The Future of Console Gaming
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Next we have Sony and their PlayStation platform. Born out of an odd coupling with Nintendo, the PlayStation has done extremely well for itself. As mentioned earlier in this article, by 1992 Sony and Nintendo had developed a prototype CD-ROM expansion for the Super Nintendo. After issues began to arise over who would control content distribution and manufacturing, as well as product direction, the two companies fell out of their relationship. Sony walked away from the deal with the basic hardware design of what would become their own CD based system. With much fanfare, in December 1994, the PlayStation was launched in Japan, followed by its U.S. launch in September 1995.
The general rule of thumb that seems to be coming out of Sony corporate is that what Sony wants, Sony gets, no matter how much money they have to throw at it. And in the 1990's they decided they wanted the videogame market, or specifically they wanted to expand their dominance in home entertainment/consumer technology into the videogame market and establish yet another stream for content delivery. In some ways Sony is working towards a similar destination to what Microsoft has stated but they're taking one step further via full control of content from creation to delivery on whatever medium/platform is relevant to the content. This includes their own PC line with a potential new PC operating system which has been in the works for several years now.
While only Sony knows the actual numbers, word is that for the first few years of its life, the PlayStation hardware shipped at a steep loss for Sony. The hope was that if the system reached critical mass in the market that software sales would pick up the slack until volume production brought the cost of the hardware down for Sony. As for the PlayStation 2, signs indicate that they are betting the bank on a high sell though rate up front. Sony appears to be so confident that they will make significant revenue from the PS 2 on the whole (even when they're likely to lose money on the hardware), that they are planning to subsidize their entry into the computer workstation market from their profits. The plan is that by wrestling the workstation market away from SGI with "cheap" PS 2 based PCs, they can then ensure that developers are using a base platform that is directly related to the PlayStation 2, which in turn will hopefully reduce the development time of games, increasing the amount of software available. In a recent interview with Asian news publication Nikkei Electronics (as reported in Game Developer Magazine (February 2000)), Ken Kutaragi, CEO for Sony Computer Entertainment said about their workstation development:
...and on the subject of their competition with SGI in the new market, the Game Developer article states:
Hopefully the release of the PlayStation 2 will be missing the huge controversy that occurred around the first system. That being the shear number of defective units that were shipped to the U.S. market through 1996. While Sony has done a pretty effective job of hiding numbers and making grand denials about the problem, it is known that in order to reduce cost, as Sega did with their CD system, Sony made changes to the U.S. model and removed features such as S-Video output, and from day one consumers complained. Even today, most PlayStation owners who bought the original system and used it regularly have had it fail and needed to replace it (we've even heard of many users who are on their third and fourth systems now), somewhat putting Sony's estimates on how many are in homes to question.
And what problems you may ask were there? Well, the current laundry list of problems with launch PlayStations were 1) regular skipping during cinemas 2) loss of music while playing games 3) an odd flickering red-line that would run down the length of the screen from top to bottom, 4) the fact that after a few months of play, unless you regularly stood the machine on it's left side when running (or sometimes ran it up-side-down), the system would frequently fail to perform, and last 5) total system failure within two years of purchase and heavy use. On a side note, while current shipping systems rarely show these problems, we personally are aware of a PS system that Sony sent out from their PR offices shortly after launch which manifested every single one of these problems out of the box.
The best anyone has been able to get out of Sony over the years has been a statement that if you experiencing skipping, you can send the machine back to them to have the CD drive refurbished for a mere $50-$80(US), or you can try putting the system in a place where it can get better ventilation. In any event, all of this leads one to wonder why the PlayStation 2 is being shown in promotional materials as standing on it's side. Hmm?
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