Monday Spotlight – The PlayStation 2 Launch


Each and every Monday I take an in-depth look at one video game topic. This can be anything related to games and the industry, from individual titles and consoles to developers and prominent figures, and everything else in-between. All related topics are fair game and I will offer some history, commentary and insight for each. Check back each Monday for a new spotlight, and click here for past entries.

Sony took the world by storm with their maiden console. The PlayStation routed its more established competition - Nintendo's N64 and the Sega Saturn - and became the unquestioned king of the home console. The fledgling machine would shift north of 100 million units worldwide and became a byword for home console gaming, featuring a number of high profile exclusives from Final Fantasy to Gran Turismo.

The PlayStation was so good that I, a devout SEGA gamer, decided to sell my Saturn, games and peripherals just so I could join the swelling ranks of PlayStation owners. As much as I'd love to still have my original Saturn and games, I can't say I regret selling it. I quickly came to appreciate the benefits of the PS, and my console of choice has remained PlayStation brand ever since.

With the astounding success of the PS1, expectations were sky-high for Sony's encore. The PS2 was first announced in March 1999, at a time when the PS1 was still going strong; a year that saw the arrival of Silent Hill, Final Fantasy VIII and Medal of Honour in the west. Talk of the Emotion Engine, the powerful CPU which would power next generation graphics, would both impress and confuse. Tech demos, including a much discussed recreation of the famous FFVIII dance scene, looked impressive but did little to shed light on how games would run on the new console.

Japan would be first in line for the next generation hardware. Arriving on 4th March 2000, crowds flocked to electronic stores and it became one of the first truly momentous console launches. This turnout was due to a number of factors, including consumer loyalty and aggressive advertising by Sony, but it certainly wasn't a result of the software line-up: an uninspired collection of launch games, most of which would be forgotten within a few months. Fears that many consumers were buying a PS2 just as an affordable DVD player were well founded, as demand for the console far outweighed that of software. However, a steady stream of well received games would soon put an end to such concerns.

Timesplitters was one of only a handful of memorable launch titles in the West

Even without a killer app, the PS2 flew off shelves and Sony were unable to keep up. There were country wide shortages and, due to manufacturing delays, we would see a repeat during the subsequent NA and EU launches. Thanks to the hype, backwards compatibility and DVD support, Sony shifted just shy of a million units within a day of launch - a figure they would have eclipsed two or even three fold had they not struggled with production.

Customers from all over the world camped-out for the chance to get a PS2, but many of them left empty handed. One individual, who had been lucky enough to secure one of the first, committed suicide by leaping off the top of a building in Tokyo's gaming centre, Akihabara, after thieves relieved him of his precious console only moments after buying it.

There was a growing online trade in PS2 consoles, with units going for as much as $1000 on sites like eBay. Stores tried to combat this by enforcing a one PS2 per customer rule, and even the Japanese government took a keen interest in the number being shipped abroad by industrious shoppers. The Japanese Ministry of Trade were so concerned with the power of the PS2 that they limited multiple exports, citing military concerns. They believed, and Sony did little to refute the theory, that its powerful hardware could be used as part of a missile guidance system. It seems quite ridiculous now, but ten years ago the prospect of North Korea firing off missiles between sessions of Tekken Tag was a very real concern.

Despite substantial losses for Sony on each unit sold, hardware malfunctions and a limited software line-up, the PS2 was still a runaway success. Sony would carry the momentum into a Western launch that was every bit as eventful as the Japanese. Debuting in early winter 2000, demand would again far outweigh supply as there were only half a million units available for the US launch and significantly less in the UK. Despite these shortfalls, the early success of the PS2 still managed to scupper SEGA's hopes of keeping the rival Dreamcast afloat, and it was officially discontinued in early 2001.


North Korean missiles. PlayStation 2 not shown

Much like in Japan, early PS2 titles were a mixed bunch. However, a few quality stand-outs such as Timesplitters, SSX and Tekken Tag Tournament hinted at future possibilities. Developers would continue to squeeze more and more out of the PS2 as they began to familiarize themselves with the new tech. In direct comparison to the launch games, some of the final marquee titles such as God of War 2 looked like the product of another generation entirely.

The PS2 would go on to eclipse the success of the PS1. The Dreamcast was quickly bested and the Gamecube offered relatively little resistance. However, the early success of the Xbox hinted at a future rivalry and caused Sony to rethink their stance on online connectivity and multiplayer; a modem would be introduced a couple of years later, though Sony wouldn't fully commit to online gaming until the PS3.

The PS2 is the most successful console of all time, shipping 150 million units as of January 2011. Still selling after eleven years, it features thousands of titles including classics such as Final Fantasy X, Metal Gear Solid 3, GTA 3, God of War, ICO and many more. Its credentials are beyond impressive, strengthening the PlayStation brand and dominating the market for several years. Who knows, it may even have launched a couple of missiles in its time.

Comments

  1. The PS2 is still my favorite console ever. Most of my all-time favorite games are on PS2. I got mine about a year after launch for Christmas. Me and my brother got it, GTA III and NCAA Football. Such an awesome Christmas. You know as much as I love the TimeSplitters games I have never played the first game.

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  2. Sounds like a good christmas! I got mine just before heading off to university. Had so many drunken gaming sessions with friends - Quake 3, Timesplitters, FIFA/ISS etc. Despite all that use, its still working now.

    As you'd expect, Timesplitters is just a simplified version of the sequels, so not really worth playing.

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