And why wouldn’t he be happy? In a few months he’ll be launching Halo 3, the biggest consumer entertainment product of the year. Elite has been successfully introduced. Xbox Live is hitting all its targets. And best of all, predictions that PlayStation 3 would have overtaken Xbox 360 by the end of 2007 have been proven hopelessly adrift. Everything is coming up Peter.
Image I meet with Moore in a large hotel suite in San Francisco. I ask him about PlayStation 3’s troubles. It seems likely to be something he’ll enjoy talking about.
He shakes his head, almost mournfully. Obviously, he’s thoroughly enjoying himself, but he hides it well. “I’ve walked a mile in those shoes,” he says. “I’m digging up my tortured past here, but remember Dreamcast?” And there it is. PlayStation 3 is Dreamcast. How delicious is that?
“We thought we were doing right,” he recollects. “All of a sudden it didn’t pan out.” We all remember Dreamcast; a wonderful performer that the world cruelly ignored. Sega’s console launch, steered partly by Moore in the US, found favor with adherents, but found itself unable to compete with PS2. It was crushed by Sony, mercilessly.
The comparison between PS3 and Dreamcast is disingenuous for many reasons, but as far as Moore is concerned, both products are badly flawed.
Moore explains, “Howard Stringer said ‘it’s not what’s possible that’s important, it’s what’s relevant’. I think that’s probably indicative of the PS3. It was possible to build a box that had Blu-ray and Cell and HDMI and everything else, but what was relevant was maybe a $399 price point and great games. I think we can all agree, and even Sony would potentially agree, that they miscalculated the global consumer’s appetite for the experience the offered at the price point they offered it at.”
“PlayStation Home obviously caused a big stir at GDC but there’s a big difference between showing a demo and deploying it on a massive global basis with millions of people utilizing it.”
This is a good time for Microsoft to be kicking sand in the face of its old enemy. PlayStation 3’s launch has not been as successful as Sony would have liked. Xbox 360 is moving along nicely. Globally Xbox 360 is over 10 million, while PS3 is around 4 million. Nintendo Wii has positioned itself in a different place. But it’s not all springtime and daffodils for Microsoft. The company was forced to downgrade its sales expectations for the current financial year (ends June 30) from a top-end of 15 million to 12 million. Moore says that number is on target.
“For the final quarter we’ll be in and around twelve million. The Elite numbers are coming in very strong. We introduced a SKU that we don’t quite have a feel on the demand but the numbers are doing very well.”
So, reading between the lines, it could be argued that the launch of Elite will get the company through its target. Market rules mean Microsoft won’t be giving sales targets for the second half of the calendar year until July but when it comes to making predictions about PlayStation 3, Moore is happy to speculate.
I ask him if the Blu-ray factor might come into play this Holiday. “I don’t think so. Not this Christmas. Otherwise, we’d be seeing some signs already. It’s still an expensive device. There needs to be millions of people saying ‘yes I want high-definition movies in my home’ and that isn’t happening.”
He adds, “This is different than DVD. That was a physical format change. The PS2 did very well out that change. But then, you didn’t need to buy new equipment to take advantage of your DVD versus VHS tapes. It’s a different story with moving from standard-def to high-definition. There’s investment in the TV and, quite frankly there’s still HD-DVD versus Blu-ray which is going back and forth depending on who’s got the blockbuster of the month.”
“So I don’t think it’s going to get anywhere near resolved, certainly not this holiday. Potentially by 2008 you can stand up and you can see the dust settling. Is that going to be in time to really provide value to the PlayStation 3? I don’t know, but I do know that the forcing of a high-definition format player on a video game console was not something we ever wanted to do.”
Okay, but Sony does have other advantages, what about PlayStation Home? “Four years ago, we looked at the concept of a lounge where your avatar could wander around. We looked at an area where people could play their music, show people their videos. But it was not something that we felt worth pursuing. We made a decision that the user interface that we would put in to Xbox Live was one that got you in quickly, that allowed you to navigate where you wanted to go, and to do what you wanted to do. The concept of hanging out was something that, while we looked at it, we just didn’t think was something that our users wanted to do.
“We may be proven wrong. It may be proven that people want their 3D avatars to hang out with each other. But we made the decision that, right now, it’s about navigation and communication. We just think people want to communicate, they want to play games, they want to download movies, they want to listen to music. We’re not sure they want to hang around. PlayStation Home obviously caused a big stir at GDC but there’s a big difference between showing a demo and deploying it on a massive global basis with millions of people utilizing it.”
For Moore, the success of Wii is just another indicator that Sony has gotten it all wrong. “We’ve got a very distinctive positioning, particularly with Xbox Live and everything we’re doing in the connected world. Nintendo has done very well in carving out a unique position. I’m not sure Sony has carved out a unique position. When the consumer comes in to Best Buy this Holiday and is ready to make a purchase of a console there’s just no clear reason why you have to buy a PS3. I’m not sure that the game software is particularly impressive and when I read the boards and the forums that’s a generally held belief.”
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