This week saw the 20th anniversary of the launch of the PlayStation 2 in Japan -- the beginning of a remarkable era for console gaming.
The PS2 ultimately sold 155 million units worldwide, a record-breaking total that seems unlikely to be rivalled by any other console platform in the near future. Less commonly cited but even more extraordinary in many ways are the software numbers for the platform. Around 1.5 billion units of PS2 software were sold over the years, and though various estimates float around for the number of software titles released on PS2 -- complicated, I suspect, by different ways of counting SKUs and games with different names in various territories -- Wikipedia currently curates a list of almost 4,500 entries.
The 20th anniversary of the PS2 mostly serves to make those of us who were working in the games business at the time feel very old, of course, but it also serves as an opportunity to reflect on how things have changed since the March of 2000. It was an era when consoles ruled the roost; smartphones weren't even a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye at that point, and the PC platform was going through one of the doom-and-gloom points in its cycle, as retailers reduced shelf space for PC games and digital distribution -- awaiting the arrival of Steam some years later -- remained an unfulfilled dream.
The PS2 launch and how the console and its market developed remain important things to study from a business perspective
Things were simpler in many regards. Video games were all but synonymous with consoles at that point, and there was one business model to rule them all -- packaged games at a largely consistent price point. It's easy to be nostalgic for that simplicity, though it certainly had its downsides; not least the high barriers to entry that effectively prevented anything like today's thriving indie development sector from taking root.
It was also an era when territorial barriers were much higher in the industry. Japan, North America and Europe all had distinct line-ups of software, and even the launch date for the PS2 hardware itself was staggered across territories to an extent that would attract consumer outrage today -- the anniversary of the European launch, as a consequence, isn't for another nine months.
Rather than simply feeling nostalgic (or old), though, I think that the PS2 launch and how the console and its market developed remain important things to study from a business perspective. The world may have been different then, but the core of what it takes to launch a console and convince consumers to invest in it hasn't changed all that much -- and the PS2 remains the single most successful example of that in the industry's history. Moreover, for all that the market may be more complex and diversified today than it was 20 years ago, there are also some notable parallels between the PS2 and its rivals and the situation faced by the upcoming console launches.