The PS3's Double-Edged Sword

I wrote last summer that I believed Sony's $600 PS3 console would find a certain problem previously unseen in the console world. I speculated that the high cost of the unit, combined with a dearth of software during the launch window would lead to a situation in which gamers would withold their puchase of the unit until more software was available. I then proposed that software publishers, in turn, would withold their software until a larger installed base existed. The high price of entry was simply too much for folks to dive into headfirst. Instead, they would wait-and-see.

It's starting.

We've already seen certain franchises -- previously bedrock exclusives to the Playstation brand -- jump ship and go multi-platform and now Eidos announces their intent to withold their support of the PS3 until the second half of 2008, nearly 14 months from now. Gamers would be forgiven for asking what Eidos has coming down the pipe that makes this a big deal, after all what have they made for us lately. But the truth is that their upcoming Age of Conan is a very anticipated title with great promise -- a game releasing on the PC and X360, but apparently not the PS3 at least for more than another year, if at all.

The game I suggested would be the bellweather for this penomena when I got home from E3 is still the one I point to now: Metal Gear Solid 4. I fully expect/hope to author the strategy guide for this game -- I co-authored the book for MGS3 -- yet I do not expect to do so in 2007, despite what Sony has been saying for the past 18-24 months. The Metal Gear Solid franchise is to the Playstation library what Legend of Zelda is to Nintendo. But whereas Nintendo can count on their game only helping the sales of their inexpensive console by considering it an investment (it's a first-party title) Konami has nothing to gain and everything to lose by releasing their game before a critical mass of PS3 owners exist. The problem therein lies that many gamers, myself included, are extremely unlikely to buy a PS3 until games like MGS4 are released. Standard chicken and egg scenario, only it's Sony getting scrambled. Can Konami afford to risk the success of their flagship title on what we gamers might do? I don't think so. Now, let met just cover my tracks here for a second and state clearly that I have no inside knowledge. Heck, not only do I have no clue as to when MGS4 will actually release, I doubt most folks at Konami do either. It's the nature of the beast, and this particular series has an interesting track record.

So while Sony does have some promising first-party titles on tap like Gran Turismo and Heavenly Sword, the big marquis third-party titles like MGS4, Final Fantasy XIII and the next Grand Theft Auto may very well find themselves released on the X360 simultaneously or, perhaps, companies like Konami, Square-Enix, and Rockstar will simply let their games continue to bake until 2008 in hopes that more gamers will own the PS3 by then. And when you consider the stellar lineup of games coming out for the X360 this year, what incentive do these companies have to release their best selling games to a limited installed base, only to get crushed in the sales charts by possibly-inferior games selling to a significantly larger audience?

Sony may be fine with taking the "Mercedes-Benz" approach to gaming, but that doesn't mean the third-party publishers only want their games being played by those with the deepest pockets, especially since their games are going to be selling for the same $59.99 no matter which console it releases for. Sony has to either make some serious bids for exclusivity -- which they said they won't do anymore -- or the choice between the X360 and PS3 is going to be a no-brainer for at least another year. A serious price-cut for the PS3 would render this entire conversation moot.

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