The PlayStation 3 may not be flying off store shelves right now, but you'd be foolish to dismiss Sony this early in the console generation. The PS3 has all the processor, graphics, and communications power necessary to win this generation. Unfortunately, Sony wasn't able to pull together the right game portfolio in time to justify the console's high price tag. The fact that Sony stumbled at launch, failing to consistently sell out at retail even after cutting supply, shows how competitive this console generation will be. If the Xbox 360 and Gears of War didn't exist, the PlayStation 3 would be sold out everywhere; thus, we would all be happily playing Resistance: Fall of Man and marveling over the sweat in Fight Night Round 3
The major game developers believe that the PlayStation 3 will have a sizable install base and allocated resources to ensure a steady supply of games. Larry Probst, the outgoing Electronic Arts CEO, stated in a recent Web conference that he believes the PS3 will eventually win this console generation in a very close race. Sony may have lost a few exclusives because of the PS3's slow start, but those games will still appear on the PS3, even if they're also going to be on the Xbox 360.
Selling more than 100 million PlayStation 2 units will give you a strong brand and, if treated kindly, a loyal customer base. However, Sony has squandered much of its customer goodwill over the past year with a string of disappointments: product delays, price raises, feature cuts, and lackluster games. Many of us, despite all the letdowns, are still prepared to buy a PlayStation 3 because we know that Sony is very close to transforming the console from a maybe into a must-have. Here are 10 things Sony can do to get us to buy a PlayStation 3.
Improve Developer Support to Secure More Exclusives
Sony has a decent number of exclusive third-party games in its PlayStation 3 stable already, and a few of them carry some of the biggest names in the industry (Final Fantasy and Metal Gear may ring a bell). But the support that third parties provide the platform seems to have been driven by their expectations of the PS3's potentially enormous user base rather than a commitment to faithfully continue making games for Sony. Now that Nintendo and Microsoft are both presenting a serious challenge to the PlayStation's market dominance, we're watching one PS3 exclusive after another go multiplatform, which is not providing many satisfied 360 owners with a compelling incentive to pick up a PS3.
There's a catch-22 at work here. Sony needs to get more systems into homes to make third-party publishers want to invest the resources in great exclusive games. But you need great exclusive games to sell systems. I don't know if management at Sony became complacent after the PlayStation 2's ludicrous popularity, but the company can't get lazy about courting and supporting developers this time around. Based on statements by some well-known developers and scuttlebutt I've heard here and there, it seems that Microsoft's tools and developer support are considerably better than Sony's right now. You can't blame developers for going with the platform that lets them create the same great game but requires fewer resources.
Sony has indeed started increasing developer support. At the Game Developers Conference a few days ago, the company announced a new development suite called PlayStation Edge that will give third parties superior tools for getting the best effects and performance out of the PS3's powerful hardware. Sony needs to keep up such efforts as PlayStation Edge if it wants the PS3 to compete against Microsoft's considerable sales advantage and Nintendo's current cultural cachet.
Fix Online Fundamentals Before Going Home
It's probably going to take more than a microtransaction-filled virtual world to get the PlayStation 3's online functionality where it needs to be. While I'm definitely interested in the concepts put forth by PlayStation Home, what I really want is the ability to read my inbox without having to quit out of a game. How about voicemail messaging so I don't need to reach for my USB keyboard every time I need to tell someone something? The existing community features need to be better integrated into the games before something like PlayStation Home will sound appealing.
Thank you for inviting me into your PlayStation Home. I find your collection of hilarious GIF files to be quite scintillating.
But PlayStation Home will certainly have its applications. I look forward to getting invited to the private spaces of other users so they can show me their vast collection of ripped DVD porn films and mind-blowing animated GIFs. I also look forward to going to the Sponsored By Big Summer Movie Area, where I can watch the trailer for Big Summer Movie and perhaps even acquire a T-shirt with the logo for Big Summer Movie right on it!
Worlds like Second Life and There exist on the fringe and, if I may recklessly dismiss and generalize something that I deliberately choose not to understand, are only used by lunatics and shut-ins. Is that because not enough people have been exposed to these sorts of virtual worlds? Or is it because most people simply aren't interested in some creepy emote-based chat room where 30 guys are doing the robot while trying to hit on the one female avatar in the area and 30 more guys are trying to tell you that you aren't cool if you don't go buy some more virtual bucket hats and headphones for your already-far-too-metrosexual-looking avatars? As long as the PlayStation 3 keeps selling, PS Home is going to be the big mainstream experiment that finally gives us the answer. But all I want to do is accept a game invite from a friend without first having to fumble through a bunch of game-specific menus and obsolete lobbies.
