Where we are?
The year is 2012, and as it stands right now we are in what I would label the “twilight” years of the current generation of home video game consoles. These consoles include the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and to a certain extent the Wii (The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles have given the Wii-faithful some last second heroics, but nothing to write home about). Microsoft has had a steady stream of games and hardware – as well as hardware updates – grace gamers in the past year and a half. Nintendo, while letting the Wii slowly trickle down to death status, has substantially picked up the handheld video game market with their constant infusion and dedication to the 3DS. It's also important to mention their upcoming Wii U console that will, supposedly, be launching before the end of the year. That leaves Sony, while having a pretty good 2010-2011 year as it regards to games, who hasn’t really wowed anyone or made anyone think that the mega-publisher/developer is gearing up for a stretch run to close out this era of gaming. That leads to an important question...
Where is Sony?
Allow me to draw some comparisons to where I think Sony is going… not where they have been. If you look back at the Nintendo Wii’s glory days, the console had a great year in 2010 but if you study the games that were released that year (Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, No More Heroes 2, Red Steel 2, Monster Hunter Tri, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid: Other M, Goldeneye 007, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Epic Mickey) I think you would agree with me that in 2010 the Wii had the best year of any console this current generation, no matter what you think of those first party titles. Seldom do you get four first party video games for a console in a year, but the Wii got 11. You could say that Nintendo was giving the Wii a proper send off by bumping up several projects (Super Mario Galaxy 2/Metroid: Other M) in order to push Wii sales one last time but Nintendo knew that by cramming 11 first party titles on the Wii into a single year, in 2011 gamers would have no choice but to purchase a 3DS. It’s an interesting sales idea; forsaking one console to sell another, but it’s worked – sales for the Nintendo 3DS are through the roof in the US, Europe, and in Japan. Nintendo spent the entire year in 2011 focused on selling the 3DS and its accompanied video games. Yes, Nintendo gave the Wii its one last great game in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword last November, but they never lost focus of where they were going in the near future. 2011 allowed them to free up time and development teams in anticipation for the Wii U’s launch later this year. As you can see, Nintendo strategically let a console die, focused on their handheld market for a time, and now are gearing up for a new console (yet to be announced). Does that sound familiar to another certain video game console developer who recently launched a new handheld gaming device?
Now let’s examine Sony’s 2011 gaming year as it pertains to the PlayStation 3 and beyond. If you look back at the games that were released for the PS3 that year, they include; infamous 2, Killzone 3, Resistance 3, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, and Yakuza 4 . As you can see, it's very similar to the Wii’s 2010. Sony’s 2011 PS3 year wasn’t quite as good as the Wii’s but it’s in the same ballpark and they used the same formula of cramming 8 first party titles into a single year. The big 2011 allowed Sony to focus on the launch of the PS Vita, the company’s latest handheld gaming device, in Japan (late 2011) and the US & Europe early here in 2012. The only problem with their carbon copy of Nintendo’s strategy is that the PS Vita has struggled mightily since being launched. Numbers were so low in Japan that the PS Vita wasn’t even represented in the country’s top 10 software charts until early February. One reason the Vita has struggled since its launch is that the brand new handheld doesn’t have the software to accompany it. It’s the same problem that the 3DS ran into at its launch; the supply of worthwhile titles for the hardware didn’t meet its anticipation. Think about it, what’s the one “must have” title on the PS Vita? Uncharted: Golden Abyss? FIFA? It’s an honest question that Sony hasn’t addressed. I know there are plans for all types of Vita titles in the near future but will gamers hold out or will they give up before Sony has the chance to prove the Vita’s worth? Those are the questions that Sony should be addressing, yet they continue to support their Move controller and develop games centered on the peripheral when gamers have moved on from motion-controlled gaming.
Now let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here. Sony has proved time and time again that they generally know what they’re doing when it comes to the video game realm (the PSP Go withstanding). The PlayStation 3 was released in November 2006 in both Japan and the United States, and that release date was heavily criticized because the PlayStation 2 was still very much alive and still moving heavy numbers of units. The PlayStation 3 also introduced Blu-ray disc technology to the world, a technology that was way ahead of its time even in 2006. Officially the PlayStation 3 didn’t really catch on until 2008 when Sony and its in-house developers finally started putting out AAA titles. Fast-forward to 2012 and the PlayStation 3 has dominated the video game market for the past year and a half. It’s not the smoothest way to introduce a new home video game console but the PS3 was built to be a 10-15 year entertainment machine, not just a video game console. So there is still reason to believe that Sony is gearing up for a massive new home console that will, reasonably, last us the next 15 years. After all, hasn’t Sony earned our trust with consoles?
Wherever Sony is at currently has no bearing on whether or not the PS Vita and the (presumably) PlayStation 4 will be world beaters. Sony’s track record speaks for itself. They have literally had one swing and a miss as far as video game hardware is concerned and the PSP Go was more of an attempt at gauging the market’s interest in digital distribution anyways. The original PlayStation, the PS2 –fat/slim, the PSP (all models), and the PS3 – fat/slim have all been gigantic success stories. There’s no reason to stop believing in Sony and right now would actually be a good time to get back on the bandwagon, if you happened to have fallen off along the way. After the success of Journey (PSN), look at what Sony has on tap for the PlayStation 3 in the coming year; Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, God of War 4, The Last Guardian, Dust 514, and Starhawk amongst others.
Is Sony allowing the PlayStation 3 to die in order to focus on the PS Vita and the upcoming PlayStation 4? I don’t think so, but you be the judge.