A week of hope, uncertainty, and lowered expectations

For a system that isn’t even pubicly playable yet, the PS3 has had one hell of a week. We recap it and explain what it all means.

FULL STORY:

Seven days ago, no one had so much as touched the thing, and Sony was still pretending it could meet its Spring 2006 launch deadline. Now, with the Taipei Game Show and a few media scoops under our belts, we know a lot more — and expect a little less — from the PlayStation 3.

And in the most recent news, a Merrill Lynch analysis has laid out two new predictions: each PS3 will cost Sony about $800 to manufacture, and that might make it tough to release it in 2006 in the US. (Consoles are always sold at a loss, so it won’t cost you the full $800. But it’ll still be expensive.) The report suggests a Fall 2006 release in Japan and an early 2007 release in the US is the likely result.

So how did we get here? Well, it took a hands-on review of the PS3 thanks to some friendly and anonymous developers, Sony’s first public acknowledgement of a possible delay, and a couple industry-insider scoops. Here’s how it all went down:

Kikizo Plays the PS3

A week ago today, a UK gaming site called Kikizo published its exclusive hands-on look at the PS3. It scored some playing time from three developers, and the overall tone went something like, “this is cool, but there’s a lot of work to be done.” Here’s a snippet of their analysis:

Sony’s showings of PS3 to date have been seriously sexy. But the reality, while still impressive, is nowhere near the leap beyond Xbox 360 Sony wants you to believe, and it seems many projects are still at an early enough stage for things to start getting a little worrying.

Another Game Show No-Show

So now that someone has touched it, played with it, and told us all about it, it’s Sony’s turn. Right? Unfortunately, this week’s Taipei Game Show wasn’t the big event we’ve been waiting for. Despite devoting about one-quarter of its space at the expo to the PS3, Sony still showed nothing but pre-rendered trailers and some (presumably empty) PS3 cases. In one interesting note, the boomerang controller is back, which kind of puts a damper on hopes for a new design.

Then again, we might have a lot of time for controller development while we wait for the console’s release. In Taipei, the managing director of Sony Asia spilled some doubts about the PS3’s Spring release for the first time. He guaranteed the PS3 would launch in 2006, but he added that “we want to be completely prepared” to take on counterfeiters, which he described as Sony’s “No. 1 competition.” Sorry, Microsoft and Toshiba.

Meanwhile, the quarterly corporate report from nVidia, the company that makes the graphics card for PS3, shed a little more light on the PS3’s launch schedule. nVidia says they don’t expect any royalties from Sony before the end of April — that means they don’t think the PS3 will be selling before then. There’s still more than a month of Spring after April, but it sure doesn’t make things look good.

Launch Date Leaks

This makes things look even worse. Citing industry sources, the gaming site Next Generation reports that the PlayStation 3 is scheduled for a September release in the U.S. and Japan. Their sources say they’ve seen a list of software titles dated for the launch, and the site goes on to guess at two dates: Sept. 21 for Japan and Sept. 16 for the States.

The article also reveals a little more about the PlayStation 3’s central network, which will be set up as a direct competitor to Xbox Live. It’ll be called the PlayStation HUB, and mimic most of the features of Live — chat, online play and so on. It’ll also hook up to the PSP, which is always cool.

The Waiting Game

So, every card is on the table except for the ones that matter — Sony’s. We’ll have to wait a while longer for a serious PS3 launch announcement, most likely at this year’s E3 in May. Merrill Lynch is even doubtful about this, but we hope Sony picks up the pace to have something concrete for the expo, where it announced the PS3 in 2005.

For now, they’ve been frustratingly silent on pretty much every aspect of PS3 development. That means one of two things: most likely, they’re not ready and they don’t want to make any more promises they can’t keep. Or, if we’re lucky, they’re bluffing and the PS3 will launch sooner and cheaper than expected. We’re not exactly banking on option two.

We like to leave the wild, shot-in-the-dark predictions to the analysts, but by now we’ve got enough information to make at least an educated guess. The games Kikizo has played still need a lot of dev time. Nothing new about the system has been revealed this year, despite chances in Taipei and Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show. Sony still seems to claim the PS3 will be released in the Spring, but Sony Asia’s managing director wouldn’t go so far as to repeat it. And somewhere, someone in the industry has seen a launch schedule marked September.

So expect the PS3 in the fall, and expect it to be the most expensive console you’ve ever bought. You’ll see a decent array of launch titles, mostly comparable to Xbox 360 games, but definitely nothing that’s going to display the system’s “true power.” Those come along several years down the road.

It would surprise us if Sony released the system in the U.S. before Japan. Some have suggested that releasing it in the States first would help build the crucial base of Blu-ray players, which is going to make Sony far more cash than games ever will.

But PS3 will still be marketed as a gaming machine, and gaming machines hit Japan first as a matter of principle. Or, if you want to completely alienate the Japanese market, you can take lessons from Microsoft.

So hey, cuddle up with your PS2 for a couple more months, and relax until Sony gets its act together with a legitimate announcement. Until then, we’ll keep you updated on whatever leaks to the outside world. After that, we’ll see ya on HUB.

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