"When a system first comes out, it has a limited install base of customers . The software sales aren't that great to begin with ," says David Cole, an industry analyst with consulting firm DFC Intelligence. "There might not be a huge impact this year."

However, in North America, things could certainly get dicey if Sony delays the PlayStation 3 beyond this year.

Microsoft shipped a disappointing number of Xbox 360s this past holiday season, but the company should have its supply issues worked out by this year's season. And by then, game developers should be ready with some compelling titles that tap into the potential of the Xbox 360's platform, analysts say. Moreover, consumers may well decide that they have waited long enough for a next-generation system.

"Microsoft is going to have a chance to knock Sony off their pedestal," says Goodman.

Meanwhile, such a delay would mean that game developers have to wait longer to recoup their investment in PlayStation 3 games. It also increases their near-term risk. Having more game systems on which to offer a title lets publishers spread their investment around without needing a game to be such a huge hit on any one of them in order to make money.

"Anything that delays or limits the growth of the install of next-generation machines hurts the publishers," says Goodman. "It is going be harder for publishers to break even on that development cost."

But others believe Sony may not be risking that much with a delay. Its PlayStation game machines have dominated the last two video-game console cycles. In the last console cycle, for instance, Sega released the Dreamcast more than a year before Sony released the PlayStation 2, notes the buy-side analyst. But that early lead meant little over the long term; by 2001, Sega was out of the video-game hardware market.

A delay by Sony would give Microsoft a better "opportunity," says the buy-side analyst, "But it doesn't mean they will succeed."

As for the publishers, a postponed launch of the PlayStation 3 would push back the expected jump in earnings that should come from mass adoption of the platform, acknowledges Simba Group's Lin. But it's only the timing that's affected, not the earnings jump itself.

"If it's two to three months later, so be it," he says.

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