more coming just about each week, gamers can easily get their hands on their favorite PlayStation classics at a budget price.

“The amount of sales that come from that are huge,” Koller said about PSOne games on the PSN.

In terms of revenue figures, Koller would not comment on whether or not PS3 hardware sales were/are profitable for Sony. However, he did state the console is still the “lead horse” in terms of its significance for Sony. “That’s the significant product in our portfolio that we fully support, that we accrue significant revenue from. I think the PS3 is the biggest horse in the stable, and going into next year, with motion control and 3D gaming, I think you can see the PS3 will stay there.”

The PlayStation brand has always been very strong, but it’s clear that the past few years have been a bit shaky. We strongly believe that there is great momentum behind Sony, and with the right software releases, a strong motion controller launch, an increase in digital content, and some other ‘tricks,’ we’ll see that bright light of PlayStation’s new golden age shine again.