Gift Idea: PlayStation…2?

Playstation 2 black and silver edition consoles.

That's right, you didn't misread that: I'm recommending the PlayStation 2, not the 3.

I'm not recommending the PS2 if you're looking for a gift idea for the must-have-the-latest thing sort of person; chances are, he or she probably offloaded their PS2 months ago on eBay or at the local used games shop and is jamming on a Wii, XBox 360 or PS3 (possibly all 3) and doing so on an HD-capable TV set to boot.

I'm recommending it if you think about it in these terms…

  • If your Christmas budget is limited, or if the budget of the person getting the gift is limited.
  • If you do have money to burn, think of it as a “stocking stuffer”, or drop one in a Christmas charity box.
  • As a safe choice for someone who's curious about console gaming and who's been meaning to try it out. I know a lot of designer types who fall into this category; they don't own consoles, and since they tend to use Macs, their gaming options are rather limited.
  • If you're looking for something cheap and fun to liven up the coffee break room/frat house/RV/arctic research station
  • If you think of it as a DVD player/CD player/MP3 disc player that does more than just play movies.
  • If you think of it as a second console (after all, it's no longer unusual to have more than one computer in a household).

…then the PlayStation 2, currently listed on Best Buy's U.S. site at US$129.99 and at their Canadian site for CDN$129.99 (just under US$114) — and possibly less at other shops — is a cheap and cheerful Christmas gift.

Now consider the edges that the PS2 has over the third-gen consoles that are getting all the press attention these days:

It's Old.

It's a weird selling point, but for consoles, a little age is a good thing. In fact, from this point comes all the other selling points for the PS2.

Unlike computers, there isn't much of an upgrade path for consoles, if any; once released, console developers can't count on the user upgrading the motherboard, RAM or video card the way PC game developers do. This constraint forces console developers to come up with clever ways to eke every last cycle out of the machine.

When a console first comes out, the developers for that console may have had a year's worth of experience developing for that console; oftentimes, it's less. That means that they've got the basics of programming the machine down, but haven't yet had time to fully explore all the capabilities of the machine. That's why “release titles” — games released right at the debut of a new console — aren't as good as titles that come out later on in the machine's lifecycle.

As a machine released in early 2001, there's about 7 years' worth of development knowledge for the PS2 out there. This means that development teams should have a very good idea of the PS2's capabilities, limits and workarounds for any constraints. This, more often than not, translates into good games.

It Has a Big Library of Games

As an established console, having been on the market for 6 years and having moved over 111 million units (according to this Sony site), the PS2 has a library of titles in the thousands. According to Wikipedia, there were 8,181 PS2 titles released worldwide in September 2006 (4,554 in Asia, 1,319 in North America, and 2,308 in Europe). The library becomes even larger if you count original PlayStation games, since the PS2 is capable of playing them.

Better still, many of the top titles for the PS2 are currently available as “Greatest Hits” re-releases at half their original price, which is less than half the price of a typical third-gen console game. You can save even more by buying them used; stores that carry used PS2 games abound.

A big library means more than just a good market for new and used games, it also means that someone near you also rents them out.

And In That Big Library, Some Great Games!

Not only is the library big, but there are a lot of great titles in it to, from sports titles like Madden Football and the NHL series to shootin'-and-killin' series like the Grand Theft Auto, Medal of Honor, Metal Gear and the Tom Clancy series, to music games like Dance Dance Revolution and Karaoke Revolution, to name only a few.

Even Now, There are Some Must-Have Titles You Can Only Get on the PS2

Among them are:

Don't Forget Hardware

There are all manner of peripherals for the PS2, made by Sony and third parties, from controllers to cables to memory cards to dance pads and even decorative appliques, should you be the sort of person who like dressing up their machines.

It Goes Anywhere

It's a minor point, but it's still a point: the second-gen version of the PS2 (the currently-available slimline one) is small and light. If you travel with it, it travels well. If you don't travel with it, it's unobtrusive.

And Finally: It's in Stock!

With all the attention being focused on the XBox 360, Wii and PS3, you won't be locked in a Tom Arnold-vs-Arnie Jingle All the Way-style fight for a PS2. That's one less shopping headache.

In Conclusion…

Amidst the hype for the latest, greatest electronic doo-dad, don't pass up the PlayStation 2 as a gift possibility. Under the right circumstances and for the right person, it just might be the perfect gift.