It flopped in America. Now, for its British launch, Sony has put the price up.
The last time Sony launched a games console, it was an overnight sensation. The PlayStation 2, launched in 2000, didn’t simply offer consumers fabulously hi-tech games and graphics. It also gave them a built-in, groovy new gadget, the DVD player – two new toys at a very competitive price. It was a combination that made the PS2 the fastest-selling console of all time. With sales of 115 million units worldwide, it is still going strong even now, in its seventh year in the shops.
On Friday, the electronics giant will be hoping to replicate these record-breaking figures as the PS2’s successor, the PlayStation 3, launches in the UK and in Europe. The components are there: the console offers high-end graphics, million-dollar games and as an added extra for movie buffs, it can play Blu-ray discs, bringing high-definition films to its customers. On paper at least, that should tempt gamers and gadget freaks into splashing their cash. But ask how much the PS3 will cost, and cracks start to appear in Sony’s plan. In the UK, the new console will cost Â£425, without any games – that’s up to Â£226 more than its closest rival, Microsoft’s Xbox 360, and Â£120 more than the cost of PlayStation 3 in America.
Are people prepared to spend this kind of money on a games console? And do they actually want all the bells and whistles that Sony is making them pay for? The people at Sony think so. “Consumers can store and browse photos, music and video files, access the internet and download games, as well as playing CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs,” says Sony spokesperson Jonathan Fargher. “The PS3 removes the need for a broad range of separate devices, encompassing them instead into one small and easy-to-use box.”
Once billeted in the bedrooms of teenagers across the world, the games console is fast migrating to the heart of the home. While it originally offered gamers a window into pixelated worlds peopled by plucky plumbers or high-speed hedgehogs, the games console has evolved into an entertainment hub. But the ability to do everything but make toast with a console comes at a price.
“It’s a lot of money – Â£425 is more expensive than a bike, holiday or a month’s rent,” says Catherine Haugh, 27, a gamer who we let loose on a PS3. “But for gadget freaks or the kind of people who get a kick out of queuing up and being the first to buy something it’s a great piece of kit.”
Neil Ryan, 26, echoes the sentiment: “The box itself is beautiful but I couldn’t spend that much on a games console, especially because I’d then have to spend about Â£50 each on the games to play on it. I’d wait until the price came down before I thought about buying one.”
Mike Pszenicki, 27, was more positive: “The game graphics are good but they aren’t as amazing as I’d been led to expect, but if I were to buy it, it would be for all the other things it offers – Blu-ray, storing music and looking at photos. But it is expensive.”
So what does Sony have to say? “We accept that the PS3 is perceived to be costly, but the vast array of functions it offers, and its future-proof design, ensures that you’re getting a long-term return on your investment, and a machine that will be in your living room for many years to come,” says Fargher. “We believe it offers excellent value for money.”
But Sony isn’t the only games company with a console to sell. Over the past 18 months, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 (Â£199 for a basic system, Â£279 for a full system with hard drive) and the Nintendo Wii (Â£179) have both gone on sale worldwide. Sales figures in the UK and America show that Sony is going to have a battle on its hands for British gamers’ money.
In the US, PlayStation 3 was launched to cash in on the pre-Christmas bun fight, and the US retail analyst NPD monitored the sales figures to keep score. In December, the company found, more than a million Xbox 360s were sold, and 600,000 shoppers bought a Nintendo Wii. But the PS3 – despite its hype and status as the brand new console on the market – sold just half a million. Third place, out of three.
But another piece of news may have perplexed Sony further still. The number-one seller in America in December was not one of these “next-generation” consoles at all. It was the PlayStation 2, selling a massive 1.4 million.
This means that a console now nearly seven years old is still selling in vast quantities. Why? “The PS2 has the biggest back-catalogue of amazing titles, and it’s cheap as chips. You can pick one up second hand for next to nothing, and in the shops they’re only around Â£95,” says Matthew Jones, 29, who lives in London. It’s a view shared across the peer group.
Despite the launch of an updated version, Sony is keen to see the PS2 keep selling. “The PS2 is still going strong. It will continue to remain a key focus, with major franchises like [karaoke title] SingStar scheduled for release over the coming months.”
But will the PS3 suffer because of its predecessor’s continuing success? Time will tell. In the UK, during the month before Christmas, the Xbox 360 topped the sales ranks (250,000 were sold, compared with 200,000 Wiis, and 215,000 PS2s). So even if the UK opts for a next-generation console, the Xbox already has the lead.
But retailers remain positive about PlayStation 3. James Schall, console and video games manager at the website Amazon.co.uk, says he’s “confident that it will take its place as one of the top-selling items on Amazon.co.uk in 2007”. It remains to be seen whether UK shoppers will deem the PS3 to be justifiably priced or just plain expensive. There’s bound to be a fanfare on Friday when the PS3 launches but Sony can’t necessarily bank on the success of its expensive baby.
From : The Independent (UK)