The PlayStation 2 is surely the most hyped console in the history of gaming, with the media and gamers alike drooling over the incredible polygon pushing power of the machine. Thanks to the constant hype, the console's initial run of around 50,000 units which are due to ship on the Friday 24th November launch day in the UK had virtually sold out within a few days of the pre-order scheme going live, despite the rather excessive £300 price tag.
And that's where the problems begin...
The PlayStation 2 launch next month is going to be a massive anti-climax for most of us, as none of the consoles will actually be on sale! Every PS2 in the country was pre-ordered months ago, and anybody wandering into their local Electronics Boutique expecting to pick one up off the shelves is going to be sorely disappointed.
In fact, demand for the new console was so great that you will probably have difficulty picking one up in the UK much before next Easter, unless you have already pre-ordered one. After all, Sony sold around a million of the new consoles in its first weekend when it launched in Japan, while the whole of Europe has to fight over just 500,000 on launch day, with another 500,000 due by the end of the year if we're lucky. Whether retailers and Sony themselves have succeeded in getting this point across to the many gamers anticipating the system's launch still remains to be seen, but it's likely to be a long frustrating wait for anybody who didn't manage to pre-order early enough.
And Sony seem to be concentrating on their native Japanese market in the run-up to Christmas, with America's allocation recently reduced from a million to just 500,000 as well. Production problems caused by component shortages are just making things even worse for westerners wanting to get their mits on the next-gen console. Even under ideal situations supply would have had difficulty keeping up with the incredible demand for the PS2, but now it looks like it could be another six months before you can expect to find the new console appearing on store shelves in any great numbers.
Stack 'Em High
Sadly this is likely to have a serious knock-on effect for both retailers and publishers. After all, with only 500,000 PlayStation 2 consoles expected to be in circulation in Europe on launch day, and maybe twice that number by the end of the year, the installed base is going to be no greater than that of the Dreamcast, which has managed to shift a million units across Europe so far, despite constant predictions of its imminent demise since it launched last year.
Even assuming that everybody who has successfully pre-ordered a PS2 buys five games for it by the end of the year, and at £40 a pop that's rather unlikely, the entire market for PS2 games in Europe this winter is capped at around two million units, with around 30 titles competing for those meagre sales! That means that each title is likely to shift an average of perhaps 100,000 units over the next three months, which would only make for a modest hit even on the PC, let alone a console system. And with another 30 titles expected by the time the installed base starts to increase again next spring, publishers who are putting out titles early are likely to find their games vanishing under a deluge of newer and more polished titles by the time the situation starts to improve.
Many of the games being released for the PS2 over the next couple of months are likely to vanish without a trace, swept aside by giants like "Ridge Racer V" and "Tekken Tag Tournament", as well as the more promising games which have been developed here in the west, such as "Smuggler's Run" and "Unreal Tournament". Publishers expecting an instant shot in the arm for the ailing gaming industry on the back of the PS2 launch are going to be as disappointed as the punters who forgot to pre-order, and likewise they will have to wait as long as six months to start seeing benefits as the PS2 arrives in Europe in strength. Suddenly the decision of some publishers to continue releasing new titles for the "obsolete" PlayStation One well into next year seems very wise...
Although the PlayStation 2 is undoubtedly the most advanced console released to date, and will shift as many units here in Europe in two months as Sega have sold Dreamcasts in an entire year, in the short-term its launch is likely to be something of a disappointment for gamers, retailers and publishers alike.
With not enough consoles available to keep up with demand, and a cacophany of expensive and mostly uninspiring launch titles vying for the attention of the lucky gamers who do manage to get their hands on a PS2, sales of most games are likely to leave their publishers deeply unimpressed.
Disclaimer - The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of this site, its staff, or the spin doctor.