Slim-fever already seems to have gripped retail in the UK, just over 24 hours since the new PlayStation 3 was announced. A walk around the centre of Manchester this afternoon would have been a fruitful one for any Sony zealots; hastily made Slim announcement signs adorning many of the games and entertainment outlets, the current console’s price already dropped to the new RRP of £249.99.
But, it needs pointing out, this is hardly an ideal re-launch for Sony. The company has been forced into this position because things haven’t panned out as the electronics giant initially thought they would. Sony’s PlayStation wing has gone from proclaiming the PS3 as a system people would work overtime to afford (thanks go to Kutaragi for that one) to a format facing a major redesign and rebranding just three years into its lifecycle.
It appears to be even more of a last-ditch attempt to rouse support in Europe, where the original PS3 only launched in March 2007 – less than two and a half years ago. A ‘slimmed’ down version was always inevitable, of course, the respective successes of the PSone and ‘slimline’ PS2 making a revised PS3 a part of the PlayStation process, but both these follow-ups came when the original versions were already in commanding and, arguably, unassailable positions, the PSone actually launching as late as 2000. They both had an almost celebratory affair and, while increasing sales was no doubt part of both of their remits, neither were launched with the goal of clawing back a near 8 million worldwide deficit. And that’s just to move into second place.
That is, without doubt, the PS3 Slim’s target. Sony will, of course, trump the technical advances made by this revision, and while I might not be an expert when it comes to the insides of these machines, no doubt the system is cheaper to make and, therefore, a more commercial prospect. But though retail will actually pitch this as a sign of confidence in the format, much like the way Apple’s yearly iPhone revisions are lapped up by consumers worldwide, in truth the PS3 Slim only exists in 2009 because the format has narrowly avoided becoming a white elephant more than once in its relatively short life.
Back in 2007, when the console was losing franchises previously regarded as stalwart PlayStation exclusives, sales skirted awkwardly close to the embarrassing, Sony’s latest becoming ‘the next Dreamcast’ a very real prospect. Even this year, the world’s largest publisher – Activision-Blizzard – fired a warning shot across the PS3’s bow, company president Bobby Kotick openly questioning whether the publisher would support the system beyond 2009.
Arguably, the PS3’s sole high point came in 2008 – the supposed ‘year of the PS3’ – during the first half of the year, when Grand Theft Auto IV and Metal Gear Solid 4 gave sales a much needed boost and, perhaps slightly artificially, gave the impression of a system gaining momentum. It didn’t last long, however, the Xbox 360 eventually surpassing the PS3’s 2008 tally with ease during a strong Christmas for Microsoft. Sony’s console, even with top exclusives, was just too expensive to be a real challenger in the long-term.
That, of course, has now changed. Much of the baggage that the PS3 has been lugging about since 2006, both with the press and the consumer, will now be shaken off, the PS3 Slim even dropping the ever-unpopular SpiderMan-esque logo and the games’ box-art apparently being revised. The design, too, will win favour with gadget geeks (though, personally, to me it looks like a cheap Chinese knock-off), making it a likely purchase even for those who already own an original PS3.
You have to wonder, however, just how those who have picked up a PS3 for £299 over the last few weeks, or even months, will feel about a new, sleeker and cheaper system coming to market in September. And there’s also the question of whether knocking £50 off the price in the UK is enough. In my view, while $299 in the States and €299 in Europe might be considered the “sweet spot” by SCEA president Jack Tretton, in the UK, Sony probably needs to slice another £50 from the new RRP to really reach its potential. I personally think £229 would have been a better compromise, enabling the PS3 to keep its expensive ‘hi-tech’ image, while also making it more of an impulse purchase in the run-up to Christmas. As it is, I suspect the PS3 will have a fair few weeks of shifting record-numbers in Britain, before falling back into a weekly third place.
The price-drop is likely to have more of an effect in Europe – where the race is much closer – and the States, but the latter contest already appears to have been lost. The 360’s lead and, perhaps most importantly, fanbase appears to be too strong in Microsoft’s home territory for Sony to really make any serious inroads over there before generation’s end, Slim or no Slim.
But, from a purely tactical standpoint, the PS3 Slim is a smart move by Sony, the company finally taking action rather than simply waiting/hoping for the market to be drawn to the system. It’s still a format weighed down by some major problems – developers’ reluctance to give it precedence over the 360 being the main one – but it’s unlikely that Sony will be facing an early exit from this generation’s tussle now. The Slim looks to have given the PS3 some legs.