Sony is set to go into battle all over again in the upcoming “9th generation” console war, which will see its PlayStation 5 competing with Microsoft’s Xbox Series X for gamers’ affections – and cash. Ever since the first PlayStation was launched in 1995, Sony’s console line has dominated the playing field. But there was one particular iteration that nearly dropped the ball…
Coming off the back of the wildly successful PS2 (still the biggest-selling games console of all time), Sony expected its upgraded PlayStation 3 to carry on the brand’s success in the 7th-gen console war of the mid-00s.
The PS3 was pegged as the most powerful machine of its generation – boasting an innovative Sixaxis controller and Blu-ray disc player, and promising groundbreaking, high-def graphics.
Anticipation among gamers was huge. But things didn’t quite go to plan, with the PS3’s lower-than-expected sales allowing Microsoft to gain ground.
Why the PS3 missed its mark at launch
So, what went wrong? Well, its rivals had a huge headstart, for one. The PS3 finally hit shelves in the UK and Europe on 23 March 2007. That was over four months (and one crucial Christmas sales period) after Nintendo’s Wii, which was released on 8 December 2006, and a year-and-a-bit after Microsoft’s Xbox 360, which launched on 2 December 2005.
Sony’s console might have been more technologically advanced, but its competitors had already gained vital sales traction and loyal fanbases by the time it made its debut.
That wasn’t the only problem facing the PS3, though. When it did eventually find its way into UK stores, it cost a small fortune. Not by today’s standards, perhaps. But at a whopping £425, it was over double the price of the Wii (£180) and nearly 150 quid more expensive than the higher-spec Xbox 360 (£280). If you hadn’t firmly nailed your colours to the PlayStation mast, there were far cheaper gaming options out there.
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How the PS3 failed to stand out
The PS3 was also missing a killer USP. The Wii had the quirkiness factor thanks to its unique ‘Wiimote’ controller, positioning itself as a family-friendly console that welcomed even the most casual of gamers. According to tabloids at the time, even The Queen herself was partial to a bit of Wii Sports, which came bundled with the console.
The Xbox 360, meanwhile, captured the hearts of hardcore gamers thanks to its acclaimed Xbox Live online gaming service and a host of strong, exclusive titles, such as additions to the Halo franchise and Gears of War.
By contrast, the PS3’s early exclusives included quality but less exciting titles such as MotorStorm, Resistance: Fall of Man and Ridge Racer 7.
If anything, the PS3’s selling point was the advanced, powerful potential of the console itself. However, it didn’t help that production costs were high, and the PS3’s complex hardware initially proved a challenge for games developers.
Sony pulled things back with the release of the streamlined, cheaper and rebranded PS3 Slim model in 2009. More promising exclusives followed the initial batch, too – including Uncharted, God of War III and LittleBigPlanet.
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The winners and losers of the console war
Purely in terms of sales, the winner of this particular console war was the Wii. Nintendo’s console sold nearly 102 million units worldwide, despite being seen by many as a bit of a fad.
The PS3 eventually outsold the Xbox 360 to claim second place, but the result was a bit too close for comfort. Sony’s console, with its various iterations, sold around 87.4 million units, while estimated sales for the 360 range from 80-86 million units.
That’s a lot fewer than the PS2’s record-breaking 155 million units, though. The PS3’s disappointing performance led to Microsoft’s console gaining a lot of ground – both critically and commercially – and becoming a major competitor.
As the saying goes, first impressions count. And it was this that led many industry folk to declare that the PS3 had lost Sony this particular console war.
The gaming giant obviously learned its lessons from the PS3 experience. It’s follow-up, the PlayStation 4, was a huge success from the outset, becoming the second highest-selling games console of all time. Can the PS5 go one better? Watch this space.
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