Like a ton of bricks, everything SCEE had worked so hard to achieve came crashing down. Retailers were unaware of the delay until they read it on the Internet, saw it on mainstream news, or heard it on the radio. SCEE's people also seemed unprepared to deal with this sudden news since they didn't have a press release ready until long after it had spread online and was being broadcast on TV by respected networks like the BBC in the UK or ARD in Germany.
Despite the reports of shortages of the Blu-Ray lasers, and the fact that mass production had still not begun, most of us here on the old continent still believed that Japan wouldn't leave us out in the cold. After all they had assured and reassured us constantly about the importance of the PAL market. So this came as a bit of a shock to retail and SCEE, as well as the specialized press covering video games in general and Sony in particular.
Despite our reservations we all uniformly believed that Sony of Japan would not delay the PS3 for Euro markets and instead would opt to launch with fewer units in case it was unable to meet its previous estimates.
When we first caught wind last Monday of a possible European delay we tried to contact SCEE and local Sony PR people. No one was available. It was the same story on Tuesday, and repeated calls for information remained unanswered, as everyone was either in meetings, had a day of or was unavailable for comment. After the news hit today, this seemed to still be the case, and all calls remained unanswered or unavailable.
Finally, around three in the afternoon, we got a hold of Wim Coeckelberg, who handles PR for Sony in Belgium. His department sent out the press release announcing the delay around noon for the local market, and upon talking with him he told us that the unavailability of Sony people the days prior was unrelated to the delay. Moreover, they would deal with it the best they could. Sadly we couldn't get much more information and no one at SCEE seemed to be available for comment at the time of this writing.
Unable to get more information from SCEE and its local subsidiaries, we decided to check out what Sony's competition thought of the delay. When we asked Markus Kohlstock (Microsoft's PR man for the Xbox 360 in Germany) how many bottles of champagne they had uncorked, we received an uncharacteristically neutral response:
"We would be lying if we said this would not affect us and this really came unexpected. I think our colleagues at Sony here in Europe didn't expect this either but yes, for us this is of course good news, but we have a killer line up regardless of what Sony does, and we will continue to push our games and system on the strengths of what we deliver instead of what the competition does."
More interesting was the reaction of Tomas Vivijs who handles the marketing for MS in Europe. He simply was not yet aware of the delays when we called him and asked us to inform him of what had been going on. On the other hand, Nintendo was characteristically short in its answers, and the people we got a hold of all said the same thing: We do not comment on the competition.
Towards the evening, when the news had spread all over Europe, the retailers we contacted (as well as their customers) showed a more diverse range of feelings towards the delays. Most retailers asked not to be named when giving their opinion. One of them who owns a franchise for one of the largest specialized videogame retail chains in Europe was outright hostile towards Sony and said he felt betrayed. He continued by stating he would start pushing the 360 over the PS3 in the coming months, partially because he needs the business over the holidays and now won't be getting that from Sony anymore, and partially because he feels the 360 has now become a more interesting machine with a brighter future.
This was contrasted by the manager of an independent games store in Saint Nicolas in Belgium called simply "The Software Shop," who told us that they had heard about the delay on the radio after the store had opened, and upon confirming the news with other sources, called all the people who had pre ordered the PS3 at their store. According to them, no one who had a paid pre-order decided to cancel, and thus it wouldn't effect their sales projections.
The same seemed to be true when we talked with people who had pre-ordered a PS3 at retailers all over Europe. One, who had a PS3 pre-ordered and fully paid for, together with reservations for 5 games, cancelled his order and walked out of a game mania store with an Xbox 360 Saints Row bundle pack and Dead Rising for good measure. The customer was seriously pissed of with Sony and said he would never buy another Sony product ever again opting instead to put the remainder of his payments for the PS3 towards more Xbox 360 games.
The majority of the people we spoke to however weren't as drastic in their approach, with most saying that they would wait it out because the PS3 will be worth it. Still, others told us that they were indeed disappointed but had expected another delay but didn't mind it too much because it would allow them more time to save up for games, buy a HDTV, or even to spend some more quality time with the Xbox 360 or the Nintendo Wii when the latter finally arrives.
After an entire day of trying to get people to comment on this delay we came of with the feeling that yes, this will aid Microsoft and maybe to a lesser extent, Nintendo as well. In the end, however, the Sony PlayStation brand in Europe seems to be as strong as the Nintendo DS brand is in Japan. Furthermore, while initial reactions seem to be mostly negative or muted, in the end the delay might not matter that much at all for a region that seems so entrenched in its love for everything Sony.
So despite Europe getting shafted yet again, from a marketing and financial standpoint, this really might have been the best choice out of a really bad situation for Sony. The European love affair with all things PlayStation seems nigh on indestructible, so despite the current bad feedback from Europe, this all makes sense for Japan, given the low launch numbers for the PS3. Europe will most likely eventually come by and hand Sony another console victory. That is, if Sony of Japan can actually solve its production problems, since what we are getting now is essentially a quarter of what it had promised to have ready for a worldwide launch.