Another week, another PS3 controversy – this time concerning the PlayStation 3’s backwards compatibility with the PS2. When it released the PAL specs for the PS3, Sony shocked everyone – and generated another shit-storm – by revealing that unlike in America and Japan, our PS3s will not have an Emotion Engine chip on the motherboard. So they’ll do backwards compatibility with the PS2 using software emulation – just like the Xbox 360.
You could argue that this sounded like a storm in a tea-cup – after all, the average PS3 purchaser surely already owns a PS2 and anyway, how many of us have ever even thought about playing games from an older generation in our shiny new consoles? The PlayStation fan-base, though, took the announcement as another example of Sony’s apparent attempts to alienate it. However, we managed to sneak a short phone interview with SCE’s head of worldwide studios, Phil Harrison, and he revealed hitherto secret information which makes the issue seem somewhat less cynical. Quite why that information wasn’t revealed when Sony released the PAL specs, however, will remain a mystery.
What everyone wants to know, of course, is which PS2 titles will be playable on the PS3 on March 23 – but Sony isn’t telling. It has set up a site detailing precisely those games – at http://faq.eu.playstation.com/bc
but, frustratingly, that won’t go live until March 23. Happily, Harrison sheds a certain amount of light on the subject: “On March 23, we expect the list to include over 1,000 individual PlayStation 2 titles”. Which should be enough to be getting on with.
Oddly, the removal of the Emotion Engine chip from the motherboards of PAL PS3s could actually spell good news for those keen on buying PS3s who are put off by the whopping £425 price-tag, and here’s why. Datamonitor analyst Alex Kwiatkowski chipped in to the debate with what initially seemed to be a rather specious argument: “By utilising the latest hardware, Sony is able to rationalise the number of components required. The move is positive, as it will have a positive impact on the PS3’s long-term cost profile. By launching the PS3 in Europe with the new chassis, Sony has at a stroke removed one of the barriers to future price reductions.” Yes, but Sony has manufactured over 100 million Emotion Engine chips, so it can’t possibly cost the company more than a few pence, can it?
Oh yes it can, as Harrison unexpectedly explains: “The Emotion Engine that has previously gone into PlayStation 3s was a custom component, which we have now removed.” So, indeed, the move could lead to an earlier than expected price-drop for the PS3. You can understand why Harrison would be keen to keep a lid on that information – the PS3 still hasn’t launched over here, and the company wants as many people as possible to buy it at £425. But as far as the PS3’s long-term prospects are concerned, that’s actually good news.
Kwiatkowski also highlighted another perceived shift in Sony’s strategy – towards diverting funds from things like hardware manufacturing to in-house development – and Harrison confirms that as an active strategy: “That’s absolutely the strategy. When we launched the PlayStation, it had no games developed by ourselves. When we launched the PS2, it had one game developed internally: Fantavision. Beautiful game though it was, it was no game to sell a platform on. But when the PS3 launches, it will have more exclusive, high-quality games from our own studios than we’ve ever done before.”
When pressed for more information about which PS2 games will be playable on the PS3 at launch, Harrison is cagey but, unsurprisingly, maintains that Sony is concentrating on the big guns: “We can’t give any information about individual titles, but clearly, that would be our policy.”
And with more than 1,000 to choose from, and the list constantly updated via automatic firmware upgrades over the PlayStation Network, the whole issue suddenly seems to be much less of a slap in the face for loyal PlayStation consumers than it did yesterday.
So, let’s give Harrison the last word: “It’s important to put it into context – there will still be thousands of titles for the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 playable on the PS3 at launch. It’s very easy to over-react.”