PlayStation 3 -- a Bust or a Boon for Sony?

It's virtually impossible to know what PlayStation 3 units were sold to real gamers, their friends and families, and which ones went to middlemen looking to make a couple of quick bucks off the fervor surrounding it.

According to Gartenberg, who cares?

"It's a little bit hard to tell if we're seeing opportunists or purists here," he said. "But at the end of the day, the units are being sold to someone, whether there's a middleman or not."

Fear of a Bundle

While the perpetually paranoid maintain that Sony intentionally created supply shortages to generate buzz, it may be the retailers that have the greatest impact on sales.

Aside from stories of stores holding on to shipments from Sony to encourage customers to line up for the PS3 during heavily advertised events, retailers forcing unwanted products on customers to get what they really want is a much reviled if increasingly common practice.

Retailers create "bundles" that include the video game system, certain games or other hardware that the consumers may or may not want or need. The problem is that the hotter the item, the pricier the bundles, and often retailers won't allow the core product driving the sale -- in this case, the PS3 -- to be sold outside a bundle.

"Bundles suck," said Davison. "If you're buying a console, you want to buy games with it -- and I guarantee that everyone buying a new machine knows exactly what they want before they go to the store. They don't need those stores packaging together all the crap they couldn't sell otherwise into an overpriced mess of unwanted games and lousy accessories."

In some scenarios, the bundles include items, such as magazine subscriptions or TV sets, almost unrelated to the core product.

Crecente said the buzz out of Sony is that it's not crazy about bundles, but it's relatively powerless to do anything to stop them.

"I think in Sony's defense, they're opposed to it," he said. "They've never said it, but I think they understand the negative impact it has on their product."

And the Winner Is ...

It may be too early to predict a winner in the next generation console war, but that doesn't keep some experts from speculating.

"The "next gen" war has only just begun, but from the early skirmishes, things are looking pretty good for Microsoft," said Davison. "Nintendo had a good holiday season, but it has a lot to prove."

Crecente, who believes Sony's PlayStation 3 is a powerful system that's capable of offering a great experience, agreed with Davison's assessment.

"I would say Microsoft [will be the winner]," he said. "Sony is not winning -- that's easy to say -- there have been so many missteps. Nintendo has a tremendous amount of buzz, but Microsoft has really taken advantage of the year's head start."

But Gartenberg, who believes the PS3 is off to a great start, said the market may be big enough that there doesn't need to be a winner -- everyone could win.

"Consumers are looking at all this stuff and saying that everything looks pretty good," Gartenberg said. "What we may end up seeing this time around is something different. Instead of one vendor dominating the market, we may find three vendors able to split it up in a more balanced way."

A utopian video game market? What's next, world peace? We doubt it.

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