PS3 Delay, Not Necessarily Good for Microsoft

Word out of Japan is that Sony is finally officially acknowledging that the PS3 is behind schedule and that it won't release in Japan until November. And with that the laughable notion of a North American PS3 release in the spring of 2006 suddenly becomes the equally comical notion that it will release in time for the Christmas rush in December. I've been predicting the PS3 wouldn't release in North America until March of 2007 for a couple months now and I'm sticking to it.

And regardless of whether the delays are caused by a technology issue, pricing concerns, or manufacturing limitations, Sony shouldn't worry one bit.

A lot of the kneejerk responders to this delay are saying what a boon this will be for Microsoft and the sales of their Xbox 360. They say how Sony is guaranteed to lose considerable marketshare in this "next generation" and how the battle is Microsoft's for the taking. I disagree.

Should Microsoft ever solve their enormous supply-chain problems and actually put product on the shelves (they shipped fewer Xbox 360 systems in February than January) then yes, they will gain a small advantage in sales through the spring and summer. They may even get their installed user base up to 3 million by the time September rolls around. But they've already blown their chances at posting an insurmountable lead. The buzz has died down and the difficulty of obtaining a system, combined with the lack of worthy software has made owning an Xbox 360 not nearly as prized of an accomplishment as it should have been. Next week's release of Oblivion will help, but it's far too niche of a game to be a cure-all.

By the time the PS3 does finally release in North America (for argument's sake, let's say February of 2007), most of the early adopters of the Xbox 360 will have replenished their funds and be able to purchase a PS3, if they choose. And while many of these same gamers may not be in a position to consider purchasing both the Xbox 360 and PS3 right now, by this time next year so much time will have passed since they purchased the Xbox 360 that the PS3 will seem to be the true "next-gen" console. And because of that, they will buy it. Even if the technological differences aren't easily distinguishable, 15 months is a long time for a product with just a 5-year life cycle -- it has a way of separating generations. Had Sony have released the PS3 in the spring of 2006 as originally planned, the time difference between launches wouldn't have made a difference. The Xbox 360 and the PS3 would have been perceived to be on equal ground. But by delaying the PS3, Sony is going to inadvertently shift the public's perception of the Xbox 360 from "next-gen console" to "stopgap solution". And just as Sega jumped the gun with the release of the Dreamcast, Sony is going to make it seem that Microsoft jumped the gun with the Xbox 360.

And this is where Microsoft's supply problems hurt them the most. There are thousands, if not millions, of gamers out there right now who, like me, haven't bought an Xbox 360 because of the supply shortage and assinine bundling requirements. As time goes by many of these same gamers are going to get increasingly frustrated and eventually just decide that if they've waited this long for an Xbox 360, what's a couple more months for something even newer and better? Not to mention, less likely to be replaced in 3 years and can play Blu-Ray discs. And I fully expect Sony to even salt the media mines with speculation that Microsoft will have no choice but to release a newer console as early as 2008 to catch up to the power of the PS3. And even if Sony doesn't do it personally, I'm sure their legions of fans will have no problem convincing the ill-advised masses that so much is true.

In other words, so much time will have passed between launches that those who jumped on board with Microsoft on day one will have the money -- and the hunger -- to be there for another launch. These gamers aren't really loyal to a company or brand, they're loyal to technology. They crave the latest and greatest and the PS3 will be it. Also, so much time will have passed between the launches that those who didn't jump on board with Microsoft will feel that their wait paid off and that they can now, with another year gone by, justify a new console purchase. In this case, which one do you get: the one that launched in 2005 or the one that just came out in 2007 that also plays Blu-Ray movies? And this touches on one other, final issue, that is at work here. Graphic snobs aside, there are a lot of people -- myself included -- who didn't really see the need for the next-generation to start yet. Yes, the PS2 was really showing its age but there are still several highly anticipated titles releasing for it later this year even. And none of the Xbox 360 titles look to be anything but prettier versions of Xbox games so far. Because of this many people are holding out intentionally. And when they do finally plunk down the $400 that the new console will cost, they're going to likely go with the newest one they can because they won't want to upgrade again anytime soon. It's all about perception and timing.

In conclusion, there's a lot of talk right now about how happy everyone in Redmond must be upon hearing the PS3 is going to be delayed. Well, I got news for the folks at Microsoft, if they're dancing and celebrating this delay it's only because they clearly don't have the pulse of the gaming public. To use Microsoft's advertising slogan, the next-generation of console gaming doesn't officially begin in the mind of the public until everyone "Jumps In". And by the time Sony slips into its swimsuit and wades into the deep end the Xbox 360 will already be pruned, cold, and getting tired. Jumping in first is only good if you know that everyone is right behind you. Swimming alone is never fun. And it's certainly not good for business.

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