Meanwhile, partisans in the console war passionately debate whether the next casualty of the PS3 launch will be the PS3 itself.
Some call the PS3 launch "disastrous," but even with the body count to date, it's not a genuine disaster - yet. Sales are sluggish, but a genuinely terrible product launch scorches the earth, annihilating hope of recovery. This hasn't happened to the PS3 - yet. In contrast to past launch disasters - the Ford Edsel, the Susan B. Anthony dollar - the PS3, as a product, has earned from neutral parties a measure of respect, if not enthusiasm. The New York Times called the console "over-engineered," not the worst insult imaginable.
Yet incessant news coverage chronicles the continuing aggrieved outcry over the PS3's $599 price, quirky high-def support and sub-optimal backward compatibility, plus a number of smaller technical glitches. Hundreds of stories fan the flames of a high-definition religious war between supporters of the PS3's new disk format, Blu-ray, and fans of the Xbox 360's HD-DVD.
So sensitized is the audience, even measured statements draw flames. The February 23, 2007 installment of David Carnoy's "Fully Equipped" column on CNet is provocatively titled "Ten Things I Hate About the PS3," though he immediately backpedals: "I think the PS3 is a very nice piece of gear - but it also has some issues that need to be addressed." His mild-mannered list would seem to reflect pure consensus: price, high-def support, smaller tech glitches. Yet apparently the mere act of writing "PS3" summons the fanatics, for the column's comment thread is as bloodthirsty as any on Kotaku or Joystiq. An early comment is titled "Hope your house falls off in a gigantic mudslide."
You could speculate on the reasons for this passion - assuming you've never owned a video console. You might wonder if the anti-PS3 faction is reacting to, say, Sony's criminal mistreatment of its customers in the 2005 rootkit debacle. Or maybe they're annoyed by Sony executives' relentlessly specious yet oddly ungrounded spin; see, for example, GameDaily's February 2007 talk with SCE Worldwide Studios president Phil Harrison, where he claimed the PS3s that sit unsold on store shelves, even as Nintendo's Wii continues to sell out, simply prove Sony manages its supply chain better.
You might wonder in this way - unless you know. Unless you spent your formative years playing a PlayStation or PS2 hours every day. That long affinity, more familiar and intense, in a way more intimate, than your relationships with most of your friends ... it left strong feelings. To see its successor so strangely handled, to wonder whether you can continue that relationship, or whether it will be destroyed by senseless decisions beyond your control ... it feels almost like betrayal.
Is the PlayStation 3, so soon after launch, already in trouble? Despite all the noise, it's still too early to tell.
The launch shortages are now history, which is good (no playing musical chairs for Wal-Mart managers) and bad (weak sales). According to sales data tracked by the NPD Group, the PS3 is the poorest-selling of the new consoles, moving only 244,000 units in North America in January 2007, compared to 294,000 for the Xbox 360 and 436,000 for the Wii. In Japan, according to Media Create, the PS3 is selling only 20-30,000 units weekly, compared to about 50-100,000 for the PS2 at the same point in its life cycle. In fact, in both regions, the venerable PlayStation 2 still tops the charts.