Sony has somethings up its sleeve.
In late April, there wasn't a company in the world -- inside or outside of the video game industry -- that wanted to be Sony.
By the end of December, though, there are likely to be several willing to switch places.
While there's no denying that 2011 will not go down as the PlayStation's greatest year, Sony actually seems poised to bounce back significantly from its hacker problems (and the accompanying PR disaster) by the time we're singing Auld Lang Syne.
The PlayStation 3 has one of the strongest console game lineups of the holiday season. The Nintendo Wii is a non-contender, with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword as the sole heavy hitter this holiday. Microsoft's a stronger competitor, with Forza 4, Gears of Wars 3 and Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary in the queue.
But PS3 gamers will have a trio of the system's biggest franchises coming this year: Resistance 3, a long-awaited Twisted Metal game and Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. And, as icing on the cake, Sony will offer two collections, one upgrading the PSP
God of War games to high definition, with the other giving the same treatment
to critically-acclaimed cult hits Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.
The strength of the game lineup will likely not be enough to make people completely forget about this year's security issues, but it will certainly help. And the lingering whispers of a price cut for the PS3 as the holidays draw near could be an even bigger one.
"They are set to do well," says Billy Pidgeon, senior analyst with M2 Research. "Now that the PS3 is priced reasonably, that's going to spur sales - and it will spur them even more if it comes down. ... [Also,] I think they've been working on their first party portfolio for some time, and we're starting to see some cumulative quality there."
There's also that little matter of a new hardware system coming to market. The PlayStation Vita is scheduled to hit U.S. shelves by the end of 2011, and if it does, it will be an added bonus for the company. Analysts and consumers were thrilled with the $249/$299 pricing announcement for the handheld system at E3 and the launch lineup of titles is a strong one. The dedicated handheld market may be a lot more competitive than it used to be, but
Sony's betting that core gamers will still be willing to invest in high-definition, deep games.
"It still can be a profitable business," notes Pidgeon. "They have to give hardcore gamers and enthusiasts a real alternative to the third- or fourth-rate stuff they can get on convergent platforms."
The portfolio certainly caught the eye of critics at E3. Sony tied for the most "Best of E3" nominations from the E3 Game Critics, an independent collection of some of the industry's top writers and editors, collecting 14 overall. That's 8 more nominations than it scored last year and the most in five years for the company. Uncharted 3 was the most honored of
Of course, when you're dealing with a security breach as massive as the one Sony faced, it's not something that goes away on its own. More than 100 million accounts saw personal information stolen in April, resulting in a shutdown of the PlayStation Network for nearly a month.
The company spent that time rebuilding the system, though, and adding new layers of security. And while Sony corporate has been the continued target of hackers since the April attack, no group has been able to penetrate the walls of the gaming division. (And given the notoriety that feat would earn them, you can bet several hackers have tried.)
Customers certainly seem willing to forgive the company. Network traffic on the PlayStation Network is already at 90 percent of the levels it was pre-hack. And with the spike that will likely accompany holiday games (including exclusive titles and multi-platform giants like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3), it won't surprise anyone if it exceeds those levels by the end of the year.
"Everybody's getting hacked these days," says Pidgeon. "They were targeted, but other people were as well - including big companies like Citibank. The fact that Citibank was hit as well makes it less about Sony. ... They're also leveling with people and thanking them for
their patience and patronage. I do think they're coming back."