After a grim Christmas it looks like it may be a tough new year for PlayStation 2. Following a botched autumn launch, Sony is still struggling to deliver consoles to many countries and does not expect to get any more to the UK until at least March.
While there are already six PlayStation 2 titles on newsagents' shelves (some of which are literally an old PlayStation magazine with a new typeface and a 2 after the title), there are only 165,000 consoles in the whole country. Somewhere, the maths does not add up.
Sony marketing insiders are not optimistic. 'The machines should be coming but no real plans to market them have been drawn up yet,' said one. 'The strategy hasn't even been prepared so we're as interested as the general public in what happens next.'
Therefore, for the time being, magazines' editorial content is concentrating on the games they hope PlayStation 2 will run when enough machines finally arrive.
The problem for the PR companies involved with the games is a conflict between the sales and development teams, who want blanket coverage of their beloved games in every possible form of media at once and the PR experts who realise that a gentle roll out is best, especially when there are only a handful of copies of the game in the country.
The strategy for launching games has evolved into a simple pattern. First the core games media are targeted with unfinished software, creating a buzz among serious gamers. Then the games magazines get their review copies, 'although if review copies are hard to get hold of, you have to target the games magazines depending on their circulation, profile and the kind of contacts you have with the magazine,' explains Simi Belo, Text 100 associate director and previously PR head at games giant Electronic Arts.
After the games magazines, other specialist media get the call. A football game will go to the football magazines. From there, the ripples move to the national and consumer press.
According to Belo, however, there is a sea change underway in the industry. 'These days, most games companies want to be seen as part of a repertoire of entertainment, alongside the video, DVD and CD,' she says.
'To make that work, they have to get women interested and novice gamers. It's becoming a much more general process and you'll find that gaming titles can be bypassed by those companies that are afraid of appearing too nerdy to the casual consumer.'
OFFICIAL PLAYSTATION 2 MAGAZINE
Publisher: Future Publishing
Frequency: every four weeks (13 issues per year)
'We launched Official PlayStation 2 Magazine back in November 2000, a couple of weeks before the machine hit the UK.
'It's the culmination of a year's worth of brainstorming, pitching, waiting, panicking and creating a magazine from scratch.
'Although the original Official PlayStation Magazine was a huge success, the last thing we wanted was a photocopy of that. The new machine is a sleek, stylish piece of kit that plays the best new games and DVD movies - and looks the business. We wanted to make a magazine that did exactly the same - very much a videogames magazine at the beginning but a magazine that can and will change. Four issues in, we hope to have done just that.
'The magazine is dependent on how many PlayStation 2s are in people's homes. The initial shipment of 165,000 before Christmas will rise to 600,000 by next Easter, with Sony hoping for a total of approximately two million by Christmas 2001.
'That means a lot of rival magazines, which should keep us on our toes somewhat. A quick look at the credit lines at the end of Loaded's features shows just how dependent mainstream media are on the games industry - it's been said to me by men's magazine writers that games PROs wave around the kind of money that the music industry did in the Seventies.
'That means a whole lot of expensive freebies, jollies, dubious promotional tie-ins and other fluff. Top fun if there's a decent game at the end of it, but a pain in the arse when PROs try to get a story on the event/freebie/etc alone.
'Videogame magazines have long since left the kid's rack in WHSmiths and it's frankly ridiculous that some PROs think a poorly-labelled bottle of Mega Martian Dwarf Racing XII champagne will secure a news piece. That said, there's plenty of top PROs out there who know their stuff, know your stuff and know how to have a laugh while we're all doing our jobs.'
Position: editorial director
Publisher: Paragon Publishing
'We've already got Play, a magazine covering PlayStation and PlayStation 2 which appeals to the very hardcore gamers, so when we launched our Playstation 2 title we wanted to produce something different.
'As a company we have a reputation for launching first into a market and it's stood us in good stead. Often it's the first few months of a new console that can make or break a magazine as the readers chop and change then stick with their favourite until it annoys them. Of course, in this case it's slightly different. There was a flurry of activity to be the first, with Future launching the Offical PlayStation 2 Magazine about two-and-a-half months before the product's official launch date.
'We were due to coincide with the September launch but, because that was put back, we came out around two months early. The publishing world kept saying that the PlayStation 2 mags would launch better than the original PlayStation mags because there was more product awareness, but we thought it probably wouldn't be that strong due to the weakness in product availability. I think our predictions were right, although there are no ABCs (circulation figures) out there yet.
'Now there is a lot of publishing companies just holding out. Sony are promising 400,000 machines by March, but they were saying one million so I'm not too confident. The smaller companies may well be unable to hold out that long, without the resources to keep promotions going.
'I have to say that the PR industry has been great, really supportive. They're letting us see as much of the games in advance as they can and they're keeping us informed. It's just that the best games aren't out yet. All we've got are updates of old games like Tekken and FIFA. Eidos scored a coup by getting TimeSplitters out very fast.
'I managed to get a console on launch date and I've played most of the games I've got and, well I'll be honest, I'm thinking of selling the thing because you can get pounds 1,500 for them at the moment and I don't think the games will be there for a while.'