Sony hasn't had a good year. The market leader has spent nearly twelve months watching Microsoft build a six million unit lead in the next-gen marketplace, while the embryonic PlayStation 3 has been dogged at every turn by delays and setbacks. Hostility has grown among both hardcore gamers and among the gaming press, a backlash of epic proportions against the company which has ruled the games industry for a full decade, fuelled by the remarkably high price of the console, the decision to drop rumble from the pad, the adoption of contentious Blu-Ray technology and the subsequent launch shortages, culminating in a hugely embarrassing delay into 2007 for the European launch.
None of this has been helped in the slightest by the arrogance of public statements from the father of PlayStation, Ken Kutaragi, or the head of SCEA, Kaz Hirai - who have turned into a double act whose pronouncements almost seem deliberately calculated to turn consumers against Sony and its products. However, in recent weeks, the tide has been turning for Sony, albeit slowly. Perhaps it's simply fatigue among the company's loudest detractors; more likely, it's the fact that since TGS, Sony has been much more focused on giving people hands-on time with the console and its software. The promise of PS3 is finally being delivered upon, at least to some extent, and it's natural that criticism will die down and the focus will shift from hardware to software as the launch draws near.
That isn't to say, though, that Sony is out of the woods yet - and the company is still entirely capable of dropping the ball in very dramatic ways. Perhaps the single most worrying factor remaining in the firm's plans for PS3 is its online service; this is an area where the company's previous efforts have been weak, to say the very least, and where Microsoft has built up five years of valuable experience and a massive degree of mind-share.