Sony and the PlayStation 2 have had their fair share of detractors in the past, not least amongst our own staff it has to be said. But with a plethora of exciting new titles on the horizon and sales boosted by a recent price cut, it looks like Sony may just have won the console war in Europe before it has even begun...
The Price Is Right
Just a couple of weeks ago we were commenting that "American and Japanese publishers and console manufacturers ignore us at their own peril", and it seems that Sony have taken those words on board, lopping about £70 off the price of the PlayStation 2 across Europe. Amazingly, Europe is now one of the cheapest places to buy a PS2 instead of the most expensive, especially once our excessive sales taxes have been taken into account. By comparison Microsoft and Nintendo have yet to announce how much their own next-generation consoles will retail for in Europe, or even when they will be released over here. But judging from American pricing and past experience it appears that, even if Sony don't make any more price cuts before Easter, the PS2 will be going head to head with the GameCube at £199, and should undercut the Xbox (which is a more direct competitor) by anything up to a hundred pounds. Sony's installed base is also starting to look dominant. Sales are now back at their highest level since the console's launch last November thanks to the recent price cut, and with absolutely no competition in Europe this Christmas Sony are looking forward to a festive bonanza. By the end of this year around a million gamers in the UK alone are expected to own a PS2, a figure which is sure to have grown still further by the time the Xbox and GameCube arrive on our shores, probably around March 2002.
At the end of the day though it is software which sells consoles, and the good news here for Sony is that by Christmas some two hundred PS2 titles should be available in stores across Europe. The first PS2 budget titles are starting to appear as well, with Midas launching a new £15 range in December, including the anarchic historical action game Dynasty Warriors 2. No doubt by the time the Xbox and GameCube arrive here next spring other publishers will have followed suit. And while we complained about the lack of stand-out games amongst the initial launch line-up last November, there are no such problems this Christmas. Gran Turismo 3 has already topped the charts, selling over a million copies across Europe in the process, while fresh titles such as Devil May Cry, SSX Tricky, Wipeout Fusion, Grand Theft Auto 3 and Metal Gear Solid 2 should also prove popular over the next few months. The PlayStation 2 got a reputation as a hard console to develop for in its early days, but now that companies are getting to grips with the finer points of the hardware the games they produce are becoming more advanced, both in terms of visuals and gameplay. Forthcoming PS2 titles such as GTC Africa and Outcast 2 look like they should give most Xbox games a run for their money in the eye candy stakes. And that has to be bad news for Microsoft.
To say that Sony have already won the console war in Europe is perhaps not entirely fair. It would be more accurate to say that their opposition have capitulated before war has even been declared. Sony has the world's second biggest games market virtually to itself for the second Christmas in a row, and with the new £199 price point proving popular and a new generation of quality games on its way, it looks like they could have an impressive head start by the time the Xbox and GameCube finally arrive over here next spring. The question isn't who will win the console war in Europe, but what (if anything) Microsoft and Nintendo can do to even stay in the game...