15 Years of PlayStation: The PS2
Part Two of an ongoing series looking back over the life of the PlayStation brand during the 15th Anniversary Celebration in North America (Part One – The PS1) (Part Three – The PSP) (Part Four – The PS3)
October 26, 2000 – The PlayStation 2 had been announced in 1999 and the long wait was over. Sony had gone from an unknown quantity to a major player in five short years and now they were ready to take their next step.
The Sega Dreamcast had launched in North America the previous year (9.9.99 to be exact) at a price of $199 and despite it’s initial sales success, growing piracy and a lack of support from the popular EA Sports franchises along with anticipation of the upcoming PlayStation 2 launch put Sega on the decline and would eventually drive them out of the hardware business by March 2001.
The interesting thing is that, at the time, it didn’t seem the foregone conclusion that it is in hindsight. Sega had a strong and varied launch lineup along with a system offering a built in 56K modem for online gaming. Sony was riding the wave of momentum built up by their dominance with the original PlayStation, but in the weeks leading up to the PS2 launch, amidst all the hype, there were grumblings in the press about the price ($299, same as the PS1 at launch), the ever shifting launch titles and availability of systems. The price and availability were exacerbated by the fact that Sony decided to go with the unproven DVD format. DVD was still not the standard at the time and was facing off against a rival format (Divx – Digital Video Express) backed by Circuit City, Paramount, Fox and Dreamworks. The outcome was still up in the air and PS2 owners could have been quickly left with an obsolete format. Shades of BluRay anyone?
Despite being $100 more than the only competitor at the time (the Xbox and Gamecube both being a year a away), the initial sales of the system were very strong yet hampered by production shortages. The PS2 was compatible with the entire PS1 library which was good because the announced launch lineup was shifting right up until the release date. In fact, I had to substitute the James Bond game I had on order with some odd snowboarding game called SSX – boy did I get lucky. The shortages also led to a new phenomena, eBay seller gouging. Systems were in such short supply and high demand that they were going for over $1000 until the supply problems eased up in 2001. It was around that time that delays in game releases were cropping up with developers complaining about how hard the system was to program for… does any of this sound familiar?
So now mere months after the PS2 was released, Sega announced that they were discontinuing support and manufacture of the Dreamcast. Publishers started canceling all Dreamcast games in development and porting them over to the PS2 and the upcoming Xbox and Gamecube. Sony would have until the end of the year to build up a solid software library and lead before the other two systems launched.
About one month before the Xbox hit North America, the PS2 got its first killer app. Grand Theft Auto III came out of nowhere and change the face of console gaming. The timing of that release, along with its exclusivity at the time, went a long way in pushing the sales of the PlayStation 2 through the roof. Microsoft however was building a strong base of their own off of a little launch title called Halo: Combat Evolved.
Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo would all take their first steps into the world of online console gaming in late 2002. The difference in the three was that while Sony and Nintendo required the purchase of a separate network adapter, the Xbox had a 100Mbit Ethernet port built in, along with a hard drive in every console. When Sony and Nintendo launched their network adapters however, they came with a port for a phone line and Ethernet cable. The PlayStation 2 Network Adapter brought a big new franchise to the PS2, SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals and Sony made the decision that their online gaming model would be a free to play system that has continued through successive generations.
While not a runaway success, the network adapter sold well and gave many PlayStation owners their first taste of online gaming. The adapter was also required for adding an optional hard drive to the PS2. The hard drive add-on saw strong support from developers in Japan with over 100 titles taking advantage of the additional space for optional installs to speed up load times on games. Only a handful of titles took advantage of the hard drive in the US, most notably the 2K sports franchises, with the NFL 2K series using the hard drive to store and show off replays from your game during a half time show. Those games also gave the ability to save games directly to the hard drive. A Linux Kit was released in 2002, allowing PS2 users with a hard drive to run Linux directly on the console.
In 2003, Sony released a new add-on called the Eye Toy. Bundled with a collection of mini-games in the form of Eye Toy: Play, the boxy web cam would see little support from developers with just over 20 games released that required the peripheral, and just over 50 that supported the camera in some way. Despite this, the Eye Toy would go on to sell 10.5 million units worldwide over the next 5 years and lay the groundwork for the PlayStation Eye and Move accessories on the PS3.
Late 2004 saw the release of the redesigned PS2 “Slim” model. While the diminutive little system had a built in Ethernet adapter and a healthy sales bump, it was met with some criticism for removing the hard drive. This effectively cut off all support for Final Fantasy XI and any DLC such as previously released maps in SOCOM titles along with an end to Linux support since all required the hard drive.
The criticisms did little to slow sales as the PlayStation 2 would roll into the end of November as the fastest console to reach 100 Million shipped in just 5 years and 9 months from its initial release in Japan eclipsing the PS1′s mark by more than 3 and a half years. The system is currently the biggest selling home console of all time with well over 140 million units and counting and Sony has vowed to continue to support the PS2 until it stops selling.
So Sony was able to hold off three different competitors and capture the top spot in console sales for the second time and the PS2 continues to sell well into its 10th year in production. What’s next for Sony at this point? How about a portable?