PS3 5: The Top 5 Things The PS3 Needs to Do

The Top 5 Things The PS3 Needs to Do
Well I gave Sony there day in court and proved irrefutably, with my Top 5 Reasons to own a PS3, why if you don’t own a PS3 by now you’re a dork (give or take). Okay “irrefutably” and “dork” might be a little strong. Never the less, I believe there are some very compelling reasons to own the system and hope I have demonstrated if nothing else why you should legitimately consider picking one up.

That being said, now it’s time to get our hands dirty. It’s time to stop patting backs and start kicking butts. A little friendly beat down never hurt anyone and in the spirit of constructive criticism I pull no punches as I offer my take on what Sony needs to do, stop doing, improve and outright fix, to start gaining ground in the console war.

The Playstation 3 is a great system and on a strictly platonic level I like the system even more than my 360, but even though I consider the PS3 a better designed, more powerful, more reliable system, these are simply objective observations. My preference for the system is in this regard theoretical, but in practice, unexpressed. Simply put I play my 360 far more as I’m sure most gamers who own both systems can similarly attest.

To spite my admiration for Sony’s powerhouse, there’s simply no denying the advantages of the 360 in terms of games and features. Numbers don’t lie either and there’s a reason the 360 consistently outsells the PS3 on a monthly basis. I can talk about the benefits of the PS3 all day but in the end, ultimately, it’s second fiddle (excluding the Wii, which I play even less) both in terms of usage and sales.

Since Sony seems to be taking their sweet time figuring out what they’re doing it’s apparently up to me. Sony I know you’re reading this. You no longer have any excuse for not being on par with the 360. I give you The Top 5 Things The PS3 Needs to Do.

5. Quit losing exclusives
Let’s start with some basic first aid. The first thing you need to do on a sinking ship, if you’re going to save it, is plug the holes. One of the defining factors in this generation if not the defining factor is the quantity and, interchangeably, the exclusivity of games on a given console. Quite simply, exclusives define a system. Their importance can not be understated. Even cross platform titles are distinguished by exclusive features such as better performance or DLC on a given console. The acknowledged fact is that in terms of exclusivity, of games, DLC, or simply quality of performance, the Xbox has more and does better. But it isn’t just the number of exclusives the system has that’s significant it’s the strategy of what, how, and where.

Not only has Microsoft beaten Sony to the punch for new IP’s like Bioshock, Mass Effect and Left 4 Dead, they have also dealt blows to Sony by ‘borrowing’ some of theirs. What seems unthinkable in the past, and detrimental to Sony’s success, now seems routine, even, company policy. The loss of major AAA exclusives has plagued the troubled system from the beginning. Names like GTAIV and FFIIIX have been the pride and glory of Sony fanboys everywhere, synonymous with the company and platform. Microsoft had Halo but the popularity of these franchises was hard to touch even for a 7′ tall space marine. They are prime gaming real estate and were the major reason for gamers to spend their precious few hundred on Sony’s system instead of another. To see them drift into neutral waters as cross platform titles is a significant blow to the prestige of Sony’s exclusive repertoire and a major coup for Microsoft.

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In this case it wasn’t about gaining new exclusives but maintaining the lead in this area by preventing Sony from doing so. Fans of Final Fantasy no longer have a reason to have to buy a PS3, this alone is a major victory for Microsoft since the franchise likely would have been a console mover. There is also a deficit of great JRPG’s on the PS3 and while FFXIII will help to alleviate this they gain nothing on the 360’s library in this respect as it benefits simultaneously. In the case of GTA IV Microsoft has also leveraged the advantage of exclusive DLC.

It may have been Microsoft’s head start or the financial advantage they gained because of it but whatever the reason Sony needs to find a way to stop the bleeding and secure the precious exclusive IP’s they still retain. They’ve been asleep at the watch and Microsoft has been plundering their camp. They still have plenty of new IP’s such as Heavy Rain, M.A.G. (Massive Online Game) and LBP as well as reliable heavy weights such as God of War, Jak and Daxter and Shadow of the Colossus, but they need to make sure they keep them. Though paying the big bucks for exclusives is hard for a company that still loses money on every console, they may need to reach even deeper into their pockets and do so but there is another very important thing they need to do that will make an even bigger difference as time goes on.

4. Get the PSN up to snuff
Something important in consideration of saving exclusives is the enormous popularity of online gaming, the growing demand for downloadable content and their effects on the future of games. If a game features multiplayer it’s becoming essential that it includes robust online functionality, and even games that don’t are expected to take advantage of the internet in some capacity. Whether it’s multiplayer, episodic installments, user generated content, or add-ons, the increasing integration of the online experience into the composition of games is changing the way we perceive them, and how developers approach their creation. It makes sense to focus on the system that will take advantage of this new dynamic most effectively and allow their DLC reach the most people. It’s important Sony finds themselves at the forefront of this frontier.

