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 Nov 17, 2006 - 09:17 AM - by Michael
* Artificial Hype

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Just on a lark, I called a few businesses yesterday, and honestly considered the thought of getting up around 3 or 4 in the morning and heading to the neighborhood Target store to get in line for a PS3.

Passing by at 8:30 PM, seeing 5 tents and a lawn chair set up and knowing they were only getting 6 units, I went home and slept instead.

However, it got me thinking: at what point does a business's decision to hold back stock, or engineered incompetence in not being able to produce the item, in hopes of creating the narrative of the "console that won't stay on the shelves" over Christmas, become harmful to them?

I'm speaking, right now, of Sony. And at the moment, Sony's past goodwill in the gaming industry has been burned up quite a bit. A few years ago, the Sony fanboys were everywhere; there were launch parties for the PSP, arguments about how the PS2 somehow could still compete with the Xbox360 and Gamecube graphically (it can't, especially on larger-screen displays), and general positive attitudes towards Sony.

Since then? Sony has burned tons of goodwill. The PSP has been a nightmare; at least 50% of all PSP owners deliberately avoided buying games (and getting forced firmware upgrades) for fear of not being able to run home-brewed software on their PSP. Say what you will for Sony's claims that their firmware updates contain "security patches", when hundreds of thousands (or more) of your install base are actively avoiding your "patches" because they consider it to be breaking the console they purchased, you've got a problem.

UMD movies turned out to be a bust as people rightly worked out the cost, realized they couldn't be played on a normal TV as well, and left them sitting on the shelf; two years after Sony created the UMD standard, even Sony's wholly-owned subsidiaries aren't bothering to put new movies on the format.

Meanwhile, we have the PS3. In perspective: the PS2's launch in the US had 900,000 consoles available. People stood in line, but for the most part, they got their console. For this launch, Sony's mailed out 250,000 or less of the PS3. Stores that in the PS2 days got 60+ units, and even on the supposedly "scarce" Xbox360 launch got 25-30, are getting 6 or 8 of the PS3. Gamers who can't buy one are going to feel grumpy towards Sony. The third-party game makers have to be feeling the gut punch too; while they've been making games for the PS3 based on Sony's rosy predictions on how many units will sell, and probably out of worry Sony might do something to impact their PS2 options as well, people who don't own a console have a tendency not to buy games for that console, which means that the PS3's launch titles simply won't be big sellers this holiday season. If it weren't for the fact that most PS3 third-party titles also have an Xbox360, Wii, or even PS2 port as well, I'm willing to bet that the publishers would be very anxious.

The narrative Sony wants to see, of course, is that "everybody wants" the PS3; they are willing to stand in lines for it, willing to fight for it, and when the second, third, fourth rounds of shipping come in that it's still flying off the shelves as "the holiday's must-have toy." Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that everyone who can't get one will either wait (hurting the retailers' sales) or more likely, buy something else (and that's likely to be a competitor's product) instead.

Have I mentioned the Wii, coming out this same weekend, that Nintendo's shipping over a million units just on launch, and that it costs just $250, leaving a substantial monetary amount for players to spend on the games to go with it?

Scott Ransoomair parodied this quite well, and the Penny Arcade folks are happy to chime in as well. After looking at everything, and especially as a service to you guys who read this site and will be looking for reviews on the games, I'll probably bite the bullet and buy a PS3 soon.

But it won't be today. And even if it were, for every customer like me who says "I can wait", Sony's image problem gets bigger, and their competitors get more of a head-start into the market.

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