Because of what I have written on here about Sony I have been accused many times of being a Nintendo or a Microsoft fanboy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I only report what I see. And what I see is a Sony that has lost its way.
The facts are very, very simple. In the Playstation one generation Sony had massive global domination, nobody came anywhere near them. In the Playstation two generation Sony were hugely dominant again. Nintendo and Microsoft were minnows in comparison. Then we come to the Playstation three (PS3) generation and suddenly the wheels fall off. Sony are running third and it very much looks like it is going to stay that way. Analysts and fanboys continually promise or hope that a revival in fortunes is just around the corner, but it never comes. So what went wrong:
- The cell processor, this was a huge mistake in many ways. Firstly it cost a fortune in development and putting into production, which is money that needs to be recovered. Secondly it delayed getting the PS3 to market, giving away huge competitive advantage. Thirdly, whilst very powerful, it is a very long way from being optimised for the job of running a console. Overall they would have been better buying an off the shelf generalised processor as they did for previous models and as their competitors did.
- The graphics processor is a lot less powerful than the one in it’s main competitor’s machine. This effectively limits what the PS3 can do, no matter what the CPU and memory are doing. Fanboys blame the developers for being lazy and not putting enough work into PS3 games when the reality is that it is the machine itself that is holding the games back.
- BluRay. The Playstation 3 was used as a Trojan horse to get this technology standard accepted by the world. And at this it has succeeded. But at a terrible cost. It forced the price of the PS3 up sufficiently to stifle consumer demand whilst forcing Sony to absorb massive losses. It is strange that Sony nearly bet the company on this at a time when physical delivery of content is in steep decline. A phyrric victory indeed. If this were not enough, difficulties in putting BluRay into production contributed to the delays in getting PS3 to market.
- The complex architecture of the PS3 makes it very difficult to develop content for. A lot more difficult than for it’s main competitors. This wasn’t helped by Sony releasing development tools that were also greatly weaker than those from its competitors. A double whammy that caused huge problems for games developers worldwide. Many games were delayed because the problems were so great, costing the game developers a fortune and depriving the marketplace of product.
- Sony totally misread the way the market was going. They have clung to their hardcore gamer base and squandered the lead in casual gaming that they had with EyeToy and SingStar. Nintendo have come along with a simpler machine that has massively outsold the Sony PS3 with the simple tactic of providing entertainment that is accessible to a lot more people. With hindsight it looks so obvious, but Sony missed it completely. As a result Nintendo made a fortune and Sony lost a fortune.
- Sony have been stretched for cash. They have made losses. The technology in the PS3 has cost a fortune and they are almost certainly still making a loss on every machine sold. They have been forced to raise new capital and to sell off bits of the company. So they have little room to manoeuvre. They cannot throw money at the PS3 problem. This whilst their two main competitors are rolling in money which they are both using to reinforce their positions.
- Lack of exclusive content. Both competing machines have a lot more exclusive AAA content. This is a massive USP when the reason for buying these machines is to play content on them. Microsoft have invested heavily into a very impressive catalogue of exclusives and have managed to seduce some former major Sony exclusives into becoming cross platform. This alone has caused an immense shift in competitive advantage.
- Sony have messed up very badly with online. This is a real killer and comes from them being a hardware company whilst Microsoft is a software company. So Microsoft understood the importance of online and invested massively in Live. And that investment is paying them back enormously. So they continue to invest and Live is becoming one of the biggest phenomenons ever in gaming. Giving customers a massive USP whilst generating a lot of revenue for Microsoft. And it is growing with almost unbelievable impetus, both in content and in users. The Sony competitor, Home, is still not released after multiple delays and is now several years behind. It will be nearly impossible for Sony to pull back such a huge lead.
- Sony have huge, world class, divisions in many areas. Telephones, Film making, Portable Music (they invented this) and Console Gaming. Yet these divisions appear not to talk to each other. So a potential huge strength has become a weakness. The film division isn’t used to place all their unique IP on the consoles for instance. And outsiders who are less constrained can enter Sony’s markets and win. Hence the iPhone which could and should have been a Sony product yet instead has come from a company, Apple, that just a few years earlier had no stake whatsoever in consumer electronics.
With all that against them it is amazing that Sony have sold as many PS3s as they have. The reason they have done so is because of the impetus of the brand and the loyalty of a large section of their user base. The majority of console users have yet to upgrade to this generation, there is still a huge untapped market of non console households and we have yet to reach the $199 sweet spot when the bulk of sales occur. So there is still hope for Sony, which is what the analysts are grasping for. The problem for Sony now is that the sheer weight of USPs is against them. A gulf that further widened this E3 where Nintendo and Microsoft forged ahead whilst Sony were distinctly lacklustre.