Yes I realize I included the PSN as one of the top 5 reasons to own a PS3 and that including it here may seem hypocritical but I still stand by my original recommendation. The PSN is a nice network if you choose to take notice of it and enjoy it for what it is. What it is, is free. But let’s face it, free mints after dinner are nice but I don’t go to a restaurant based on the quality of their mints. The PSN has good functionality and enough content and members to keep you occupied, so in it’s defense, yes, it’s a great reason to own a PS3. But if Sony want’s to compete on the same level as Microsoft they’re going to have to step up their game and the PSN for all it’s value and content has one major problem; it’s not Xbox Live.

Microsoft wisely implemented an online platform in the last generation and it gave them several years head start over the competition that has paid off handsomely. Xbox live is the gold standard of online gaming and the multiplayer scene. It is also, in a gaming generation quickly becoming identified as an online culture, one of the primary reasons Xbox enjoys the popularity it does. By establishing the “Live” brand Microsoft gave a name to this new phenomenon while it’s competitors where still just dabbling in it. The Xbox planted a flag in the planet of online gaming while Sony’s half-generation behind PS2 was just barely capable of breaking the stratosphere of even reaching the internet (Nintendo still thought the earth was flat at that point.)

To spite their delay, there is no reason for the Playstation Network to still be wallowing in stagnant mediocrity at this stage. It’s biggest problem is that it suffers from an identity crisis. Online communities are a pillar of hardcore gaming in this age and Sony has taken far too long establishing a recognizable online presence. The interface is minimal, bland and lacks the personality of NXE. The feature set is a sparse reproduction of XBL’s own and simply feels like a second rate alternative to the gold standard. Sony needs to quit dragging it’s feet and decide exactly what the PSN is, and what kind of image it wants to project. They seem to be attempting this with Home and new concepts like Qore but they need to start bringing it all together. It’s all just disjointed parts right now without any distinguishing form.

Funny thing, when someone talks about XBL, you know exactly what they’re talking about. Familiar images of it’s interface and features come to mind as you regard it with a certain spacial palpability, almost as if XBL, with NXE’s slick structured organization, was a tangible place. Now try and get the same sense of recognition, and most importantly orientation, by thinking of the PSN. Sony’s network desperately needs to find itself. And while it’s looking, it also really needs to…

3. Find it’s ‘Halo’
To spite the opinions stalwart PS3 defenders may ardently maintain, Resistance is not as good or anywhere near as big as Microsoft’s FPS juggernaut, Halo. It’s not even quite on the same level as, Gears of War, though the two more recent shooter franchises are oft compared as fanboys butt heads in forums across the internet. What Sony needs, perhaps more than anything, is a franchise as revered, envied and, most importantly, purchased as Bungie’s epic FPS.

Halo is more than just the Xbox brand’s bread and butter killer app, it’s a phenomenon; one of the most recognized and successful game franchises of all time. It put the original Xbox on the map, giving it the credibility and gravitas it needed in the early stages of it’s existence to help it stay in contention, and though Microsoft did not win the last console war it did what Sega and others could not in the end: it survived. It may still have made it without Halo but it’s future and appeal would have been in greater doubt.

Halo and in particular Halo 2, were also a major factors in the success and popularity of Xbox Live. Though online gaming was inevitable, the popularity of the franchise, stamped “cool” all over the idea and the legions of fans that migrated into the online arena, stimulated it’s growth early on. It’s contributions to the platform have been immeasurable selling both consoles and Live memberships as it continues to do to this day.

Halo has become the poster child for hard core gamers and helped the Xbox brand dethrone the Playstation as the go-to system. If Sony is going to reassert itself as the console to own, it’s going to need a franchise that’s just as dominant as Halo and a character as iconic as Master Chief.

More important than the specific character however is the game that makes them big. If Halo had sucked we’d have thought Master Chief was a stupid name and nobody would have remembered it. Halo however, not only didn’t suck but blew previous FPS conventions away, invigorating the genre with a host of new or improved features that are now standards in most shooters. It’s hard to imagine what we did before we had rechargeable health, vehicles, or secondary grenades, but the innovation and originality of Halo still resonates to this day, informing the fundamentals of modern shooters and influencing their design.

