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Updated: May 7, 2007

Allard: N'Gai had it right.
Allard: N’Gai had it right.

“Would he really ditch the dreads?”

That’s what I was wondering after an E3 dinner with Newsweek’s N’Gai Croal in 2005, knowing that it would be about a year before I knew the answer. And what do you know, N’Gai called it.

Six weeks prior to our dinner together, Sony had launched their new PSP product in North America. It was a lightning rod for discussion at the annual game convention in Los Angeles. Not a lot of data, but no shortage of opinions and questions surrounded Sony’s new product:

Would the UMD disc prove to become “universal”? Would they be able to manage production costs and get the price down? Would people really use it for movies and music as it had been promised? What would Nintendo’s response be? How would the industrial design and screen appearance age with use? Was there a chance that it would become the self-proclaimed “Walkman of the 21-st century?” What would the “killer app” be for the system?

Before I had ever met N’Gai, I knew exactly who he was. He had co-penned the cover article for Newsweek magazine in 2000 called “The Amazing PlayStation 2” which I have kept in my office ever since. It had hit newsstands only two weeks after we had approved a project codenamed “Xbox.” The article gushed about the possibilities of Sony’s new system that we had decided to compete with (Xbox would launch about 19 months later). In the end, while a number of promises in the article went unmet, the PS2’s market success would become incredible – it was and continues to be a huge success, selling over 100 million systems worldwide.

As the dinner discussion turned to the new Sony system, it was clear that N’Gai was still a PSP enthusiast. I was far less bullish on the PSP’s market acceptance… I didn’t understand their UMD movie push or why the studios would follow. I questioned their decision to use optical media because of the impact on battery and production costs. I was skeptical of the size of the product as a music player. As always, it was a fun debate as we pushed back and forth on the issues.

At one point N’Gai declared, “the PSP is so good, it will sell faster than PS2” and with that, the gauntlet had been thrown down.

Admittedly, the PSP was a beautiful device with incredible specs… it had a fantastic screen and I knew that they’d sell millions of them, but I just didn’t think that demand could be higher than for the PS2. A challenge was established. If he was right, I’d appear onstage during my E3 keynote sporting dreadlocks (his hairstyle). If he was wrong, he’d clone my hairstyle by letting me shave his dreads at the same conference. We set the 10-million-unit mark as the deciding point.

Well, N’Gai called it. In October 2005, Sony announced that they had surpassed 10 million units sold after only 10 months of commercial availability. He had me beat.

The thing is, he never got to cash in on the wager. In 2006, I had shifted my focus to a new project called Zune, didn’t present at E3 the annual games conference and I had forgotten about the challenge. He reminded me a couple weeks back that I never made good on the bet so here are the promised dreads – 360 days after the last E3 Xbox press conference.

Hats off to Sony for outpacing the PS2 velocity with their PSP. Dreads on for N’Gai for calling it back in 2005. Figured it was only right to include both the dreads and PSP in the photo.

P.S.: For the record, I’d never have been able to cut off your dreads, my friend. I might’ve clipped one off for show, but could never have butchered your style like that.

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