With ten days to go before the PlayStation 3 launches in the UK, where is the cavalcade, the banners, the streamers and bunting? Where are the crowds chanting on the street corners? Where are the geeks camping outside Virgin Megastore, poised expectantly, fire-axes in hand, waiting for the moment the clock strikes midnight on 23 March?
There is no crowd, there are no streamers. You can walk into a Blockbuster today and order one for launch. In the Great Rule Book of Games Console Launches, rule number one is: "Thou must under-stock for launch." So why has Sony got so many consoles available?
The optimistic view is that Sony is above the petty playground boasting that insiders suspect drives some manufacturers to withhold some stock in order to claim a 'sell-out' on the first day of launch. The cachet attached to good first-day sales is hard to ignore -- console manufacturers get great press coverage if they can claim all their consoles are sold out. Both the Nintendo Wii and the Xbox 360 sold out on the first day of launch.
The more realistic view is that gamers just aren't that interested in the PS3 and Sony is now massively overstocked. The same company that cited component shortages as a reason for giving Japan just 80,000 PS3 consoles and America 400,000 at last year's launch -- and delaying the European launch until this month -- seem to have gone the other way in the UK and stocked the nation's shops with more PS3s than gamers want.
The PS3 will be so easy to get hold of on launch that GameSpot's Guy Cocker told us, "Right now, it's about as hard to get a PS3 for launch as it is an orange in California -- either Sony has poured units into Europe, or the demand's just not there."
So why is the PS3 so undesirable? The obvious answer is the lack of any cut-off-your-hand-to-buy-it game for the platform. The console's most-vaunted title, MotorStorm, is glitzy but prosaic -- only Sony's forthcoming Second-Life-alike social space Home is worth getting excited about.
The £425 price tag could have something to do with it, too. Sure, that's comparable to the PS2's launch cost, but consumer electronics prices have tumbled in the last five years and the Xbox 360 is only £280.
Sony may also have been over-zealous in emphasising the 'power' of the PlayStation console over its games. Improved processing power, after a point, won't make a game play any better -- it can only really make it look better.
The PlayStation 3 is an incredibly powerful machine -- so powerful in fact that Sony's Nick Sharples last year proclaimed "no one will ever use the full power of the console". Sharples gleefully preached to us at CES that any one of the PS3's several processors could be dedicated to "making a character's hair move in a realistic manner", or "rendering the contours of a cape". But some critics accuse Sony of inviting developers to neglect gameplay and invest heavily in these amazing graphics.
The PlayStation 2 was so overwhelmingly popular that it's hard to imagine the PS3 won't find success. For now though, thousands of the things sit stacked on shelves in the backrooms of a hundred Blockbusters. This must be the most unwanted console in recent memory. -Chris Stevens