2011 indeed looks to be the year of the Playstation 3 thanks to a huge line-up of exclusive games. However, that may be the case in more ways than one and the next few months could be critical in shaping the future of Sony’s console.
Hacking / Piracy
Let’s get right to it, news of the jailbreak for the Playstation 3 has been one of the dominant if not the dominant topic for the console in the past few weeks and with good reason. The Playstation 3 is all but an open book to those willing to risk installing custom firmware on their console and at this point there doesn’t look like there’s much that Sony can do about it as the problem continues to grow from simple homebrew apps being run to the previously secure system running pirated games to online play being ruined by hacks.
So far, Sony’s response has been to send out a canned “we’re working on it” response while also attempting to take those responsible for jailbreaking the PS3 to court. Given that a good chunk of those responsible for discovering the PS3 root key live overseas, a lawsuit against them in a US District Court has fail written all over it. Even bringing New Jersey resident George “GeoHot” Hotz from New Jersey to California doesn’t look promising as the jurisdictional question has resulted in a delay of the trial.
However, the biggest danger in the trial comes from Sony potentially losing the case. An update to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) last year made jailbreaking the iPhone and other cell phones legal. It’s not that big of a jump to argue that that ruling should apply to home consoles as well. If that happens, Sony risks making it legal to hack not just the PS3 but the Xbox 360 and Wii as well.
If Sony were wise, they would move aggressively against those found to be using hacks in an illicit manner. This means permanently banning consoles found to be running pirated copies of games, hacks that unlock all trophies and/or hacks meant to gain an unfair advantage in online play. In the past, Microsoft has gone so far as to corrupt save game data and Achievements on banned consoles. Whether or not Sony could or would be willing to go that far is unknown but if they plan on keeping the PS3 secure, they need to attack the hacks via bannings as well and not just system updates that will likely be bypassed not long after they are released.
It is rumored that Sony is going to tie a serial key to the disk in future releases that will authenticate games. This may restore confidence in the minds of developers but could deflate confidence with gamers if the requirements for authentication prove to be too restrictive.
Whichever way the PS3 hacking saga turns out, Sony will waste valuable time, money and resources trying to fix problem that the release of the root key has caused. How this affects other planned features for the system is still in question.
Pricing / Sales
The Playstation 3 posted disappointing U.S. sales figures for the months of November and December – the two hottest consumer months of the year. After November saw barely over 500,000 consoles sold, December’s sales figures were buoyed partially by retail and online stores offering gift cards and store credit ranging from $25 to $100. The 1.2 million units sold in December turned out to be respectable but at the same time troubling compared to the competition.
The Playstation 3 is still the most expensive console with the price starting at $300 and going up as high as $400 for the Move bundle. The question now is have sales hit a plateau or will a line-up of exclusives that started this week with LittleBigPlanet 2 and continues with Killzone 3, MLB The Show, Yakuza 4, Playstation Move Heroes, and SOCOM 4 over the next few months give Sony the sales numbers they are looking for.
It’s been two years since the PS3, Xbox 360 or Wii received a price cut so all three consoles are actually very much due. The problem for Sony is that cuts to the other two consoles from their $200 base price makes them even more of an impulse buy.
The current $50 gift card and credit offers at retailers indicate that the PS3 price will get dropped down to $250 at a minimum. Sony indicated last April that they finally got the PS3 manufacturing cost to just below the $300 retail price. More cost savings should have occurred by now but the question is how much. Is it enough to drop down to $200 or will Sony only be able to go as low as $250.
How the Playstation 3 performs at retail over the first quarter of 2011 will determine when a price cut will happen. If sales continue to lag even with the release of games like Killzone 3, a cut could happen as soon as April. Expect an announcement by E3 at the latest though.
Sony has poured a lot of time and resources into the Playstation Move and while it hasn’t performed as well as Kinect for the Xbox 360, it has still done pretty well. However, with a current lull in game releases for Kinect, now is the time for Sony to take advantage.
Sony is throwing Move support into every game in every genre they can ranging from shooters like Killzone 3 to adventure games like inFamous 2 to platformers like Playstation Move Heroes. Some of these games are Move only while others like SOCOM 4 are optional.
Sony has touted the Move’s capabilities to enhance the gameplay experience in traditional titles as well as provide family friendly games. Now is the time for the Move to move past boastful proclamations though and speak with actions over the next few months. By all accounts, Playstation Move works well in games like Killzone 3 but we will now see how well it can drive sales for itself, games in different genres and the Playstation 3.
So what’s this all about?
This is finally the year of the Playstation 3 and Sony has quite a bit to prove. Sony has to show that it can secure their console from hacks, pirates and cheaters while also riding the wave of numerous console exclusives to higher sales. At the same time, the Playstation Move has its time to shine right now with there being a break in Kinect games and nothing on the Xbox 360 console that can match the likes of Killzone 3, SOCOM 4 and other games that support Move. How all these different parts flying around in the air land over the next six months will be critical to the success of the Sony and the Playstation 3 for 2011.