Launch of the PlayStation 3
The PlayStation 3 was the third entry in the PlayStation line of home consoles. It launched in November 2006 (March 2007 in PAL regions) as part of the seventh generation of gaming, along with Microsoft's Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii.
However, due to a combination of a number of factors, it is infamously remembered for its terrible launch despite being regarded a great system by many.
This page will talk primarily about the original PS3 model, and detail why the launch was so bad.
The PS3 was first shown off at E3 2005 as a non functioning prototype. A working prototype was later shown at E3 2006 with a different configuration to what was shown previously. However, the Xbox 360 had already been out for 6 months and had the majority of the market share at the time, causing third party developers to flock to the system or the PS2 due to the PS3 not being out yet, and it didn't have the unique gameplay integration the Wii had. As a result, it no longer had the string of exclusive titles that the PS2 had, and it failed to give people a reason to buy the console, especially when Microsoft released their new IP, Gears of War around the same time as the PS3 launched. It didn't help that the PS3 was delayed to March 2007 in the PAL regions due to material shortages for the Blu-Ray drives.
The second major problem was the pricing. Sony had released two hardware configurations: a 20GB and 60GB model, but these models are very expensive, costing $499 for the 20GB model, and a whopping $599 for the 60GB model. This price tag made the PS3 extremely difficult to justify purchasing since its competitors were much more affordable; the Xbox 360 was either $299 for a "core system" or $399 for the fully-featured model, and the Wii was only $249 (It should be noted that each PS3 back then costed over $800 to make, but Sony refused to sell it with that price knowing that people won't buy it, meaning that they were being sold at a loss).
Thirdly, the PS3 had strange and complicated hardware. Sony used a Cell Processor which the company designed themselves, While it was very advanced for the time, the architecture was very complicated and not very developer friendly. This made the console very difficult to program for; even first party developers like Naughty Dog found it hard to work with. Because of the complex architecture, several cross-platform games ran worse on PS3 compared to the 360. Some original PS3 models even had a tendency to malfunction, also this is probably one of the reasons the console itself was very heavy and loud, this is also one of the reasons why the PS4 can't let you download games on PS now nor let you play them simply on your console.
The fourth major problem was the controller; at E3 2005 they showed a new controller that didn't look like the DualShock, instead looking more like a boomerang. This was widely criticized, however, and Sony actually changed the controller to the SIXAXIS controller, which used the same overall design as the two prior DualShocks, but lacked the vibration feature, as Sony claimed it was outdated (though in reality more likely because they had recently lost a court case over the vibration feature in the older DualShock models), which let to many people criticize them for it. Fortunately they remade the controller again, to the DualShock 3, which added the vibration feature again.
Lastly and most importantly, the PS3 suffered from a severe lack of high quality titles. While there were some good games like Resistance: Fall of Man and Heavenly Sword (even then, that one was polarizing), there wasn't much else in terms of stand out games, especially at launch. This made the $599 price tag even harder to justify than it already was.
Further adding insult to injury was Sony's marketing. The adverts were bizarre and confusing, explaining almost nothing about the system, and the PS3 was advertised as "a Blu-Ray player that also plays games" instead of the other way round. While both strategies had previously been successful for the PS2, they worked in that system's case because it launched before the GameCube and original Xbox (meaning it sold on hype alone), and the PS2's DVD capabilities were something that there was a major demand for; Blu-Ray, by comparison, was much more of a niche product in 2006 (though including it in the PS3 helped the format swiftly and decisively defeat the competing HD-DVD format).
The salt in the wounds is the "Yellow Light of Death" which indicated a hardware malfunction, this only made things worse as many would later get a different consoles instead.
Reception (Original model only)
While some media outlets praised the PS3's hardware capabilities for its "untapped potential," the console was heavily criticised for its late arrival, near $600 price tag, developer-unfriendly architecture, and lack of quality titles. GamesRadar rated the PS3 as the top item in gaming related PR disasters, and asked Sony how they were able to "take one of the most anticipated game systems of all time and — within the space of a year — turn it into a hate object reviled by the entire internet". PC World did a piece on the "Top 21 Tech Screwups of 2006" in which the PlayStation 3 ranked at #8.
