With only about a month until the PlayStation 3 launches in the European market, Sony has made an announcement that has lit the message boards alight with bickering.
The key feature being removed to "cut costs" from the PS3 is hardware backward compatibility, which makes it possible to play PS1 and PS2 games on the console with no extra fiddling or downloads required. The U.S. and Japan got the hardware version of this compatibility. Europe is going to get software emulation to hopefully accomplish the same goal.
Does this sound familiar? It should. This is the same way that Microsoft has been handling compatibility for playing Xbox games on the Xbox 360. The hardware route wasn't an option for Microsoft, given that their two consoles thus far have used video hardware from rival companies. Many in the industry would consider Microsoft's enthusiasm and dedication to software emulation to be mediocre at best. It was announced pre-launch to assuage the fears of early adopters, but new releases have waned considerably over the last year as the company devotes more time and resources to developing unique content for the console.
It might not be as big of a deal if Sony hadn't maligned Microsoft at the 360 launch for doing many of the things Sony ended up doing themselves, including releasing two significantly different versions of their new console at opposing price points and now going the software emulation route for legacy compatibility.
Cost is certainly a factor for a new console launch, and finding ways to save money is important. Nothing has been announced as far as how removing the hardware backward compatibility will affect the price of the PS3 in Europe (currently slated at the equivalent of about $900). With no hard numbers to show, the heavy speculation has begun. There are a few main camps that people are vocally falling into.
1. Sony will make bold promises up front and then fail to deliver, the way Microsoft's dedication to the emulation cause has weakened over time. These people back up their arguments saying that Sony has a history of promising big things and never delivering, cases in point are shipment numbers for launch units, over inflated videos of supposed real-time graphics that ended up being completely pre-rendered, and the tepid support for the PSP and the effect it has had on handheld gaming. Sony's recent viral ad campaigns (the bogus PSP blog and PSP graffiti) haven't helped their standing with gamers, either.
2. The hardware change will actually reduce the cost of the system, but it may not be enough to justify the headaches of having to wait for and eventually download countless emulation patches. If it were going to make the system cheaper, it would be wise to release numbers on exactly by how much or in what way to settle the hackles they raised by making this move in the first place.