PlayStation 2 aka The G.O.A.T?

Browsing games journalism sites at the end of the year for fresh content can become a rather fruitless endeavor. Most of the staff has a couple weeks off after the final major release of the season and they don’t reconvene until after the start of the new year to discuss game of the year candidates. You can imagine my excitement when I came across a posting on Ars Technica documenting the top played video game consoles for 2008.

Despite all the commercial successes of the Nintendo Wii, selling over 5 million units before November isn’t necessarily translating into a real success story regarding console use. And in a year which saw a price cut from Microsoft, and no price cut from Sony…for either of its consoles, the console with over 140 million units in homes worldwide still has the highest percentage of usage among all video game consoles (links to pdf). That’s right sports fans, the PlayStation 2 is still the G.O.A.T.

My initial reaction to this report was “really? the PS3is still around?” However one has to remember that the hardcore gamer is still in the minority in the grand scheme of console gaming. Not everyone has more than one console in their house (even though I have each of the 7 consoles listed in this report). And with a ridiculously deep catalog of games to play, if someone received a PS2 this year, there’s plenty to play before boredom could mount an offensive.

Is it possible that Sony did TOO GOOD of a job with their support of the PlayStation 2? Short answer: probably not. Technically their infamous 10 year plan has another year to go and you combine that with Sony’s well documented stumbling out of the gate with the PlayStation 3 launch you end up with a year of high expectations and low achievement. Maybe winning the previous generation’s console war by such a large margin didn’t properly motivate anyone to translate that success into a solid business plan for the PS3. Regardless of the reason(s), the transition from PS3to PS3 has not been as smooth as possible and Sony is paying for it.

On the flip side, is it possible that the PlayStation 3 really ahead of its time? Short answer: maybe, but not likely. It’s been over 2 years, and only MGS4 has been touted as harnessing anything resembling the full power of the cell processor. However, it’s been over 2 years, and only MGS4 has been touted as harnessing anything resembling the full power of the cell processor.  I think that means that there’s more than plenty of room to grow, and that’s a good thing. The PS2 did have quality games at the beginning of its life cycle, but the real heavy hitters didn’t show up until the latter part of the system’s existence (see MGS3 and God of War 2 among others). If you’d like some Kool-Aid to drink, you could believe that the launch of the Xbox 360 forced Sony to bring out the PS3 sooner than they would have liked. Highly unlikely, but who doesn’t like a good conspiracy theory? After all, it’s not like the Wii was really going to compete with either of these systems on a technical level…of course neither of these systems appear to be able to compete with the Wii on a financial level, but I digress. We can argue the whether or not the Wii is a true “next gen” until one of us suffers from a diabetic coma, but for whatever reason, the Wii is in a class of its own. And while the Big N is counting their money on top of Mount Mario, Sony and Microsoft are forced to do battle in their own little arena.

And as cliche as it is to hate on Microsoft, their decision to jump ship off of the original Xbox to the 360 as soon as they did has given them significant market share and they have the highest attach rate among current-gen consoles. Obviously there are things gamers would like fixed with all their consoles: internal storage solution (Wii), improved online functionality (PS3), RRoD (360). But Microsoft has had a more successful start than Sony in the game of current gen consoles, and Sony is at risk of being designated for assignment in AAA.

If there is a light at the end of the tunnel for Sony and their Black Box of Might, I personally haven’t seen it yet. And as a PS3 owner, that’s scary thought. I’ve read plenty of articles and postings about some intriguing games coming out in 2009: Heavy Rain, Killzone 2, God of War 3, and Uncharted 2 come to mind. And I do believe that gaming will continue to improve on the PS3, but great games need consoles in homes if they are going to get purchased and played. Critical success is one thing, but in a world driven by the bottom line, especially in These Troubled Times (drink!) Sony needs to step their game up before drastic decisions are made. If it were up to me, I’d bring back the ad campaign they used for during the summer of 2008 and re-air it every 3 months featuring the latest upcoming games. They have to stay fresh in the eyes of the consumer and get the PlayStation 3 brand out there as many times as possible.

If the future of gaming is the PS3, Sony isn’t making a compelling enough argument to the masses. You can’t date a new girl and continue to send flirty text messages to your old girlfriend on the side. You have to commit to one or the other, or you’ll end up with neither.

And remember, if Sony loses, we all lose.

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