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Sick of It, v.001: Console Generation of Chaos

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What the hell happened in the console market between 1999 and 2007? Didn’t console manufacturers settle on $299.99 in the United States as the comfortable entry point for new game hardware?

Yes, I know you could split hairs that new machines are more than just game consoles, so they cost a bit more. So to were the 3D0, Saturn, Playstation, and Playstation 2. Although at that time it was less obvious because you probably already had a CD player in your home stereo, or a portable CD player somewhere on your person so you didn’t take advantage of the audio playback on your console.

The Playstation 2 was the bee’s knees. In 1999 I was in the market for a DVD player, and at that time DVD players were still in the $400 price range, and kinks were still being ironed out. Players had performance issues when playing back movies, audio falling out of synch; and a few other nuisances from what I can recall back then.

When Sony announced that it’s new console would play both video games and DVD movies, I axed my plans to buy a dedicated DVD player and just waited on the Playstation 2. $299.99 – plays games and movies, no need for another electronic device in my entertainment center. Awesome!

Another benefit of the Playstation 2 and Xbox generation of set-top boxes; is they didn’t require an expensive High Definition Television. Every home in America that bought a game console had a television they could hook it up to, your new system was ready to roll and be exploited out of the box. Granted, you had the choice of RCA, S-Video, and Component connections; but that was optional. Superficially the damned things just worked and worked well out of the box.

Fast forward to May 12th, 2005</a>. Microsoft cuts the life span of the original Xbox short (<i>November 15th, 2001 – November 22nd, 2005 is too brief a run for a console that still had plenty of juice left in it</i>) and sets the standard for the madness to come in the gaming market – they announce two price points for the Xbox360.

$299.99 and $399.99.

Folks on message boards flipped their wigs. Two SKU’s, one $100 over the commonly accepted comfortable price of entry for your average consumer. In the long run the $399.99 model was a better value than what was christened “The Retard Pack” at $299.99, and then subsequently nickel and dimed for each peripheral you would need to keep get the most out of the system.

Meanwhile, we still had not seen hide nor hair of the Playstation 3.

Finally when we do see the Playstation 3 at E3 of 2005, a price point is absent. Sony is tight lipped on the price point, with only hints from Ken Kutaragi</a> that folks will need to work a few more hours to afford a Playstation 3.

It wasn’t until the following year at E3 that gamers would receive the terrible news. The Playstation 3 would have two SKUs like Microsoft’s second console, but it would also cost $100 more than the most expensive Xbox 360 for the base model Playstation 3! Granted, the base model of the Playstation 3 had a bit more in the box functionality-wise than the $299.99 Xbox360, like the 20GB hard drive.

But still $499.99 and $599.99.

What the hell?!

Suddenly Microsoft’s $399.99 Premium Package looked reasonable, yet is still $100 more than I’m willing to pay.

This is completely ignoring software price inflation for this generation. Last generation Sony lead the market by releasing a lot of First Party software at $39.99, a drop from the standard $49.99. And while it wasn’t every game for the Playstation 2, it was more than enough, and depending on where I was shopping that meant a Playstation 2 game was just $5 more than a Gameboy Advanced game at $34.99. Now games are debuting at $59.99 and more for deluxe versions.

You take it on the chin to get your foot in the door, and then you take it in the eye to get a game to play.

Now by the time the Playstation 3 has launched, Microsoft has had roughly a year in the console market with it’s new system. Great. That means stronger software for gamers.

In the normal gaming world prior to the Xbox360 launch (B.X360. = before Xbox360?), this would also mean price drops. However slight.

No.

Nope.

Instead of dropping the price Microsoft opts to go toe-to-toe with Sony in the fringe HD entertainment market. Instead of dropping the price of the Xbox360 to goose sales, they introduce a new $479.99 Xbox Elite model.

Pardon me if I seem a bit incredulous here, but well – I am.

Allow me to elaborate.

HD Television owners in the United States only represent about 28% of the television owning market</a>! While it’s nice to cater to 28% percent of the market who are able to take advantage of high definition media; it’s much nicer to cater to the rest of the general public who may be interested in your product.

This is also ignoring the nebulous state that High Definition Television is currently in. 480i/480p/720p/1080i/1080p, unfortunately High Definition Television manufacturing standards are still up in the air; and only a few sets at your local big box store support 1080p; and other manufacturers appear to have settled on 720p as the standard. Which in my opinion is all a bit too uncertain for the amount of money we’re being asked to pay for these sets. I want the peace of mind of knowing that I’ll get the best possible entertainment experience for the thousands of dollars I’ll be spending on my television set.

But I digress.

To their benefit Sony dropped the $499.99 model of the Playstation 3. Which in theory should lead the way for a price cut on the $599.99 model, but I get the terrible gut feeling with the way pricing has been thus far, we’ll see a new stripped down model of the PS3 at a reduced price point rather than the current $599.99 incarnation of the system.

Which is unfortunate as I do like the feature set of the $599.99 model of the Playstation 3, and I’d hate to see wifi functionality, USB ports, or memory card slots removed from a new
PS3 model.

Similarly I’d like to see MS discontinue the $299.99 model of the Xbox, and move the $399.99 model to $299.99; and shift the Elite from $479.99 to $399.99. Just get rid of the gimped hardware; even if it means you take a loss on selling peripherals. As a consumer I don’t give a damn about your bottom line.

All I’m asking is that console manufacturers come to their senses at top out at $299.99 with one SKU next generation.

No doubt the $249.99 price point and single SKU of the Wii are two of the main reasons why the system is selling so strongly; because if you look directly behind it on the monthly NPD sales charts, the seven year old Playstation 2 is often the second best selling home console.

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