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PS3 is Packed -- But at a Price

9 May, 2006 By: John Gaudiosi

Taking a page from Microsoft's Xbox 360 launch strategy, Sony Computer Entertainment will release PlayStation 3 in the United States Nov. 17 in two versions.

The $499 next-generation console will come with a 20GB hard-disc drive, while the $599 version will include a 60GB hard-disc drive and an HDMI port, Sony announced at the E3 show in Los Angeles. Both versions will use Blu-Ray Disc as the format for all games, and both consoles will be backward-compatible will all PlayStation 2 and PlayStation games, as well as current DVDs and CDs.

With its November worldwide launch, Sony will ask hardcore gamers to shell out the most money ever for a mainstream game console — even if they opt for the lower-priced $499 PS3.

“Some investors may question whether Sony will be competitive with its console priced $100 higher than the Xbox 360,” said Michael Pachter, videogame analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities. “We think that it will. Although we do not believe that consumers will pay an incremental $100 for the motion-sensitive controller alone, we think that this feature, plus the option-value of high-definition movie playback via the Blu-ray drive, offers sufficient incentive for consumers to pay more.”

The game slate is also a factor in PS3's superior offering, he said. “The lineup of software at launch is likely to be deeper than the lineup for the Xbox 360 launch,” he said.

P.J. McNealy, video game analyst for American Technology Research, wondered whether a Blu-Ray movie that is copy-protected using the AACS-LA copy-protection specifications with the "image constraint token" turned on will play on the lower-priced PS3.

Sony's PS3 will launch with a new Bluetooth wireless controller that features motion tracking, which means that in addition to using the analog controller and buttons on the controller, gamers can tilt the controller to control the on-screen action.

While Sony did not announce an actual number of PS3 launch titles, it did show new PS3 games in action. One of Sony's best-selling franchises is coming to PS3. Gran Turismo HD will feature high-definition graphics that feature three times the clarity of an HDTV broadcast and 12 times the amount of information of PS2's Gran Turismo 4.

Other Sony-published games shown included the samurai battle game Genji 2, an F1 racing game, the gladiator combat game Heavenly Sword, a new Getaway crime game, a new Hot Shots Golf title, the first-person shooter Resistance: Fall of Man, and a new action game, Eight Days.

On the third-party PS3 front, Ubisoft debuted its Crusades epic Assassin's Creed and the World War II first-person shooter Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway. Bandai Namco showed Tekken 6, Ridge Racer 7 and a new “Gundam” mech game. Konami featured Metal Gear Solid 4 and Coded Arms Assault. Midway showed John Woo's Stranglehold; Sega had Virtua Fighter 5, Virtua Tennis 3 and Sonic the Hedgehog showcased; and Koei had Fatal Inertia and Bladestorm: The Hundred Years War. Electronic Arts is bringing lifelike athletes to its PS3 sports games, like Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 and Madden NFL 07.

Sony isn't expected to have any problems selling its first 4 million consoles, which will be divided among the three territories this November. The hardware maker expects to have 6 million PS3s out worldwide by the end of March 2007.

While the PS3 price may seem daunting, early adopters didn't balk at the $300 or $400 versions of Xbox 360 that Microsoft shipped last November. In fact, Microsoft has sold more units of the higher-priced premium package than the lower-priced core edition. Microsoft is likely to keep its current pricing for Xbox 360 throughout this year, given that PS3 will be more expensive and in limited supply this fall. Microsoft expects to have a worldwide installed base of 9 million to 10 million Xbox 360s by the end of this year.

Microsoft will ship an Xbox 360 high-def disc player this fall. The HD DVD external drive will play HD DVD movies, but will not play games. No price was given, but the device is rumored to cost about $100.

Microsoft Xbox 360 owners will have 160 games to choose from come this fall, including Forza Motorsport 2, Fable 2, Gears of War, Alan Wake and Shadowrun.

One of the biggest games of the year, Grand Theft Auto IV, will ship for Xbox 360 and PS3 simultaneously. Microsoft has inked a deal with publisher Rockstar Games to expand this game with exclusive episodic content that will be digitally distributed through Xbox Live Marketplace.

Microsoft announced that 18 million transactions have occurred on Xbox Live Marketplace to date. In addition to new games and content, Microsoft unveiled its first original TV content for its service this week. LivePlanet's "The Gears of War: The Race to E3" will be available through the Marketplace, and will also air across the MTV networks.

Bill Gates was on hand at the E3 news conference to unveil the Halo 3 trailer, but that game is not expected to debut until next year, which is when the Universal Pictures/20th Century Fox film is expected to bow.

Gates also unveiled "Live Anywhere," which will allow Xbox 360 players to communicate and play games with Windows-based PC players and mobile phone gamers.

The Xbox Live network is expected to reach 6 million gamers by next year.

Nintendo remained mum on the launch date and price for its newly renamed next-generation console, Wii (formerly Revolution). The system is expected to launch in the United States before Thanksgiving. Analysts believe the console will retail for about $200, making it the most affordable next-generation console on the market. Wii games also are expected to keep a lower $40 to $50 price, compared to the $50 to $60 that PS3 and Xbox 360 games are expected to carry.

Nintendo had 27 playable Wii games on display at E3, including a brand new Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (which will ship for both Wii and GameCube), Madden NFL 07, Disney/Pixar's Cars, a new “SpongeBob SquarePants” game, Tony Hawk Downhill Jam, the sword/gunplay action title Red Steel, Dragon Ball Z, Super Swing Golf Pangya, Sonic Wild Fire, Rayman 4, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, the adventure game Dragon Quest, the racer ExciteTruck, the fighting game Project H.A.M.M.E.R. and the action game Disaster.

Nintendo is stressing innovative gameplay with its Wii, which features a one-handed TV remote control-style controller. This controller allows game makers to explore new physical interaction with the gamers. Electronic Arts' new “Madden” game for Wii was developed separately from the current and next-gen “Madden” titles. As a result, players will pass the ball by mimicking a real passing motion with the controller in hand. Nintendo is encouraging all of its game creators to employ new interaction opportunities in its Wii games in an effort to open up gaming to a larger audience.

In addition to its Virtual Console, which allows gamers to digitally download classic Nintendo, Sega and Hudson Soft games to memory cards, the Wii's connectivity will allow games to be updated at night with new content sent to the box.

On the portable front, Sony also said its PlayStation Portable is the fastest-selling console in its history. The publisher has shipped 47.3 million PSP games through its first 18 months on the market.

In addition to shipping new games like Ape Escape 2, Planet PSP, Killzone Liberation, B-Boy, Loco Roco, Syphon Filter Dark Mirror, World Tour Soccer 2, Talk Man and Gangs of London for PSP, Sony will introduce a $20 Greatest Hits line-up July 25.

Sony first-party games ATV Offroad Fury, Ape Escape: On the Loose, Hot Shots Golf, Twisted Metal and Wipeout Pure will launch the initiative with 15 third-party games to be added later this summer.

PSP owners also will soon be able to download original PlayStation games like Ridge Racer to memory cards for play on the portable. Sony also is introducing voice-over-IP, RSS channel, a camera and a GPS device for PSP later this year. PS3 will communicate with the PSP to bring new avenues of interaction.

Meanwhile, Nintendo has sold 16 million Nintendo DS hardware units to date. The publisher is launching the new, smaller Nintendo DS Lite for $130 later this month.

Nintendo will continue to support this portable with 100 new games like New Super Mario Bros., Starfox DS, Mario Hoops 3 on 3, Yoshi's Island 2, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Diddy Kong Racing, Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Big Brain Academy and Mario vs. DK: March of the Minis.

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