You might think I'm down on PlayStation Home, but to be honest, I can't wait to try it. It all looks so creepy and marketing-driven that getting in there and messing with people is almost certain to be a good time. But considering that Sony doesn't quite have the basics of online functionality down yet, it's hard to get excited about anything that isn't directly focused on filling those basic needs first.
Standardize Online Features for Multiplayer Games
In this day and age it seems inexcusable for a multiplayer game to ship without at least a modest suite of options for online play. It's especially frustrating on the PlayStation 3 because the idea of a free online multiplayer is one of the few features that Sony's system has over the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, thus far Sony has shown us that you get what you pay for.
PlayStation 3 games don't have a standard set of online features, so it's a bit of a crapshoot when you're buying a game as to whether or not it will have decent (or any) online multiplayer support. Resistance: Fall of Man and MotorStorm are shining examples of how online games can be done right on the PlayStation 3. And if Sony could guarantee that type of quality online gameplay for every multiplayer game, the system might be worth the investment.
Unfortunately, for every Resistance there are games like Tekken and Virtua Fighter 5, which have no online play whatsoever. Even the games that do have online play are often missing features that are taken for granted on the Xbox 360. Sony needs to take a more active role in setting guidelines for PlayStation 3 games to include such features as online matchmaking, voice chat, in-game messaging, and leaderboards. Basically, Sony needs to rip off Xbox Live. If Sony can do that, then it will at least make the decision to purchase an Xbox 360 game versus a PlayStation 3 game a little less one-sided.
Reconsider the Price
There's one major reason why I'm not going to buy a PlayStation 3 in the short term--it's just too much money.
Gaming has never been a cheap hobby. Even with trade-ins, pre-owned games and consoles, and rental, to keep up with what's new involves significant costs. The development costs of next-generation games and consoles are reaching movielike levels, and gaming companies are under pressure to maintain their bottom line. But even with the price levels we've become used to, Sony's ?25 ($825 US) has caused some shock waves.
The problem is that ?25 is a lot of money. If you throw in a couple of games, you're looking at more than ?00, which psychologically at least seems a barrier to purchase. While it has the benefits of Blu-ray (if it takes hold) and, later, the PlayStation Home environment, are those really enough to persuade gamers to part with stacks of cash?
Imagine for a second that Sony decided to take a bigger loss and cut ?00 off the UK launch price. Looking at a ?25 price tag would be a significantly different proposition. There's no denying that the PlayStation 3 is an attractive, technologically sophisticated console, and although the games lineup isn't earth-shattering at the moment, it's bound to improve (Metal Gear Solid 4 anyone?). With the Xbox 360 still retailing at about ?79, narrowing the price gap would present the consumer with a genuine choice. PlayStation 3 for ?25? I'd have my preorder in already.
[Editor's note: The PlayStation 3 is set to launch in the UK on March 23.]
Fix Web Browsing and Media Management
Sony billed the PlayStation 3 as a gaming console that can do everything: "Music, Photos, Internet, Videos, and Movies." It's supposed to be the living-room media center. That might become a reality if Sony iterates more on its Internet and media applications. How is it that a machine as powerful as the PlayStation 3 can't manage to browse more than a few Web sites without crashing? I'll forgive the PSP's horrendous browsing capabilities, but the PlayStation 3 doesn't have any memory storage or processing horsepower excuses. At the very minimum, you have 20GB of storage, plenty of RAM, and an array of processors. What gives?
The Cross Media Bar could also use an update. A media hub needs more than simple vertical scrolling to make it useful for listening to audio or viewing video clips. If we all had five songs to our name, the current system would work; but many of us have a lot more songs in the real world where 30GB MP3 players are the norm. You don't vertically scroll your way through 5,000 songs.
Filling out media-feature check boxes may make for great box art and marketing brochures, but Sony needs to focus on usability to make sure PS3 owners can actually take advantage of what the system has to offer. The PlayStation 3 has all the hardware to function as a fantastic media center--now make it easy for me to use.
What do you think Sony should do to make the PlayStation 3 worth buying? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
The Tipping Point: 10 Things to Make the PlayStation 3 Worth Buying
Here are 10 things Sony can do to get us to buy a PlayStation 3.
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