PlayStation 3 delay - a good thing?
November launch might disappoint some, but it could be just what the system needs.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) – While the Sony faithful are mourning the official announcement of the PlayStation 3's delay, the truth of the matter is that Wednesday's news will ultimately prove to be a good thing.
The official word from Sony is that technology delays are the reason it was unable to make its initial spring launch date - and that very well may be true. But an unspoken, though likely just as prevalent reason for the delay is to give developers more time to polish - and, in some cases, finish - their games.
First, it's worth noting that the "delay" of the PS3 really only affects consumers in Japan. Sony never promised a U.S. launch in the spring – and no publishers or industry observers expected it here before November.
Still, delays (whether real or imagined) are always frustrating to eager consumers. In this industry, though, they're often the difference between a mediocre game and a good one. And in the 2006 holiday season, good games are going to be particularly significant.
The launch window for the PlayStation 3 is of key importance to Sony and industry publishers, since the PS3 is the heir apparent to the industry's best selling console. (The PlayStation 2 has dominated the industry, with a commanding 70 percent share of household gaming machines – but every new generation of hardware presents the chance to re-shuffle market share.)
Microsoft's Xbox 360 will have a one-year head start on Sony and (more importantly) developers will have had a much longer time to familiarize themselves with that system's capabilities. Developers working on PS3 games, meanwhile, won't receive final hardware on which to test and develop their games until shortly before the system's launch (although Sony did say "near final" kits would be available by mid-May).
As we did with the Xbox 360, we're going to see massive PS3 shortages. That was inevitable before Sony announced a simultaneous worldwide launch. Now, with units hitting Japan, North America and Europe at the same time, it's going to be pandemonium when the system hits in early November. Think Cabbage Patch Kids or Tickle Me Elmo-style pandemonium.
So, given the inevitable shortages, why is it so important that Sony have polished games at launch? Simple: To keep people from buying an Xbox 360.
If the PlayStation 3 has a game that onlookers deem a true "must have," it will distract consumers. Microsoft's premiere release this holiday season will be "Gears of War," a title that has greatly impressed those who have seen early versions and has been steadily building buzz - but it's an unproven property, and Sony sees an opportunity there.
While we'll likely see the first footage of "Halo 3" at the E3 trade show this May, the game isn't expected out until 2007. That won't hurt Microsoft (Research), but it gives Sony room to have a next generation version of a proven, well-known system-selling title ready at launch. (So far, only one launch title – "Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom" - has been confirmed by Sony. We'll learn more about the PS3's launch title possibilities at E3.)
Certainly, the delay in a finalized copy protection technology for the PS3's Blu-Ray disc drive might have played into the delay decision, but its importance is somewhat less relevant than it might first appear. As Sony (Research) has shown with its PSP portable system, it won't hesitate to update its firmware from time to time – via download or on game discs. (Basically, if you want to play games with the system, you need to update your operating system first.)
Consumers haven't violently objected to this method with the PSP, pretty much ensuring we'll see it with the PS3 – as copy protection methods continue to be refined.
Whatever the reason behind Sony's move, it was hardly unexpected. And if the end result is better games to play on the system for the lucky few who are able to find one later this year, it could ultimately be a good thing for the industry.
Morris is Director of Content Development for CNNMoney.com. Click here to send him an email.