It has been declared so many times and from so many outlets that it is almost a truism: 2011 is the year of the PlayStation 3. With so many exclusive games lined up for the next 12 months – even though a good percentage of them, such as The Last Guardian and, just possibly, Twisted Metal, will more than likely get pushed back to ‘12 – and, even more, with such paltry lineups announced thus far for both the Xbox 360 and Wii, there is simply no conceivable way that the next year won’t be dominated by Sony’s little black box.
Except… what does “dominate” mean? Yes, the quantity of Sony’s exclusives roster will more than likely dwarf its rivals’ even after they have been announced (most likely at E3 this summer), and the same undoubtedly goes for its quality, too, but that leaves behind a distinction that holds just as much significance as, say, your buddy’s Gamerscore – pretty impressive within the magical ether that is Xbox Live, but a feat (or is that an achievement?) that dissipates in the wind outside your mom’s basement.
The reality of the situation is that the PS3 is still in dead-last place in America (globally, it fares much better; with a worldwide total of 42 million units, it trails just behind the 360’s 50 million install base – but this is due more to Microsoft’s fundamental inability to penetrate the gaijin-unfriendly waters of the Japanese market than any particular amount of success Sony may have in the other territories), and it’s going to take a lot for the company to crawl out from its perpetual third-place spot. The system has only been the best-selling console for some five months out of its total of 50 on the market; its best-performing titles are routinely outsold by their 360 counterparts. And while Sony has done much in the past few years to close the gap with Microsoft, it is still several million units away just in America – and then it has the juggernaut that is Nintendo to compete with. It’s not an easy road, with or without Uncharted 3 riding shotgun.
Yes, there are a great many expectations for 2011’s undeniably stellar software library to sell some systems and overtake the house that Master Chief built, and some units certainly will be moved, but only up to a very finite point; there were similarly lofty hopes for an explosion in sales surrounding the PS3’s first price drop, from $599 to $499, in July 2007, and following the introduction of the slim model in September 2009. Indeed, in the really real world, outside the influence of Xbox Live or the confines of fanboy forums, having, say, 10 exclusive games rather than four means very little.
The marketing of consoles is avowedly an iterative process – not unlike the art and craft of game development itself, taking one painstaking step after the other ad infinitum – and Sony is, by all indications, just ramping up with the PlayStation 3. But the company will very quickly find itself running out of time well before its strategy pays huge dividends against its competitors: the PS3 has, at best, one-and-a-half years before the next generation of consoles arrives, a launch window that may very well include the arrival of the PlayStation 4… and the starting anew of the battle over sales.