Whether or not Sony was sincere in its claim that a supply crisis led it to cut its initial shipments of the PlayStation2 to just 500,000 units, there's little question that the corporation was successful in the arena of hype marketing. Lines of obsessed PlayStation fans were a news staple Wednesday. But is the so-called superconsole really worth staying up all night for?
No. The PS2 is not the revolutionary device that Sony's marketing department would have you believe. Don't get me wrong; it's definitely the most powerful video-game machine on the planet right now. But that's not enough.
The PS2's stats are certainly impressive; it's got hardware power to burn. But so what? There's just not much software available that can take advantage of it. The games that are being released at the same time as the system don't rise much, if at all, above games available for Sega's rival (and cheaper) Dreamcast video-game system.
And don't expect a huge number of quality games anytime soon. Sony has reversed positions with Sega and stupidly released a system that is in many ways a game developer's nightmare. Sega, learning from its Saturn debacle, went out of its way to make the Dreamcast easy to develop games for. But Sony, intoxicated with success from the first PlayStation, forgot the first rule of the video-game industry: Software sells systems. If you make it hard for developers to produce good games then there's no reason for people to buy the system. This oversight has already cost Sony some goodwill -- developers are howling about how hard it is to create games for the system. In an interview with Time magazine, John Carmack, one of the developers behind such massively popular games as Doom and Quake, said that the "PS2 is definitely more powerful than Dreamcast. But it's less convenient to extract performance from it."
Sony is also under the mistaken impression that including the ability to play DVD movies is a huge selling point. But true technophiles and hardcore gamers probably already have DVD drives. I'm a good case in point. I already own a Sony DVD player, so I could not care less if the $299 PS2 can play movies. I'd rather pay less and get a machine that just plays games instead.
In comparison, the Sega Dreamcast sells for $149 and has a giant library of games already available. Sega also has an online game network, Seganet. The Dreamcast comes with a built-in 56K modem and Sega will soon release a broadband (cable/DSL) adapter for it. (The PS2 does not ship with a modem.) Sega is banking on the appeal of multiplayer online gaming, even going so far as to rebate the entire cost of a Dreamcast to players who sign up for Seganet. And for the first time ever we actually have cross-platform online gaming -- Seganet lets Dreamcast players compete against PC players in games like Quake 3. Sony, on the other hand, is promising online gaming later on but currently has nothing to offer purchasers of the PS2.
In addition to Sega, Sony also has two 800-pound gaming gorillas breathing down its neck: Nintendo and Microsoft. Nintendo plans to release its powerful GameCube system next year. Don't downplay Nintendo's chances either. Despite having a rocky time with the N64, Nintendo has some of the most lucrative franchises in video-game history on its side (Zelda, Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, etc.) and a superb marketing machine.
The real wild card here, though, is Microsoft, which plans to release its X-Box game system next year. The X-Box will have even more powerful hardware than the PS2, and Microsoft has the marketing muscle and rapport with developers to do the PS2 real damage. Unlike Sony, Microsoft is taking great pains to make sure the X-Box is easy to make games for -- developers will also be able to easily port games from the PC to the X-Box, thus insuring a huge supply of games.
So should you feel bad if you can't get a PS2 right away? No way. If you wait a while you'll avoid all the lines and scuffling in stores and you'll end up with a much better selection of games. And if you wait long enough for the upcoming systems from Microsoft and Nintendo, you'll probably see a cut in the price of the PS2 as Sony tries to ward off both threats.
Hardcore gamers aren't known for their patience, but this is one occasion when playing it smart may mean not playing at all. For now.