Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Console Post Of The Week: The Breakdown Lane

To start with, let's review the November NPD numbers that came out on Thursday:
PS3 - 378,000

Instead of stopping with the observation that the PS3 isn't competitive at $399 when the mid-level 360 is $100 less (which is true), let's look at that briefly and then move on.

Make no mistake: this is a catastrophic holiday season for Sony in the U.S. Last November, the PS3 sold 466,000 units. To be down over 18% year-over-year in the second most important month of the year is a disaster. It's particularly disastrous when your closest competition more than doubled your sales.

What's happening this year is just a preview of what's going to happen for the next several years in the U.S., I believe. Through August of this year, the PS3 was within $50 of the 360 Pro, and the PS3 was outselling the 360, if only slightly. Look at the numbers for January-August:

That's not a huge gap, but still, it's a huge change from last year.

Then, price cut for the 360 in September, the price gap between the PS3 and the 360 Pro goes to $100, and look at the last three months:

So the PS3 outsells the 360 by 15% for nine months, but a $50 price cut enables Microsoft to DOUBLE PS3 sales.

The PS3 is probably going to sell around 750,000 units in the U.S. in December, which would take it up to about 3.5 million units for the year. And it will be outsold by the 360, for the year, by about a million units.

So after all that crowing by Sony this year, they're going to get outsold by almost 30%.


Remember the analysts who were proclaiming that the PS3 would lead in next-gen sales (including the Wii) by 2011, or that it would wind up being a "draw?"

Hey, if "draw" means "getting the living shit kicked out of you," then hey, it's a draw!

Most famously, iSuppli predicted this:
The PS3, which has lagged the other consoles due to its high price and dearth of blockbuster games for most of last year, would double its base to 20.3 million and by 2011 would lead the industry with some 38.4 million users.

That prediction was in February of this year, by the way. And the Wii already is over a worldwide base of 38 million, which I guess means that they'll sell negative numbers for the next several years.

Now, let's take a closer look at this. Besides price, which is obvious, what the hell happened?

In retrospect, I think Sony made two absolutely critical mistakes. One, they didn't include a pack-in game, and two, they ignored the game that could have been the blockbuster they needed.

Seriously, at $499 (for the lower-priced system), how in the world do you NOT include a pack-in game? It's as if Sony believed that the people who bought PS2's (gaming machines) would seamlessly convert to buying a PS3 (multimedia machine) because it was Sony.

Boy, that was a crap notion from the start. Fail.

Here's their other mistake, though. I think Sony actually had an internally developed game that could have been an absolute blockbuster in terms of demonstrating the potential of the PS3 and expanding their audience.

Oh, and by the way, trying to make Little Big Planet that game was a horrible mistake. LBP is totally charming, brilliantly designed, but as a mass market phenomenon, it depends way, way too heavily on user-designed levels. It's a sensational niche product, but I don't think it's going to be any more than that.

However, there was one game that consistently wowed people when trailers were shown. Every single time. And instead of lavishing attention and budget on that game, it was largely ignored.

That game was Afrika.

Think about it. Rendering the spectacular landscapes of Africa could prove that the PS3 was more powerful than the 360. Playing a role as a wildlife photographer would have appealed to a far wider audience than a game like Resistance. The entire game would have been one gigantic demonstration of the overwhelming power of the PS3.

As proof of concept for a piece of hardware, it was absolutely perfect.

So, of course, Sony let it vanish. It did finally come out in Japan a few months ago, with almost zero fanfare. I bought a new version (called Hakunah Matatah) last week from Play-Asia that has English text and menus, and while it's not a great game, it's quite striking, and more to the point, it could have been absolutely breathtaking.

Here's what Sony should have done. Put HUGE budget into Afrika. Huge. Then, instead of a bunch of Sony executive asshats TELLING us that the PS3 was superior, include Afrika as the pack-in and say "The PS3 IS superior, and here's the proof." Then load up with plenty of television commercials demonstrating that you, common person, can go on a freaking KICKASS African safari with this new console that has been beamed to Earth from the year 2029.

In other words, if you're going to charge $499 for the damn console, you better have PROOF IN HAND that it's clearly superior. And they didn't. They still don't.

Nintendo included a pack-in for a $249 console, and it was proof of concept that motion-sensing controllers were lots and lots of fun. Without that, the Wii would have had an entirely different (and far less successful) course.

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