Don't buy a PlayStation2.
Every now and then, consumers get an exquisite opportunity to fight back against being taken for granted. And the launch of the PlayStation2 video-game console from Sony Corp. is exactly that.
What Sony has been telling the public for months is that the PlayStation2 is something more wonderful than having super powers and that people should make sure they get one under whatever terms Sony wants to dictate.
Are those the words Sony used? No. Is that the reality? Absolutely.
The retail debut of the PlayStation2 was scheduled for this week in North America at a quantity of 500,000 consoles. That's down from the one million Sony projected it could make available when it announced the release date at a massive news conference in May an event basically dedicated to the assertion that the PlayStation2 will "redefine" America's entertainment lifestyle.
Even at one million, Sony probably wouldn't have been able to satisfy demand. It's anybody's guess what immediate sales could have been if Sony had enough inventory. Two million? Three million?
The upshot is that there will be a surplus of only one thing: consumer howling. Lots of folks are going to be frustrated and angry that Sony flamboyantly hyped a holiday-season product that is so elusive.
Moreover, you can count on the standard ripple effects that set people's teeth on edge. Insiders at various points in the distribution chain will divert consoles to friends and family. You can expect an upscale, teen-age-and-adult oriented, Tickle-Me-Elmo shortage atmosphere, provoking a steady stream of bile all the way through Christmas.
Sony says it will catch up to its initial supply projections by following the launch with shipments of 100,000 more consoles per week through the end of the year.
But don't count on it. There's a lot of wishing, hoping and public-relations spin in that pronouncement. It's about as reliable as that original forecast of one million machines for the launch.
Bait and switch
Sony's attitude reeks of arrogance.
Forget the fact that the company is stoking demand that it can't satisfy. A huge advertising campaign is on the way. As crass as that seems in light of the tight supply, there are some justifications, such as establishing a long-term impact among Americans with notoriously short attention spans.
The bigger sin is all the Sony boasting about how revolutionary, how technologically inspired, the PlayStation2 is. Just don't ask too many questions about precisely what that means. There's a huge range of issues on which Sony is essentially silent, including what the company has in mind for the high-speed online connections that will be available at some later date.
Yes, the console serves as a DVD player, but Sony keeps alluding to much more, such as entertainment innovations that are going to be inspired by, or unique to, the machine's particular combination of features. Like what, you ask? Nothing that Sony either can or will describe.
It boils down to this: Sony is selling the PlayStation2 on buzz and promises as something with more potential than can be immediately checklisted as well as the machine's out-of-the-box capabilities. It's supposed to be too cool to pass up, even if the privilege of ownership comes with a nasty ration of customer abuse.
Repeating: Buy it at Sony's convenience or be the don't-have bozo in a must-have world.
That's the Sony perspective, anyway.
Other control options
My advice is to resist. It's an entertainment device. It's not food, it's not medicine. If you can't control yourself, at least wait a few months. Show at least a granule of consumer moxie.
Next-generation game machines from Microsoft and Nintendo are coming in 2001. Sony wants to be the winner over the long haul, not just in the early going. So take advantage of your choices, long term and short term.
Here are some ways to redirect your PlayStation2 funds:
Sega's Dreamcast console offers a terrific gaming experience. You don't need to worry about available games there are plenty, well varied in type and the potential for online play may or may not be a bonus attraction. The machine is its own selling point.
The extraordinary "Zelda" game series from Nintendo is back on well, what do you know? today. You can buy the new game, "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask," and the N64 console to play it on, yet still spend considerably less than you would have on the PlayStation2. If the extra cash burns a hole in your pocket, Nintendo is releasing Banjo-Tooie, the sequel to Banjo-Kazooie, in late November.