Silicon Insider: Gamers Are Tech's Hottest Game

God, why can't personal computers be as interesting as video game players?

Teenagers already get all of the cool new applications, so how come they also get all the best new hardware?

If you are under 25, the following story, dating to last Saturday, is already old news. But for the rest of you, here's the latest news from the world of video games:

Last weekend in Tokyo, Sony Corp. finally put on sale its new -- much-anticipated and much-delayed -- PlayStation 3 game console.

The PS3 has been something of a nightmare for Sony.

For nearly a decade, with the PS1 and PS2, Sony has ruled the video game player business, perpetually keeping its two estimable competitors, veteran Nintendo and newcomer Microsoft, in its wake through an unbeatable combination of performance, price and content.

The other two companies, despite having top-notch offerings of their own, have never been able to compete in more than two of these categories.

When Sony added to that good market timing, it managed to turn the game player business into the most innovative and dynamic in all of tech.

But with the PS3, Sony stumbled. It went for a home run to crush the competition and managed only to hit a foul ball.

While Sony struggled to recover, Microsoft, hardly the company one thinks of as a first-to-market type outfit (maybe THAT'S what all those Vista engineers were doing last year), managed to come out with its next generation player, the Xbox 360, in late 2005.

That not only gave it a year to pick up an estimated 10 million orders, but it also put Microsoft a year down the road in the development of its next generation player.

Even pokey old Nintendo, which marches to the beat of its own drummer -- and its own stable of loyal customers -- has managed to catch up with Sony. Next week, it will introduce its own new player, the Wii, into the U.S. market.

Sony's Ambitious, Expensive Venture

What took Sony so long?

Well, the standard explanation was that, technologically speaking, the company probably bit off a little too much this time.

Indeed, looking at the specs for the new machine, it's hard not to be impressed: a Blu-ray high-def DVD player, a 20GB hard-disk drive, and, most importantly a new CPU chip called The Cell that Sony calls a "supercomputer on a chip."

All of that will cost you just more than $400, which of course is twice the price of the new Nintendo Wii and almost 25 percent more than the Xbox 360.

But for the kind of performance the PS3 is expected to deliver, it's probably worth it.

The PS3 may not have the cool new motion-sensing hand controller of the Wii (which will enable it to be waved like a sword or light saber), but all of that processing power has got to mean fabulous graphics and the very quick downloading of games and videos.

But, if rumors are true, all of that firepower came close to being Sony's downfall.

At $425, consumers expect pretty high quality from a game console -- and shareholders a pretty good return on the company's investment.

Unfortunately, stuffing all of those expensive components into a new box and making them work right (apparently there were problems with the blue lasers) sent Sony's production costs right through the roof.

Until it could get that process under some kind of serious control, Sony's PS3 was facing the real-life version of that old joke about losing money on each unit, but hopefully making it up in volume.

Even now, production still doesn't seem entirely under control -- or at least it only recently seems to have gotten running.

According to C/Net, at the time of the Tokyo introduction, Sony was able to ship only 100,000 units -- that's just one-tenth of the million PS2s that Sony was able to sell in the first three days of that earlier machine's launch.

C/Net also predicts that Sony will only be able to ship 2 million PS3s by the end of this year, including the crucial Christmas rush, compared to the 10 million units Microsoft will have out in the world by year's end.

Gaming Is Technology's Hottest Market

So, is the PS3 worth the wait? I haven't the foggiest idea and frankly couldn't care less. Go check the usual review sites. I'm not a gamer, so I don't have a dog in this fight.

Well, actually maybe I do.

If I had my druthers, one of these three companies would get crushed by the other two. My motives are purely selfish: It would reduce by one-third the endless wheedling and negotiating I have to suffer from a 10-year-old who apparently wants every video game player ever built.

But that's just my Dad side speaking. My technologist side hopes that both the PS3 and the Wii are huge successes, and that they result in a new renaissance for the video game industry.

Further, I hope the riches the three companies make from these products spur them on to even greater glory, and another huge market collision sometime around 2009.

Why? Because the game business is just about the last really exciting consumer market in high tech.

Cell phones -- with the exception of those truly absurd Bluetooth headsets (who knew we all had Uhura in our future?) -- have been reduced to the "Battle of the Incremental Features" status.

The MP3 world seems to have settled into premature middle age -- though maybe (God help us) the new Microsoft Zune can make that business interesting again.

And the plasma TV has taken so long to get to everyday consumers that it's already boring.

What Happened to the PC Market?

And please, don't get me started on PCs.

Microsoft's long delay on the Vista operating system has been one of the biggest buzz kills in high-tech history.

It's as if all the big PC companies were waiting around for Vista to get the party going again -- and when Microsoft showed up late and forgot to bring the beer, everybody just decided to go home.

The new PC models of the last couple years have been singularly uninspiring and predictable -- not surprisingly, because nobody wanted to buy them anyway.

Instead, consumers are just shuffling about with their hands in their pockets, waiting for Godot/Vista to show up and excite PC makers into designing interesting new machines again.

But don't count on it. It's been a long time since HP and Dell took crazy risks, and it's hard to believe Vista is going to inspire them into a welcome fit of competitive fervor.

Meanwhile, bless Steve Jobs and Apple for at least trying to keep the game exciting for as long as he could.

It must have been depressing to keep hitting the ball over the net to an empty court on the other side.

But video game players are a different story. Here it's still raw competition, red tooth and claw. It's a fight to the death with every new generation -- just like in the good old days of semiconductors, calculators and the first PCs.

That competition has produced consistently brilliant new products year in and out for more than a decade. It may be hell for the people in the business, but it sure is great for the rest of us.

The latest generation of game consoles, even with the tardiness of the PS3, is far superior in terms of price, performance and quality to anything out there in the PC world.

The day is coming when the increasingly artificial barrier between game consoles and PCs is finally breached and the howling barbarians of the gamer world are unleashed on the sleepy, contented villagers of the PC world.

There will be a great bloodletting in the PC business.

And for me, that day can't come soon enough.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michael S. Malone, once called the Boswell of Silicon Valley, is one of the nation's best-known technology writers. He has covered Silicon Valley and high-tech for more than 25 years, beginning with the San Jose Mercury News, as the nation's first daily high-tech reporter. His articles and editorials have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, the Economist and Fortune, and for two years he was a columnist for The New York Times. He was editor of Forbes ASAP, the world's largest-circulation business-tech magazine, at the height of the dot-com boom. Malone is best-known as the author or co-author of a dozen books, notably the best-selling "Virtual Corporation." Malone has also hosted three public television interview series, and most recently co-produced the celebrated PBS miniseries on social entrepreneurs, "The New Heroes." He has been the "Silicon Insider" columnist since 2000.