$400 Playstation 3 Rumors Continue To Build

There are two things that can sell more Playstation 3s right now. Not HOME, not remote play, and certainly not any vague claims as to the importance of Blu-Ray and/or the CELL processor. Every time I get into this discussion, it’s inevitable that someone counters with the “average joe” argument: Sony can talk up their system’s power all they want, but the guy or gal who walks into Wal-Mart still isn’t buying. Developers close to or within Sony itself absolutely love to ramble on about how Game A would never be possible on any other system or Game B is just too complex to fit on even the highest-density DVD. Oh, the technology is great, but this kind of information is leaked through the enthusiast press. I’d argue that it almost never trickles down to the mass consumer level beyond a key buzzword here or there on the rare occasions the mainstream media decides it wants to cover video games.

I’m reluctant to cater to the “average joe” argument because I know what the Playstation 3 is capable of. When Kaz struts around the stage at TGS, flipping the PS3 on and off with his PSP, that get’s me excited! But I know deep down in my gut that a lot of people really do base their purchasing decisions on the most basic of criteria. The two things that are going to sell Sony to the Luddite crowd are games and price. With the holiday season approaching at a lightning pace, they need to be able to sharpen their lineup or lower the cost within a month or two. Software is going to be tough. With LAIR being labeled far and wide as a steaming pile of dragon scat, that leaves the September NPD resting solely on the silken shoulders of Nariko. Really, what chance does Heavenly Sword (or anything) stand against the colossus we know as HALO 3? Microsoft is already preaching the word about the game’s $170 million launch intake, the highest-grossing entertainment release in the US. Ever. OK, so there’s a little bit of spin there; multiple SKUs starting from $60 a pop and so on, but I don’t think anybody expected HALO 3 to do badly. It’s the elephant in the room. You can’t ignore it.

October might see Sony do well with Folklore, Ratchet and Clank Future, and the Eye of Judgment. With the exception of R&C, there isn’t much to push new hardware sales, but they aren’t going up against all that much next-gen competition. From November on? Well, that’s going to be all-out war. I’m not sure what Sony is offering, regardless of quality, that’s going to outclass other consoles’ similarly strong lineups. It seems they would need to go above and beyond what they’ve got to attract a significant number of consumers away from the competition. So Sony needs to hit ’em with a double-whammy. It’s almost imperative and quite possibly taking the hit to the company’s self-confidence. It might be seen as a sign of weakness to “drop” again so soon (analysts were calling foul on the iPhone’s recent discount so early in its life for the same reason), but I think people still love Sony systems and Sony games and that’s not going to change. They just need to shatter that price barrier.

So rumors are popping up again that a $399 PS3 packed with a 40 gig HD is in the works. We first heard rumblings of the new SKU before TGS from an Ars Technica report, leading many to believe that it would be announced at the event. Though it didn’t come to fruition, both Sky News and journalist N’Gai Croal have perpetuated the idea that it is still a possibility. Why then, did we not hear a thing at Tokyo Game Show? In fact, Kaz Hirai outright denied a price drop of any kind before the end of the year in a post-keynote Q&A. Well, for one thing, there’s some clever wording in there. He says there is no “surprise” this time around, referring back to an unexpected pre-launch price cut for the Japanese market at last year’s convention. It’s more a response to the lack of an announcement rather than the possibility of a drop actually happening. Likewise, Sony’s regional divisions are allowed to alter cost as they see fit, in order to control revenue in those areas of the world. Nothing was announced at TGS, because even though the enthusiast press covers it, the show is not meant to specifically appeal to the Western gaming industry. In other words, SCEA is perfectly within its rights to cut the price or introduce a new SKU for the American market as soon as its ready to distribute.

I don’t think the symbiotic relationship between software and hardware can be ignored. Sales of one drive the other and vice-versa, but the most important thing Sony could do is introduce a new, more competitive pricing scheme. At this point, the lineup is set more or less in stone and the software isn’t going to improve in time for the holidays. Wired Game|Life reports that even SCi seems to think it’s a good idea. I’m afraid if Sony doesn’t do it, individual retailers will just to get inventory out and that could hurt perception and distributor confidence even more.

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~ by Cavin Smith on September 27, 2007.

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