How the venerable PS2 made it to 9 years old

With the power of computers doubling about every 18 months, according to Moore's Law, the fact that the PS2 is still selling is pretty impressive. Can its successors follow suit?

People always talk about dog years, or cat years, but what about video game console years?

It's hard to know what that math is, but one thing is certain: Sony's PlayStation 2 turned 9 years old Wednesday, and it sure feels like the best-selling video game console of all time has been around a whole lot longer than that.

Yet even though we're already more than three years into the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360/Wii console generation, the PS2 is still going strong. Routinely, month after month, its sales are in six figures--146,000 in September in the United States alone, according to The NPD Group--and there's no reason to think the 485 (and counting) developers who have made games for the platform are going to stop any time soon.

The PS2 turned 9 on Wednesday. What's that in video game years, if dog and cat years are equal to 7 human years? Sony

In large part, that's because there are millions of people for whom the world-beating processing power of the PS3 and the Xbox 360, and the graphics-so-good-you-can-see-beads-of-sweat-on-sports-players'-bodies aren't worth paying several hundred dollars for. For $100, they say, you can get one heck of a good video game playing experience with a PS2.

It "still holds a place in my heart--there's so many great games with huge amounts of replay value," said Michael Steavenson, a public relations professional who bought his PS2 around 2001. "I'm not so interested in blazingly fast processing speeds, graphics that make games look like a movie, or uber-cutting-edge hardware stats. If the game is well-designed, fun to play, and provides me with a good emotional connection, I'll play it forever."

According to Sony, one out of every three U.S. households owns a PS2, and, worldwide, almost 140 million people have one. To date, Americans have bought more than half a billion PS2 games, and all told, nearly 10,000 titles have been released for the platform. Not bad for a machine that has earned the right to be living out its golden years sitting on a porch somewhere, smoking a cigar and grumbling about kids these days.

"I think we're all surprised that a piece of technology that was released 9 years ago is still popular today," said Jesse Divnich, a video games analyst at Electronic Entertainment Design and Research. "What is Moore's Law? That technology power doubles every 18 months. So in the technology realm, being able to survive 9 years is an incredible accomplishment that Sony should be proud of."

To Divnich, the most important element in the PS2's continued success is its overall value. The machine costs just $100 and includes a functional DVD player.

"If you took out the DVD player, this thing would not have survived as long as it (has)," Divnich said. "With most technology, (consoles) like the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, what drove their initial success was that it was a game system. But after five years, what starts to drive sales is the system's ability to perform other functions. And with the PS2, it's a very affordable DVD player that's also a video game system. And of course, games are still being made for it, and retail continues to support it."

Divnich estimated that the PS2 contributes just about 4 percent of Sony's total video game-related revenues, and said he thinks that at a $100 retail cost, its profit margin is relatively small. "But the great thing about the PS2, and the reason why Sony continues to support it, is because it supports the Sony brand, and it can be a gateway to the PS3 or the (PlayStation Portable)....People who purchase a PS2 are more likely to purchase a PS3 in the future. Consumers, believe it or not, are pretty loyal."

Neither Sony nor Microsoft was able to immediately respond to requests for comment for this story. Nintendo had no comment.

Will the PS3 or Xbox 360 last 10 years?
For years, Sony has argued that its video game consoles have 10-year lifecycles. And given that the PS2 is still selling fairly well at 9, there's no reason to doubt that it will make it to 10, and possibly beyond.

The PS3, however, is just 3 years old, and would have to survive another 7 years to reach the 10-year mark. Similarly, Nintendo's Wii is also 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 is just 4. So will any of those consoles survive as long as the PS2?

Divnich thinks so. "Yes, the PS3 will be a 10-year system," he said, adding that the Xbox will as well, "just because of its size and its software library."

Still, he seems certain that just as a new generation of consoles came out in the middle of the PS2's lifecycle, history will repeat itself.

"I don't think this generation is going to last nine years" without being supplanted by new consoles," Divnich said. "There are certainly going to be new platforms introduced within the next four years. (But) even when that happens, the pricing of the PS3 and the Xbox 360 will certainly be attractive."

PS2 owners love their consoles
Even if that does happen, it's years off. The PS2, however, has already reached the 9-year milestone, and its 10th birthday is within view. And to hear from some of the millions of people who own one of the machines, it's no surprise.

"I love my PS2 for multiple reasons," said Garth Henson, a Web developer from Port Orchard, Wash. "One (is that) it lets me have a myriad of game selections that fall specifically in line with my tastes for under $20 each. I have yet to have a current-gen console do that for me....It's still such a solid system, both in titles and in game play, that it's hard to consider getting rid of it....As with all things gaming, to those of us who actually get hooked on a system, it's incredibly hard to let it go while there is any semblance of attention paid to it by current developers and publishers."

Some people even hold on to their PS2s largely because of the fun they have playing a single game on it. A lot of people will cite how much time they spend on their PS2 playing titles like Dance Dance Revolution or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but the Katamari Damacy franchise may be what keeps real aficionados returning again and again to their ancient Sony consoles.

"I still play We Love Katamari on mine," said Wiley Wiggins, an actor best known for his starring roles in the films "Dazed and Confused" and "Waking Life." "None of the handful of games that are (only for) PS3 have been enough to make me think of dropping another couple hundred dollars to buy a new console. Blu-ray isn't compelling enough to me."

Or, as another PS2 fan, Princeton architecture Ph.D. student Enrique Ramirez, put it, "The only reason why I would switch consoles would be to play Rock Band. But I already have four guitars in my apartment, so, in short, I'm staying with my PS2."

 

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