Posted by: Kenji Hall on March 31, 2009
Don’t be surprised if the gaming blogosphere lets out a primal scream of disappointment. After speculating for weeks about what Sony’s videogaming unit was planning to announce this week, bloggers finally got the news—but it wasn’t what many had been hoping for.
On March 31, Sony said it had lowered its suggested retail price for the PlayStation 2 to $99 in North America and 99 euros in Europe. The PS2, which Amazon’s U.S. site lists for $130, has sold more than 136 million units (through December 2008) since its launch in 2000 and is still selling well. In February, Sony sold about 131,000 PS2s in the U.S., according to market researcher NPD’s latest stats. Not bad for a nine-year-old console when the newer PlayStation 3 had sales of just 276,000 units. (By comparison, Nintendo sold 753,000 Wiis and Microsoft 391,000 Xbox 360s). Sony predicts it will sell 8 million PS2 consoles by the March 31 fiscal year end.
For the past week, the blogosphere had whipped itself into a guessing-game frenzy about what Sony could possibly be keeping from us all. Could it be the long-awaited price cut for the PS3? Or some new video-downloads deal? Or maybe a new PlayStation Portable 2 that would go head-to-head with the upcoming North American launch of the latest incarnation of Nintendo’s portable console, the DSi? Or, in a worse-case scenario, a new annual fee that users would have to pay to play games online, like Microsoft’s Xbox Live?
And why was Sony doing this after last week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco? (Theories: Either it was so small Sony worried it would get drowned out by other announcements or so big that Sony felt it deserved to be a standalone.)
Even I finally gave in to the peer pressure and emailed a Sony Computer Entertainment official in Tokyo today to see if there was anything to the rumors. I got what amounted to a head-fake. “The rumor saying we are about to announce something ‘big’ related to PS3 is nothing more than a mere rumor,” the official replied. Misleading, maybe, but not a lie. Thankfully, I decided to wait and see what it was before I joined the fray.
What fascinates me is how adept Sony’s PR machine is at word-of-mouth advertising. All the company has to do is whisper about some imminent unveiling to bloggers at a few gaming sites—and then sit back and watch it spread with viral efficiency. Kotaku’s blurb from last Friday, for instance, drew 168 comments and countless more eyeballs. The problem with planting kernels of information on the Net is the potential letdown when a much-anticipated announcement fails to live up to the hype. The next time the go-to gaming bloggers may feel less inclined to help the buzz.