Sony PlayStation 3

Sony PlayStation 3 - PS3

The PS3

by Brian Ashcraft, February 2007

Sony's battle-cry: "The next generation doesn't start until we say it does." Dubbed a "super computer," the PS3 was supposed a sure fire hit, a hat trick for Sony. It was supposed to be, but was everything but that.

Midnight and raining. There I was, in front of Yodobashi Camera in Osaka. I was surrounded by clamoring customers. With Xbox 360's eBay insanity hitting America a year earlier, the same look poised for Japan, where PlayStation was king.

The Sony console dominated sales and almost pushed Microsoft's Xbox and Nintendo's GameCube into extinction. It wasn't leaving the competition in the dust, it was burying it.

Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 back in late 2005, and displayed its machine earlier that year at the industry's biggest event, E3. The response was muted with bystanders saying it merely looked like the original Xbox with a fresh coat of paint. Sony unveiled its new console with supposed in-game footage that floored anything Microsoft was showing.

A PS3 release was set: Spring 2006. And the wait began. The long, long wait.

PlayStation 2, Sony Archives, Shinagawa, Tokyo.
PlayStation 2, Sony Archives, Shinagawa, Tokyo

Rumblings filtered through. A disgruntled programmer blasted the new Sony console as difficult to program for. By fall, Sony had yet to even offer public hands-on with the PS3. That Spring drop date was looking like a pipe-dream.

The landscape had changed. Thanks to a portable platform called the DS, Nintendo had risen from the shambles of the GameCube. A strong string of first and third party games (if they could even be called games!) followed, and the portable was a hit with hardcore and casual gamers.

By 2006, the DS was a juggernaut in Japan with sell-outs common and DSes being re-imported from America. The made-over Nintendo introduced a new controller at TGS for a quirky little console later known as the Wii.

Spring came, but the PS3 didn't. Sony was silent, but details emerged that an E3 press conference would explain all. And it did. Disastrously.

The infamous E3 press conference. The video later made the YouTube rounds, but sitting there was something else entirely. There were games based on "traditional Japanese history" that featured "giant enemy crabs," there were game clips that didn't look as impressive as previously seen, there were executives who clearly looked out of touch and there was a console with an enormous price-tag. Suddenly the Xbox 360 seemed like a deal.

Fall came, bringing the Tokyo Game Show and hoards of people lining up for hours to play the PS3. Retailers, Sony and the Japanese public took this as a sign of things to come: The PS3 was gonna be huge. November 11th was penciled in for launch, and in Osaka and Tokyo, thousands descended on retailers like Yodobashi Camera and Bic Camera. And few of them were actual gamers.

As I stood there at midnight in that PS3 launch rain, it dawned on my that nobody seemed to be speaking English. Homeless men clumped together and people pushed forward. Software sales were scant.

Excuses could me made that there wasn't a strong launch line-up or that these customers weren't interested in playing games on their PS3s, but selling them. In Tokyo, father of the PlayStation Ken Kutaragi met with the first in line at the Yukuracho Bic Camera. The customer bought no games and couldn't speak Japanese.

Launch, it seemed, was a bust. Then the bad press hit. TV shows traveled to Hong Kong where the PS3 was readily available. In Japan it wasn't. Prices hit high on auction sites. Then something happened, cooler heads and an even cooler market appeared.

PS3s popped up in large numbers at retailers in America and Japan. Supply outstripped demand, and everyone who had been buying the PS3 had the intention of selling it, it seemed.

Consoles sat on store shelves as Japanese gamers busied themselves with the latest Nintendo DS games. PlayStation father Ken Kutaragi was reshuffled away in the company, and Sony Computer Entertainment of America's Kaz Hirai was promoted to oversee things in Japan.

While Kutaragi, a gamer and engineer by trade, whiled away his time, the number crunching Hirai got down to trying to turn a profit.

By the year's beginning, the PlayStation 2 was still outselling the PS3, and a few isolated stores in Tokyo began knocking 100 yen off the 20 GB version of the PS3. And with Xbox 360 titles like "Gears of War" and "THE IDOLM@STER" becoming popular in Japan, retailers actually began buying used Xbox 360s at higher prices than the 20GB PS3.

While Sony of the arrogance of old remained, Sony was shaken up. A quirky Nintendo console that couldn't even play DVDs pulled ahead post launch, and Microsoft's consoles that lacked all the HD bells and whistles both seemed to pull ahead.

A dearth of strong post-launch titles meant purchased Sony consoles sat and waited for big, PS3-only games like "Metal Gear Solid 4" and "Final Fantasy XIII" -- Games that couldn't come soon enough. Next-gen had started, but not when Sony said it would.

Brian Ashcraft is a regular contributor for

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