Sony schedules GT5 for Christmas 2009, prays for a miracle

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Opinion – There is no other game title that is as important for the Playstation 3 as Gran Turismo 5 (GT5), yet it appears to become a title that may seal the console’s fate as the losing platform of the current-gen console battle: A Spanish Sony executive recently said that GT5 will finally be launched in the Christmas time frame – that is the good news. The bad news is that it will be Christmas 2009.

Sony’s PS3 content strategy got me scratching my head already some time ago. Of the three consoles currently on the market, the PS3 has the weakest game lineup with very limited variety. Two years ago, when the PS3 was launched, I probably was not the only one hoping to see GT5 soon and the PS3 showcase its graphics and processing horsepower on a 1080p screen. By Christmas 2006, Sony provided a free demo and some time ago a $40 demo with more cars and tracks. But we are still waiting for the full game.

According to an article published yesterday, GT5 is now scheduled for a Christmas 2009 release in the U.S. and Europe. Japan may get the game half a year earlier. The problem is that there is no other game that has defined the PS3 more than GT5 and it is somewhat mindboggling that this title will debut three years after the initial release of the console. I have heard about people who purchased Playstations just because of one or the other Gran Turismo title before and it was clear that the availability of GT5 would be crucial to the initial success of the console.

At this time, the PS3 trails its two rivals in virtual every category that may decide who will come out on top and who will drown in this platform battle. Microsoft finally figured out the path for its Xbox 360 and is on track to create a universal entertainment platform, while the Nintendo Wii has become the most desired console because of its unique social character. The PS3 lacks universal entertainment features despite its Blu-ray drive and social gaming is not really a strength either.

Recent sales figures released by NPD indicate that the PS3 lost the ground under its feet, which can be attributed mainly to the lack of compelling content and pricey hardware. The PS3 has been available for more than two years and was able to capture a U.S. market share of just 18.4%. Microsoft, thanks to its 12-month head-start, stands at 37.6% and the Wii plays in a different league anyway (43.9%). Current sales data show that praying for a miracle may be a better strategy for Sony than hoping that the market will turn around for some odd reason.

Ok, the part in the headline that Sony actually has begun praying for a miracle was made up (as far as I know), but I don’t see many more options for the PS3 to become the successful fourth company pillar Sony envisioned the PS3 to be. When GT5 debuts at the end of 2009, the console battle may be over: At the current pace, there will be more than 20 million Wiis in the market, more than 15 million Xbox 360s and about 8 million PS3s. If you were a game developer, which platform would be your priority?      

The sad part of this story is that I will lose a big bet: Back in 2006 I was certain that the PS3 had all the genes necessary to cream the Xbox 360 and the Wii. I placed my money on the PS3 and it appears that I was dead wrong. But who could have expected that Sony would sabotage its own platform?

Feel free to chime in.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.