I have been thinking about writing this editorial for a while, and decided to wait until E3 beforehand, so I would make sure about Sony's plans for the U.S. Now it's official.
The PlayStation 2 will not ship with any on-line capabilities. They plan to make this available for the system separately, but it's not the same thing as including it with every console. And actually, who can blame them? It's the only way they could launch the system at such a low price.
Furthermore, it also surprised me that Sony is still waiting for broadband. I heard rumors that they were going to include a modem, like Sega did. If you don't know what 's the difference between broadband and narrowband, let me explain briefly. "Narrowband" refers to technology that allows you to connect to the Internet at "slow" speeds, like a modem. This is what most people use to connect to the Internet these days. Primarily, because of its low cost, and because just about every household in America has a phone line. "Broadband" refers to technology that allows you to connect to the Internet at speeds much faster than possible with "Narrowband," that is, a modem. Examples of that are DSL and cable modems. It is only now beginning to be available in major U.S. cities. It is also more expensive than using a modem.
Waiting for broadband is a major mistake in my opinion. Like I said before, almost everyone has a phone line. But it will be at least until after the PlayStation 2 is obsolete (5 years from now) before most households are ready for broadband access. Try telling the little kid in Montana that he has to wait for broadband before he can play on-line games. Taking advantage of the technology that is readily available now is a very wise move by Sega.
Anyway, let's assume that Sony turns around and makes a modem available for the PlayStation 2. It's still not going to be very popular, and I'll tell you why: it's an optional addition. Additional peripherals have never been very popular in consoles. This seems to me like another 32X or another Sega CD. It will be used at most in half the households that have the PlayStation 2. The Dreamcast, on the other hand, will have a modem built-in with every console they sell. That means that most users will be wiling to give a try to on-line games at least once with a minimum of effort. And once they find out that they don't have to search very hard for an opponent who wants to play the same game they want to play (say, a football game, for example, or a first-person shooter), they will be hooked. Compare that with my own experience, where my sisters didn't want to play video games with me most of the time, and if they did, they were not as good as me, so I had to play poorly on purpose in order to keep them interested.
Another advantage of having a modem with every system is that, since developers know that every Dreamcast will have one, they will be more eager to make on-line play available on their games. It's getting more and more expensive to make a video game these days, you know. PlayStation 2 developers could easily choose not to include on-line features in their games to save costs once they realize that only a small fraction of the user base will be able to take advantage of this feature.
Also, as far as I know, Sony is far from ready with their on-line network. It's taking Sega a year to set its own network. These things take time, no matter how much money you have. Sega will have at least a one year headstart, and with potential costumers with every console they sell.
Sooner or later, gamers are going to realize that, at least with this generation of hardware, if you want to play on-line games you have to have a Dreamcast. This is one of the main reasons why I believe the Dreamcast will not fail.