Playstation 3 versus the world
Posted at 03:17 on 28th May 2006 - permalink

I’ve never bought a Sony console, and I’m not about to start any time soon*. Please bear this in mind before reading the following. I have no desire to defend Sony, but there are a couple of points that have been cropping up in everyone’s analysis of their E3 showing this year that I feel compelled to question. You’ve all been so busy fetching up your pitchforks and flaming torches that no-one has stopped to think clearly about some of these issues.

Sony’s announcement of the PS3 pricing at E3 has opened the floodgates for a lot of bitter anti-Sony sentiment and predictions of their impending doom. To anybody who has been following the headlines on GameTab (a.k.a. “the simpleton zeitgeist”) in the months since the Xbox 360’s release this won’t come as a surprise – most of the games media has been playing this tune for some time now, feverishly jumping on any rumour that reflected badly on the Playstation 3, thereby somehow legitimising their more impatient readers’ decision to drop frighteningly large sums of money on Microsoft’s nextgen machine. (In most cases, spending more than the RRP of the console itself on games, peripherals and online services.)

Let’s get the stuff we all agree on out of the way first. Yes, Sony had a disasterous E3, and will undoubtedly face problems launching a new console at $5/600. (We can stop all this whining about the $500 version being ‘crippled’ as well. It plays the exact same games. It’s OK, Americans, you can buy the cheaper version of something without worrying about people questioning your manliness. And at least you’re getting a choice.) They’ll probably come out of this hardware generation with a smaller slice of the overall pie.

But then you go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like:

“Nobody needs Blu-Ray! It’s only useful for films anyway, right?”

Wrong. Of course, I’m not blind to the fact that Sony’s decision to stick to their guns regarding Blu-Ray in the PS3 has put them in a difficult position. Blu-Ray drives are still too expensive, and they can’t wait for the price to drop without missing Christmas. So why are they ploughing on regardless instead of removing Blu-Ray from the PS3?

Because shipping the PS3 without a Blu-Ray drive (or some equivalent technology) is not a viable option, for games or films. Even if Sony had no interest in promoting Blu-Ray as a movie distribution medium, by reverting to DVD they would be crippling the machine as a games console. Shipping the drive as an add-on is also a non-starter, as this would split the platform with the effect of few if any games publishers being confident to ever use it. This is exactly what happened with the PS2 Network Adapter, and countless other console upgrades over the years.

So (assuming I can keep a straight face while typing this question), what’s the big deal with having up to ten times more read-only storage at your disposal?

For one thing, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion fills a DVD. As do an increasing number of PC and Xbox 360 games. MMORPGs are getting particularly greedy in their data storage requirements. You can guarantee that Grand Theft Auto IV will fill a DVD to bursting point (and will only fit on one at all because the game has to support the Xbox 360 – ironic, really, considering that for so long it’s been the limitations of the PS2 that have frustrated Rockstar‘s ambitions).

We’re not even a year into the ‘next generation’ and we’re already running into problems with storage. Witness, in Oblivion’s case, the immersion-breaking limited pool of voices, the cheesy tile-based dungeons and cut-and-paste buildings. Now, these examples don’t hamper enjoyment of the game in any significant way, but what happens when Bethesda want to release the Game of the Year edition incorporating expansion packs? Beyond that, would anyone seriously propose that developers spend the next five years fighting against this constraint?

Obviously not every game needs vast expanses of storage space to function adequately, but those kinds of games that do benefit should absolutely be allowed to. I got heartily sick of disk-swapping in the Amiga days, thanks.

“In the light of this price announcement, the only thing Sony have going for them is the Playstation brand name.”

Mercifully, I’ve only seen a couple of rare instances of this statement. Hopefully this indicates that only a small number of gamers and journalists are so hopelessly blinkered as to confuse the lukewarm response to the PS3 presentation an E3 with the general public’s attitude to the innumerable high profile franchises that will be making an appearance on the machine. Franchises such as Metal Gear Solid, Grand Theft Auto, Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, Gran Turismo, FIFA, Madden, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Sonic, Virtua Fighter, Tekken, Riiiiidge Racer, Armoured Core, Pro Evo, Singstar, Eyetoy, Unreal, God of War, Splinter Cell, Tony Hawk… you get the idea.

The angry mob are so keen to usher this rather large elephant out of the room, that I’ve seen people claim that pretty much every one of the aforementioned titles as “a niche interest”, or “not really a system seller, is it?”. What is, then? Again, this seems to be more an attempt to convince themselves that they’re making the right decision rather than making a rational assessment of whether the machine offers a compelling proposition to anyone else.

The fact remains that for millions of people, some random sampling of that list effectively defines video games as they have experienced them for the last decade. It’s a list of familiar (and, importantly, extremely diverse) brands where they know what they’re getting. And it’s the reason that the Playstation 3 isn’t going to crash and burn, regardless of how big the ‘price delta’ may be between it and the Xbox 360 or the Wii. It’s not offering the same thing, and the only real risk Sony face is failing to communicate this effectively.

I’m not going to buy one for £425 though.

*In the case of the PS1 and PS2, my general assessment was that the hardware being offered had some noticable technical shortcomings (i.e. I’m a graphics whore) and was always rather overpriced compared to what else was on the market at any given time. (As for the PSP, well, I just don’t really see what they were trying to achieve. The UMD format is ridiculous, and it doesn’t have Card Fighters. Why bother?) With the Playstation 3, Sony seem to have convincingly addressed the hardware power issues, but in the process have driven the launch price of the machine deep into luxury item territory.

Tags: ,


↑ back to top ↑