First Mover Advantage – Part I

We recently recruited some new writers to help us out with what will, no doubt, become a growing influx of additional news due to the extension we’re building here at TSA Towers. So as a gentle opener, a PS3 vs 360 article. How could this go wrong? Be nice though, he’s only just had a chance to wipe journalistic milk from his upper lip.

It was a wintry day in 2007 (it might not have been, I’m not sure though. I think this happened around March so it would of been wintry, the timescale fits) and I was working behind the butchery counter at a supermarket which shall not be named (hint: it’s the one that heavily promotes its real butchers). I was approached by the duty manager, he was a nice guy and had an offer for me. The PS3 was coming out in a month or so, and he wanted to offset the cost by selling off his 360. He barely used it anyway and it had never been online so hadn’t been sold yet as far Microsoft knew. £200 for the pro version of the console and six games, did I know anyone who’d be interested? Hell yes! Me! The price was within my budget of meagre wages and student loan money, so I snapped it up and that weekend I picked it up from his place. The reason I bought it? Was it the price? Well maybe, even now £200 for an Xbox 360 with six games is a good price. But the real reason? It was available to me. If the PS3 had been out right there and then maybe I would have saved up for it and got the glossy black box, rather than my matte white friend. The fact of the matter was here was a guy, offering me the Xbox 360 right here and now. Not at the end of the month or when I could save up for it, but right at this second. And that’s where my loyalty jumped from Sony to Microsoft as it had previously jumped from Sega to Sony when my parents bought me and my brother a PlayStation.

This first mover advantage is certainly one of the factors that has played into Microsoft’s lead this generation, at the very least in terms of sales. There were a lot of people, like me, who didn’t want to wait the year and three months until Sony finally released their console. Of course there was no way Sony could have released the console at that point (some even say that it was still too early when it did make its way to the market) but they were still behind from the start. With the complete dominance of the PS2 and the huge marketing tool of the PlayStation brand backing their product, in addition to the generally mocking reception that the original Xbox had received, they likely felt pretty safe in putting their console out later. However whatever magic clicked with them for the first two consoles just wasn’t quite there this time, and they were behind. So what did they do? What Sony has always done when faced with a competing console, they learnt and adapted.

Before Launch

This iteration of the PlayStation hardware was certainly a huge jump from the last generation, far more of a gap than between the original PlayStation and PlayStation 2. Not only did it build on the success of the PS2, but also heavily drew on the strengths of the original Xbox. The inclusion of the hard-disk drive and online connectivity were certainly building on what the Xbox had done. Sure those features were add-ons that existed for the PS2, but they weren’t exactly huge successes at the time and they were pretty much drawing on what the Xbox (and before that the Dreamcast and Saturn) had announced in terms of functionality. Even Sony didn’t really care about the accessories, with support being phased out when the Slimline model was released.

When the PS3 was announced the integrated network support and hard-disk configuration was not only designed to build on the PS2 accessories, and the Xbox and Xbox 360, but to thoroughly defeat the offering from Microsoft. Sony seemed so determined to beat the 360 feature set that they didn’t even announce the console until less than six months before the 360’s launch. When you’re that far behind the competition you need to produce something stellar. And Sony really did. Integrated wireless support, a 60GB hard-disk option that made the 360 look pathetic by comparison, the technical achievement of the cell processor that somehow made the 360 look quaint and old-fashioned and of course the future of entertainment in the Blu-Ray drive was all included in one neat, shiny package. At this point it seemed that Sony pretty much had this generation sewn up. They had the brand, they had the market share and they had the tech. How could they not grind the competition into the dust? It was pretty simple, the price.

Intermission – The Price

Ok, so this may not be the first point in the article where you’re shouting at your screen, but I felt it was a good point for a break to explain my point. I have to agree with the general consensus that the PS3 is absolute stunning value for money. It is still arguably the best Blu-Ray player on the market, it has technology in it that’s being used to build super-computers and it really is light-years ahead of the competition as a technical achievement. However when your own company’s executives say that people will need to get a second job to pay for the console you have a problem. That certainly wasn’t the intention behind Kutaragi’s statement back in 2005, but the mud has stuck to the name and the damage was done. There certainly is a perception, no matter how unfairly deserved, that the PS3 is too expensive and has priced itself out of the market. Even the sales figures don’t hold this perception out. Comparing the opening month figures for the Xbox 360 and PS3 in Japan and North America (the figures for Europe just aren’t accurate enough) the PS3 actually outsold the 360 by 25,000 units across both territories. These figures are the best I could find from the NPD numbers and VGChartz (which should be corrected with Media Create for figures this old) and took hours of painstaking research. Why can’t someone just send me the sales figures each week, and keep a full archive somewhere? Then I could play some actual games instead of researching sales figures for games.

Read Pt II of this series.