Contrary to what we were reporting this time a year or so ago, the game industry is not recession proof. Video games just took their biggest monthly sales drop in nearly a decade. Even GameStop, a company that has been able to do no wrong financially, is feeling it.
In an economy where folks are losing their houses, cars and 401Ks, there is no bigger albatross in the gaming industry than the PlayStation 3. Launching with a hefty $600 price tag, the PS3 has more in common with GMC’s Hummer vehicle than it does with the PS2. Both the gas-guzzling SUV and the overpriced game machine are symbols of an excess most of society can’t afford right now. Looking back, it’s easy to understand Sony’s thought process. Their last generation competitors – weren’t competitors. If it weren’t for the Halo series, the Xbox would have been the Nintendo GameCube. And the Nintendo GameCube was the Nintendo GameCube. I want to make more fun of Nintendo for its effort last gen. But since they re-released the GameCube with a fancy new motion controller and are now the biggest success story in gaming, it looks as if the joke is on the rest of us.
Sony was in the driver’s seat. It had decisively won the last two console wars and there was no reason to expect it wouldn’t do it again. Then the company gave us 600 reasons it wouldn’t. Once the price of the new console was announced, it was akin to a huge disfiguring mole. As much as you try not to look at, talk about or acknowledge it, it’s really the only thing you can see. Thus, it was the focus of every mainstream media article about the PS3 and most of the gaming articles. Sony may as well have called it The Sony This-Machine-and-a-Game-Will-Set-You-Back-700-Big-Ones System.
My first car didn’t cost me $700 and my first apartment didn’t cost $700 a month. With the exception of my house and current vehicle, nothing I own cost me $700. And I’m the target market for the PlayStation 3. The guy that can drop $700 on a game console and not miss the money can afford numerous other diversions such as trips to the Bahamas with surgically-enhanced female companions. Us common working folk are having it rough and now even “escapist” hobbies such as movies and video games are feeling it.
Who am I in the grand scheme of things? Nobody whose words will echo in industry halls. But I’m not the only one saying this. Activision’s Bobby Kotick fired a huge salvo threatening to pull support for the PS3 if it didn’t cut the price. Sony CEO Howard Stringer fired back that Kotick likes to make “a lot of noise.” True, and Amy Winehouse has impulse control issues, what’s your point, Howard? These gross understatements don’t have anything to do with the core issue here: the PlayStation 3, even at $400, costs too much to sell in current economy.
The bottom line is that Sony is nearly as responsible for the current state of game sales as General Motors and its Big Three comrades is for the nosedive in the automotive industry. When the company that was winning in spectacular fashion starts losing in equally spectacular fashion, there are ripple – scratch that – there are tidal wave effects throughout the industry.
And before the responses come, I don’t hate Sony or the PS3. It would be ludicrous for me to wish ill will on any console maker since I make my living in the game writing industry. I want Sony to get it right so we can have the true three-way slugfest this console war should be. I also want an Xbox 360 that doesn’t crap out and I want mature content on my Nintendo Wii.
I complain because I care.
Since Sony had a large part in creating the current mess, they should pitch in and help out. It is true that in the short term, they will lose a lot more money on each console. But no Sony executive and their talk of 10-year console cycles can convince me the company won’t lose even more money long term if it finishes a distant third in the console race.
I don’t know a single gamer who wouldn’t like to be able to play more games and they can’t do that without buying more games. The industry model has long been to take the short-term loss on the hardware to sell customers on the software. This isn’t 2007. The games Sony predicted would sell this system, including Metal Gear Solid 4, are here now. Another system seller in God of War 3 is coming.
It would be a crying shame if no one could afford to play them without selling an organ.