Friday, October 20, 2006

The New York Times

October 20, 2006

Sony Readies Its PlayStation 3 for Battle

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 19 — Laying the groundwork for a battle against rival Microsoft, Sony said Thursday that 21 games would be available for the PlayStation 3 console when it goes on sale next month.

The company said the first 500,000 buyers of the $500 console in North America would get a free copy of the comedy “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” a move designed to promote the console’s ability to play high-definition DVD’s in Sony’s Blu-ray format.

The announcements came at a product event in San Francisco for journalists and industry analysts.

Sony is seeking to heighten the anticipation for the PlayStation 3, a console that it hopes will validate its dominance in the console market in the face of growing competition.

“With the PlayStation 3, we have taken our legacy, we have taken our vision, to build a product really from the ground up that is going to lay the foundation for the next 10 years in digital entertainment,” said Kazuo Hirai, president and chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment America.

Dan Hsu, editor in chief of Electronic Gaming Monthly, said the presentation showed how clearly Sony was focused on Microsoft. He said Sony executives, without naming Microsoft, asserted repeatedly that PlayStation was superior to the competition, from heralding the relatively more powerful internal processor to the relatively small and space-saving AC power adapter.

Sony appeared to be saying, “We’re going to have to take back control of the console war,” Mr. Hsu said.

The company says it will have 400,000 consoles available in North America when they go on sale on Nov. 17, an inventory that Mr. Hsu said was likely to be sold out immediately. Sony has said it expects to ship six million consoles worldwide by the end of March.

The PlayStation 3 is arriving a year behind the competitor from Microsoft, the Xbox 360. The delay, and the PlayStation 3’s higher price, have been attributed in large part to the incorporation of the Blu-ray technology, which Sony has hoped to make a selling point.

By the end of the year, Microsoft said it expects to have sold 10 million Xbox 360 consoles and to have 160 games available for it, made either by itself or third-party game publishers, like Electronic Arts.

In the last generation of consoles, Sony had a 60 percent market share, compared with 20 percent for Microsoft and for Nintendo, which also introduces its own next-generation console next month.

At the Xbox 360’s debut last year, Microsoft had 18 games available.

The current number of available games for the Xbox shows that Microsoft, considered just a few years ago to be a long shot to contend with Sony, is putting up a fierce fight. Game players decide which console to buy based on how many games are available for it, and how good those games are.

Industry analysts do expect game publishers to quickly add to the number of titles they are selling for the PlayStation 3.

Another area where Microsoft is providing tough competition to Sony is in the area of Internet gaming.

Microsoft’s service costs $50 a year for people who want to compete in multiplayer games over the Internet.

Sony confirmed Thursday that its own online network for the PlayStation 3 will allow people to compete free in multiplayer games.

Mr. Hsu, from Electronic Gaming Monthly, said Sony had made a strong case that it could compete with Microsoft, if not surpass it, feature for feature. But he added that the question was whether whatever advantages Sony had would be worth the price; the basic Xbox 360 system is $200 less expensive than the PlayStation 3.

“The X-factor is price point,” Mr. Hsu said.