‘Can Sony and Microsoft resist more hardware tweaks?’

The attitude of both platform holders towards their hardware this generation has been changeable, to say the least – the trade has barely seen more than six months go by without a tweak to either PS3 and Xbox 360’s price or specification, causing logistical troubles for retailers with potentially ‘dead’ stock on their hands.

Clearly the stakes are higher than ever when it comes to shifting hardware – and Sony and Microsoft are continually re-assessing how best to trump each other.

While Xbox 360’s dual SKU approach at its launch caused a few headaches, rumours of a new suped-up 360 just ahead of PS3’s launch prompted an even greater number of headlines in March last year.

When Xbox 360 Elite was officially confirmed just days after the UK PS3 launch, it was a prime example of how each platform holder won’t just settle on one SKU (or range of models) and simply be done with it.

And it’s happened again – just a week after a new 60GB Xbox 360 launched, Sony has unleashed its 80GB PS3 onto a UK public that has seen both consoles continually evolve in terms of its retail offering. Having launched with a core and premium model, Microsoft has since introduced its top-end SKU as well as tweaking the price and spec of its Arcade and Pro offerings, while Sony’s original 425 60GB seems like a distant memory. PS3 has since been superceded by the 299 40GB model and now the 80GB SKU for the same price.

Next on the agenda for Microsoft could be the Elite – as one retail contact put it this week, 60 for an extra 60GB seems quite extreme.” Will we see further re-positioning before the year is out?

As is typical of its attitude in general, the only platform holder not to get involved in this scramble is Nintendo. Wii has been on the market for a year and a half – surely enough time for production costs to have dropped significantly enough for a price cut to be viable. But with the spectre of stock worries continually hanging over the top-selling console, demand and pricing must be the least of its worries.

While anything that entices consumers into spending their cash is welcomed, retail just wants its console offerings set in stone ahead of the peak period – but whether platform holders can resist another tweak before Christmas is another matter.

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