Expectations are high for the upcoming launch of the PlayStation 5, but the truth of the matter has always been that a console’s launch is typically a poor indicator of its future success. Historically speaking, there’s no greater proof of that argument than the launch of the PS2.
The PlayStation 2 may be the best-selling console ever made, but its infamous launch was hindered by shortages, disappointing games, and explosive rumors. It was a rocky debut for a console that millions of gamers consider to be the greatest ever made, but twenty years removed from the horrors of simply trying to buy a PS2, the console’s infamous launch makes for a great story.
So as we celebrate the anniversary of the PS2 and prepare for the release of the PS5, let’s look back on the many ways the PS5 will (hopefully) improve upon the launch of the most popular PlayStation ever.
The Historic PlayStation 2 Shortages (And Inflated Prices)
The PlayStation 2 wasn’t the first console that failed to meet demand at launch, but there are a few reasons why it is infamously associated with the very idea of console shortages.
The first has to do with the rumors surrounding the PS2 shortage. Before we found out that the PS2’s limited launch quantities could be attributed to manufacturing issues and shipping logistics, the rumor mill spun convincing alternate reasons why you wouldn’t be able to get a new console by Christmas. Among them were very unofficial reports regarding theories such as a shortage of memory cards, frustrated developers struggling to work with the console, and even the widespread belief that Sony had intentionally shipped half as many consoles as intended in order to increase demand.
That was the other thing that was unique about the PS2’s launch shortage. More and more people had access to the internet in the year 2000, which also meant that more and more people were browsing eBay and other online third-party retailers and seriously considering spending thousands of dollars on a PS2 just to get one before the end of the year. The PS2’s launch didn’t invent the idea of scalpers and resellers, but it did alert millions to how those factors will impact the launch of any console in the modern era.
Production issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ever-present impact of resellers means that the PS5 may also endure a launch shortage, but it remains to be seen if it will be quite as impactful as the one that infamously hindered the PS2’s sales during its debut year.
The Awful PlayStation 2 Launch Lineup
Honestly, the PS2’s launch lineup may not even make a top-five list of the worst console launch lineups ever. SSX, Timesplitters, and Ridge Racer 5 were all pretty good early PS2 exclusives, and ports such as Dead or Alive 2 filled out the console’s early library rather nicely.
That said, the PS2’s diverse launch lineup remains something of a historical curiosity due to its arguable lack of a traditional high-profile system selling game and the presence of some truly awful exclusives that initially impacted the console’s reputation somewhat. Don’t just take our word on it. Here’s what former Sony PR manager Jonathan Fargher had to say about the PS2’s launch games in an interview with Eurogamer:
“We got away with a hell of a lot. At E3 we’d promised the world, basically. We’d promised games that would look like Toy Story. The games we delivered at launch, as with any platform… Not so much.”
Fortunately, the PS5’s launch lineup is shaping up to be fairly solid, despite the aforementioned impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Demon’s Souls, and Godfall all figure to be worthwhile day one experiences.
The Matrix DVD Was the PlayStation 2’s Early Killer App
So if the PS2 was a little short on next-gen killer apps, what were people playing on their new consoles? Well, according to former Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios President, Shuhei Yoshida, a lot of Japanese gamers were using the PS2 to watch The Matrix.
“It was really a success from the start, the PS2 sold like crazy,” Yoshida said. “But when it launched in Japan, the best-selling software was actually The Matrix DVD.”
Now, we love The Matrix as much as anyone (I’ve even got a soft spot for a particular Matrix video game), but it’s always been somewhat funny to think that the best-selling console of all time’s success can partially be attributed to its early status as an affordable DVD player that doubled as a next-gen gaming device. Even Yoshida admits that the PS2’s DVD player helped Sony overcome a painful growing process.
“Because of the fast transition between PS1 and PS2, we had no idea how the industry manages these things,” Yoshida said. “We were awfully unprepared.”
We don’t suspect that The Matrix DVD will become the PS5’s biggest system seller (especially since one of the console’s launch models can’t even play DVDs), which also means that this glorious DVD menu won’t be the first thing most modern gamers see when they test out their new console:
The Wild PlayStation 2 “Bomb” Rumors
If you were a young gamer in 2000 just trying to get their hands on a PS2, you almost certainly remember one of the strangest rumors in video game history: “The PlayStation 2 is actually a bomb.”
It sounds crazy now, but in the early internet era, the rumor that the PS2 was actually a high-tech threat spread like wildfire. There were even reports that the PS2’s shortage was partially caused by Saddam Hussein ordering thousands of PS2s in the hopes of eventually weaponizing them.
What’s really crazy about this rumor is that there is an element of truth to it. Japan’s Trade Ministry did initially request that Sony apply for a special permit in order to ship PS2s abroad. Why? Well, it was determined that the PS2’s Emotion Engine and its vector-processing chips potentially be used as the basis of a missile guidance system. Of course, we should note that we’re talking about a hypothetical scenario that would require quite a few PS2s and a lot of significantly more dangerous components. In any case, Sony’s fulfilled the application requirements and were simply prevented them from initially being able to ship PlayStation 2s to Libya, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.
Interestingly, the U.S. Air Force did eventually link 1,760 PS3s together in order to create one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world (at that time). We haven’t heard any reports regarding the PS5 being a threat to anything but your wallet and your free time, but we’ll be sure to keep you updated if a source more credible than our relatives’ Facebook feeds happens to drop a pre-launch bombshell.
That Bizarre David Lynch PlayStation 2 Commercial
Video game commercials aren’t quite as big of a deal these days, but there was a time when they were one of the best ways to promote a console or game to a mainstream market that was becoming increasingly interested in gaming.
So imagine you’re a casual gamer in the year 2000 thinking of buying a PS2 and you happen to see this commercial:
We hate to put words in anyone’s mouth, but we strongly suspect that the most popular reaction to that commercial went something like this:
We actually know what the hell that was. It seems that Sony executives decided to be cute and (reportedly somewhat jokingly) ask David Lynch if he’d like to direct a PlayStation 2 TV spot. Lynch remarkably accepted the offer and had quite the time filming what has to be the strangest video game promo spot in the history of the business. Actually, here’s some behind-the-scenes footage of Lynch directing the commercial that showcases his childlike joy:
You know, we spent a lot of time talking about the PS2’s launch failures in this retrospective, but if Sony really wants to prove that the PS5 is ready to win the upcoming console war, they’d convince David Lynch to make a new PlayStation commercial that makes Twin Peaks Season 3 look downright sane by comparison. If we could be so bold as to make a suggestion to Mr. Lynch, maybe one based on Bugsnax?