For years, Sony's PlayStation 2 dominated the hearts, minds, and wallets of consumers everywhere. The competing Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo GameCube consoles struggled to stay visible in the shadow of its popularity.
Apart from that success, though, Sony's prominence as an electronics company had been sliding in recent years. The PlayStation brand became its crown jewel.
But when the PS3 came out to compete with the Xbox 360, its steep price (due to the inclusion of a Blu-ray player, a feature many people didn't yet understand or want) and disasterous PR problems led to a much slower start than was expected. Post-launch, Sony failed to emphasize the console's biggest success - highly original indie and casual games available on the PlayStation Network service.
Such affordable and widely accessible games played a part in the PS2's success, but Sony instead persisted in a strategy to beat Microsoft at attracting hardcore gamers who like to compete online, despite the PS3's inferior social tools.
While the PS3 is struggling, you don't have to write it off completely. There are a handful of games available that you won't find anywhere else. LittleBigPlanet is the most notable. It's a family-friendly experience that captures a spirit of creativity and community not found in any other console game.
As mentioned, the PlayStation Network features a wide variety of exclusive and engaging indie titles like PixelJunk Eden, fl0w, and The Last Man. Big budget exclusives like Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and next year's God of War 3 bring a bit of big-screen showmanship to the table.
If you also want a Blu-ray player, and you want to play some of the hottest hardcore titles like Grand Theft Auto IV, BioShock, Resident Evil 5, and Final Fantasy XIII but aren't interested in online features or bothered by release delays, the PS3 could be attractive as the sole console in your home.
The Playstation Network also offers digital movie rentals and purchases - including a large high definition selection - but so does the Xbox 360, which also streams movies from wildly popular video rental service Netflix.
As predicted, the attraction of the PS3 depends quite a bit on whether or not you want a good Blu-ray player to go along with your video gaming. Blu-ray's victory over the competing HD-DVD format this past Spring was one of the reasons people predicted that 2008 would be "the year of the PS3," but the economic crisis has slowed interest in high definition.
It's become clear at this point that the Xbox 360 is the console of choice for the traditional hardcore gamer crowd, and the Wii is popular with folks for whom games are just a casual interest, more about simple fun than impressive technology or artistic achievement.
That doesn't leave much room for the PS3, so it's in an awkward position somewhere in the middle. It's too expensive for the casual crowd, and its lack of emphasis on online play makes it seem second rate to the gaming subculture.
But if you're looking for a Blu-ray player, a solitary gaming experience, and a few quirky, off-the-beaten-path indie games here and there, you shouldn't be scared to pick the PS3 up. It's just that the sales figures mean there aren't as many folks like you out there!
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