Other developers and publishers were critical of the hardware; the most scathing review came from Valve's founder, Gabe Newell. He described the PS3 as a "total disaster on so many levels, I think it's really clear that Sony lost track of what customers and what developers wanted". He continued by saying that "even at this late date, they should just cancel it and do a do over. Just say, 'This was a horrible disaster and we're sorry and we're going to stop selling this and stop trying to convince people to develop for it'".
The poor sales and attach rates even prompted Billy Kotick, the CEO of Activision to threaten to abandon the PS3 in favour of the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii. He expressed major concern about the console, citing how expensive it was to develop for it, and that if Sony didn't address the problem (he suggested cutting the price), the company may have to stop supporting it. This statement was subjected to criticism from other developers.
Fortunately, impressions and sales of the PlayStation 3 would improve over time.
The PlayStation 3 suffered from poor sales and inferior attach rates in its first few years due to the above factors. The Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii continued to share most of the market by having more compelling titles, unique gameplay features, and superior attach rates, while the PS3 was left dead last and likely only avoided even worse sales by virtue of the Wii suffering shortages, and the Xbox 360 being hit with the Red Ring of Death fiasco. In addition, the Xbox 360 had exclusive games from third party publishers, as well as exclusive content for multi-platform games like Assassin's Creed II. Third party developers also fled the system due to how hard it was to make games for it, some of which even kept making games for the PS2 instead (it's probably one of the reasons why it was a huge success that it stayed almost 14 years). Even some games like Saints Row 1, WWE SmackDown Vs. RAW 2007 and Nioh cancelled their PS3 versions altogether. Sony's first blockbuster titles didn't arrive until late 2007 (roughly a year after launch) with the releases of Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, both of which were critical and commercial successes. Sony would continue to release a string of high quality first party games over the years after that.
By the end of the seventh generation, the Nintendo Wii sold the most units at 101 million units, and it took Sony 5 years to make a profit from the PlayStation 3, and just to reach level footing with the Xbox 360. It was also Sony's worst selling home console, and the only one so far that sold less than 100 million units.
The initial poor performance caused Sony to make changes to the console, as future models would have features removed in order to make it cheaper, such as super CD playback, and removing backwards compatability with PS2 games (though PS1 B/C is still there).
Then Sony completely re-branded this console by announcing a "Slim" model, which was significantly cheap to manufacture. By this time Sony had managed to create development tools that made it a lot easier to take advantage of the system's capabilities, and the company itself restructured to focus more on games, and putting out high quality titles, even the games' boxes would change logos, instead of having the title "playstation 3" written in "Spider-Man" font horizontally, they'd just simply write "PS3" on top. The "Slim" model received extremely positive reviews from tech critics, applauding Sony for their efforts to focus on games, cutting costs effectively, and reducing the price tag to a more affordable number.
Post-rebranding, the PlayStation 3 is acclaimed for its remarkable comeback mid-generation. It managed to just surpass to Xbox 360 in sales a decade later, and Sony would learn from the mistakes made with the PS3, and carry the lessons learnt over to the PlayStation 4.
However, the initial launch of the PS3 will never be forgotten, as will the damage it did to the PlayStation brand, and Sony Computer Entertainment as a whole. It is a piece of gaming history that will continue to cast a shadow over the console's legacy to this very day, to the point that even Sony once admitted that the launch of the PS3 is their darkest times.
- It is the first console to be able to play 3 console games, PS1, PS2 and PS3.
- It was advanced and had some cool features that even future consoles don't have.
- PS1 and PS2 games that are played on it would get upscaled in graphics and visuals.
- Despite the slow start, the console itself was home to many great new first party IP's like Uncharted, Resistance, inFamous, The Last of Us, and Motorstorm.
- Older franchises also continued to enjoy success on PlayStation 3 with games like God of War III, the Ratchet & Clank Future trilogy, Killzone 2, Twisted Metal, and even WipEout HD.