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Slim Pickings: The story of the fabled PS3 Slim (so far)

Judging by the hundreds of reader-submitted tips we've received in August pointing to "totally conclusive evidence" of the existence of a slimmer, sexier version of Sony's home console, we think it's safe to say that PS3 Slim pontification has reached a fever pitch. As video game news conduits, we've frequently been forced to gaze into this swirling maw of speculation in an attempt to gin the might-be-reals out of the most-assuredly-fakes.

One of the prevailing pieces of gossip regarding the hardware is the moment of its unveiling: Tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. EST, during Sony's GamesCom press conference. Before we arrive at that potentially auspicious hour, we're going to look through the brief annals of the PS3 Slim's history, analyzing the big pieces of evidence, debunking the obvious mockups, and interpreting data from a poll we conducted over this past weekend.

If you're looking for a "final word" on the subject, you'll find none here. That's for tomorrow's Sony presentation to determine -- or depending on which way the tides of fate turn, to obfuscate even further.

The Mole's Prophecy

When navigating through the choppy seas of rumor and speculation, it's helpful to have some sort of map to follow. In this particular instance, our cartographical aide came in the form of the Ars Technica mole -- a mysterious figure whose credibility has been cemented by his or her precognizance on a few major pieces of gaming hardware news. (When did you find out about the universal 360 price drop which occurred last September? That's cute. The Ars Technica mole knew about it last August.)

Though the mole's past successes have imbued him or her with a healthy dose of reliability (as well as a folk hero-esque persona among gaming journalists), it would be irresponsible to take its PS3 Slim findings at face value. We took notice of the mole's earliest report on the svelte hardware, but didn't put much stock into its non-committal language relating to the events leading up to the console's unveiling.

The mole's second report on the matter, however, is definitely worth further consideration -- especially since parts of it seem to already be coming true. To summarize, the mole reported in late June that Sony would begin selling through its stock of 80GB PS3s, dropping the price of the console to encourage its retail extinction. The 160GB PS3 would briefly swoop in as the dominant SKU -- that is, until the PS3 Slim was announced in August or September.

With our inbox flooded with tips from retail-employed readers claiming their place of business is dropping the price on the 80GB PS3 or discontinuing their shelving of the 80GB SKU altogether, the first half of this prediction seems to already be in motion. Of course, this doesn't mean the second half will necessarily come true -- still, considering these numerous reports, as well as the Ars Technica mole's oft-proven accuracy, this piece of prognostication has proven to be one of the most compelling rumors we've seen regarding the slender console.

The Photographic Evidence

When it comes to depictions of the PS3 Slim in the flesh, potentially legitimate examples are nearly non-existent. Compared to the PSP Go, which was conclusively revealed by a leaked episode of Qore, few rumored likenesses of the slimmed-down hardware have even a remote chance of being genuine. In simpler terms, we've seen a lot of fakes.

Earlier this month, we received a ton of tips pointing us to an listing for the PS3 Slim -- a listing which included a picture of the console. Upon further examination, this image (posted directly above) was found to be user-submitted -- and what's more, was drawn from a mockup created by NeoGAF user cakefoo.

NeoGAF also recently attempted to trick gaming bloggers across the internet with a supposed K-Mart ad for the PS3 Slim. A few outlets ran with it, but were stymied when NeoGAF user chubikins revealed the ad's inauthenticity shortly thereafter.

We've also received supposed glances at the console in the wild -- the most widely circulated of which was this video from an electronics vendor in the Philippines who presumably came across the system under illicit auspices. Though common sense would dictate that an independent vendor in the Philippines probably wouldn't be the first person to get their hands on an unannounced piece of gaming hardware, it's impossible to completely prove or disprove the video's validity.

The images we've seen with the most credibility were actually the first ones to ever surface -- a gallery of images supposedly leaked from the factory tasked with manufacturing the console not only looks somewhat legitimate, but our sister site Engadget received a cease-and-desist shortly after publishing them. No, the removal request didn't come from Sony, but it still lends a bit of credibility to the rumored photographs.

Despite the lack of relatively authentic-looking images or video of the console, a surprising amount of the gaming populace believes the PS3 Slim exists. In a poll we conducted over the weekend, in which nearly 5,700 readers participated, 90.5 percent said they believe the PS3 Slim is real.

The Unveiling at GamesCom

Ever since the Ars Technica Mole's report placed the announcement of the PS3 Slim in August or September, the most popular theory regarding its unveiling has been that Sony would drop its announcement during its GamesCom 2009 press conference. It wouldn't be Sony's first major hardware announcement made at a European gaming event -- last year, the 180GB PS3 was revealed during the Leipzig Games Convention.

Other support for the GamesCom announcement theory came in the form of reports from Hong Kong-based gaming magazine GameWave and French news site JVN, both of which mention the system's announcement during the event. There's certainly a lot of anticipation for the brand new convention -- despite the fact that this is the first year GamesCom is being held, many developers and publishers (including Sony) have thrown their full support behind it.

Once again, despite the fact that there's very little support for the GamesCom announcement theory, a huge number of people think it's accurate. In our weekend poll, 72.5 percent of participants said they believed the console would be announced during Sony's press conference tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. EST.

Features and Pricing

Attempting to discern the initial price point and included features of a console that may or may not even exist is the definition of a futile exercise. There's no point posting the musings of anonymous Sony insiders, as they'd be impossible to analyze. Let's face it -- we're simply not going to know these things until the PS3 Slim is announced, assuming it actually exists.

Instead, we asked our poll participants what features they'd want in a slimmer Sony console, and the size of the price tag they thought it would possess. Here's what we found:

As you can see, the desire for the PS3 Slim's namesake trimness is fairly lukewarm. The big concern here is the lower price -- which an overwhelming majority of participants believe will end up being $299.99. Another big potential selling point is whether or not the console will be capable of playing PS2 titles -- a feature not present in the current generation of 80GB and 160GB PS3 models.

The Conclusion

Even though it's part of an industry characterized by frequent rumors and speculation, the PS3 Slim has been the subject of an especially enormous amount of guesswork and conjecture as of late. However, as is often the case when dealing with rumored gaming hardware, speculation has become difficult thanks to unsubstantiated claims from Sony evangelists and skilled Photoshop artisans looking to pull fast ones on gaming news outlets.

Cutting through the mire of obvious forgeries and uninformed predictions, however, leaves us with a minuscule amount of evidence of the PS3 Slim's existence. In these cases, there's often the "one big thing" that people turn to when attempting to prove the rumor's authenticity. Often times, said "thing" comes from the creator of the hardware itself. After being burned by the leak of the PSP Go just days before its E3 press conference, Sony would certainly have clammed up when dealing with the revelation of its new big guns.

If the PS3 Slim is real -- and what's more, is going to be revealed tomorrow -- then Sony has definitely improved its discretion. The company has given no clear indication that the console exists, which in turn has increased the buzz surrounding it, sending interest in the rumored hardware skyrocketing. Sony could easily cash in on this interest by revealing the PS3 Slim tomorrow with the desired features and price listed above.

It makes sense that Sony would play its hand in this manner. It makes sense that Sony would announce something huge at a games convention that's built up a sizable amount of anticipation in relatively small amount of time. It makes sense that earlier PS3 SKUs would drop in price and availability right before a new model was announced.

The evidence of the PS3 Slim's existence is ultimately inconclusive. However, while far from a confirmation of the rumored console, the strongest support of the theories and speculation -- and perhaps the explanation as to why so many of our poll participants believe it's real -- is this very observation: It just makes sense.

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