Despite Sony's woes, PlayStation still has fans

It may be late, pricey and facing a crowded market, but the PlayStation 3 (PS3) still created a buzz at a Tokyo game show as Japanese gamers got their first chance to play the new console.

Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are intensifying their battle for control of the $25-billion global gaming market with fast-action, high-definition new machines, drawing a record 193 000 crowd to this year’s Tokyo Game Show.

“It’s the first time that I will be able to test the PS3. The graphics are really great. The cars look so real,” said 11-year-old Do Itakuya, waiting in line to try out the latest version of Gran Turismo for the PS3.

Gamers eager to get their hands on the latest in the wildly popular PlayStation series waited for up to 70 minutes for their turn at the Tokyo Game Show in a convention centre east of the capital over the weekend.

“I saw all types of people come through, from age five up to 60, and quite a few girls,” said a Sony official at the stand.

“Great! Fun! And there are lots of games,” exclaimed 20-year-old brothers Masaki and Takafumi Endo.

“It’s just like cinema,” said Masaki.

“We’re going to buy one,” added Takafumi, who decided against purchasing Microsoft’s rival XBox 360 console after its launch last November “as there weren’t enough games”.

Japan’s legion of PlayStation fans, who have been playing the original version since the mid-1990s and the PS2 since 2000, are getting used to waiting for the PS3, whose launch was delayed for six months for technical reasons.

Originally scheduled to be rolled out in March 2006, the PS3 is now finally set to hit the shelves in Japan on November 11 and in the United States on November 17.

Gamers in Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa and Australasia will have to wait until March 2007 due to a shortage of laser parts for the DVD player, meaning the PS3 will miss the crucial year-end holiday period there.

Facing complaints that the PS3 was too expensive, Sony on Friday slashed the price tag of the PS3 by one-fifth in Japan.

The electronics icon is also using its next generation Blu-ray Disc technology in the PS3, banking on its cutting-edge games and home-entertainment abilities to justify its premium price tag.

The Japanese market leader badly needs its flagship console to succeed to aid its recovery from a profit slump.

The standard PS3, with a 20-gigabyte hard disc, will now retail for 49 980 yen, still the most expensive of the three main next-generation video games consoles on the market.

Nintendo will launch its new Wii game machine in December at 25 000 yen while Microsoft plans to cut the price of its already launched Xbox 360 to 29 800 yen on November 2.

While the lower price may make it harder for Sony to recover the huge development and production costs of the PS3, it has made it more affordable, particularly to the non-hardcore gamers whom Sony and its rivals are wooing.

“I am really surprised by the images,” said one mother.
And also happy to hear about the lower price, she added, as her five-year-old son Riyu gazed wide-eyed at the army of monsters onscreen from a PS3 at the show.

Sony has long dominated the home video-game market and shipments of the original version and the PlayStation 2 have both topped 100-million each.

Nintendo, which leads the global market in portable game machines, is taking aim at Sony’s lead in stand-alone consoles by promoting its new machine, Wii, (pronounced ‘We’) as a family-friendly machine.

It has also caused a stir with an innovative new handset shaped like a television remote control and engineered with motion sensors and speakers.

Sony aims to ship six million PS3 consoles globally by March 2007 and while the XBox 360 had a whole year’s head start over the new PlayStation, it received a lukewarm response from Japan’s notoriously finicky gamers.—Sapa-AFP