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Halo was epic, it was innovative, it had an awesome soundtrack, great controls, and cool new features. With it’s cavalier gameplay and open worlds, it was a departure from the claustrophobic humdrum of typical shooters and felt more like a thrilling space opera than a cliche or tired retread of ideas. It did everything well and became an instant classic as it’s popularity exploded exponentially.

Whether it’s a shooter or something else. Sony needs a game that captures the same Gung-Ho adventure, groundbreaking innovation and epic scale of the original Halo, as well as a hero to embody it and the good fortune of opportune timing that it capitalized on. Who knows where they should look though. Bungie came out of relative obscurity and it’s entirely possible, maybe even necessary, that the next big thing come from a developer less settled than the big studios; someone still flexing their creativity. This is another reason why it’s so important to…

2. Get developers committed to the Hardware
Thus far the technical advantage of the PS3 has been kept largely at bay by the success of the 360. As I’ve already mentioned it makes sense to develop games preferentially for the 360 since it has the larger install base, then simply port them to the PS3. But you’re only as fast as your slowest horse or in the case of graphics, your least powerful console.

Since the 360 is the priority platform for most developers they won’t exceed it’s capabilities in their games. At the very least, this effectively cancels one of the PS3’s greatest advantages. At worst it makes the system appear inferior, as software developed on the 360 often exhibits inferior performance on the unique hardware architecture of the PS3.

In contrast, when a studio develops a game exclusively for the PS3 they are able to harness it’s full power rather than limiting it. This is apparent with the beautifully rendered Metal Gears Solid 4 and Guerrilla Studio’s phenomenally pretty Killzone 2. Other titles developed solely on the console exhibit similarly impressive results. The first Uncharted is still one of the best looking games around and Little Big Planets deceptively charming style features some impressive effects and whimsical realism. When a developer is serious about creating a game on the system the results are almost always visually outstanding. Yes, Haze was terrible but it was also an exception.

The PS3 is capable of truly great feats that we are just beginning to glimpse. It’s a powerhouse and it’s success or failure hinges on whether or not it can deliver the goods and establish itself as the best hardware on the market. For this to happen, securing the commitment of developers is paramount. Games like Killzone 2, M.A.G. and LBP are great starts but the trend must continue. Sony needs to get developers excited about the system and convince them that it truly is the future of gaming and the system that will allow them to push the limits of digital entertainment. Get developers to commit to tap into the system’s potential and the games will follow and so will the gamers.

At the moment, superior hardware is one of the only definitive and unchanging advantages Sony has, which is why it’s so strategically essential that they capitalize on it. It’s one of the only ones Microsoft can’t eliminate but, as long as the 360 maintains it’s popularity and in turn, the favor of developers, they can effectively mute it.

In order to start winning the hearts and minds of gamers Sony needs to get their attention and the prettiest one at the ball will turn the most heads. If Sony can consistently distinguish itself as as the superior console in terms of pure, dazzling, visual wonderment, players will finally have a clear reason to think twice about which system to buy. They’ll have a good argument, they can see with their own eyes, for the Playstation’s cause.

Of course at that point potential buyers will still have to clear the biggest hurdle facing anyone considering, wanting, hoping to pick one up. Sony are you listening? I implore you…

1. Lower the Price!!!
Please! Please! Please! Pretty please with sugar on top!

Without a doubt the biggest deterrent for those looking to pick up Sony’s big black box, is the big fat price. I imagine it could have been easy to mistake 20 somethings for wealthy business tycoons but Sony really should have gotten their marketing analysts together with their hardware engineers when they where in the planning stages of the PS3. The system launched for the obscene price tag of $500, a mere pittance if you’re an oil tycoon, to the average gamer, however, you might as well have asked them to buy a space shuttle from NASA.

I realize the cost is proportionate to the tech we’re getting and not unduly inflated but the price point is still more than most gamers are willing, or able, to pay for what the system offers. Sony realized this after the enormity of it’s price stifled sales at launch and stigmatized the system thereafter. A series of reconfigurations followed as the company tried to figure out how to make their super computer financially accessible to the people who actually play it.

The hardware rearrangements haven’t done any favors to Sony’s image, or their standing with gamers either, becoming a messy and confusing debacle of discontinued models and multiple SKU’s. In the end, sacrificing backwards compatibility (how is that expensive to include?), some USB ports, and excessive hard drive space, they eventually got it down to $399, which is where it stands now. This is attainable, but still high and considering the 360 has lowered it’s price even faster, Sony hasn’t really gained any ground. The price ratio has remained similar and other systems, consistently, and attractively, cheaper.

If Sony wants to compete, there are a lot of things it needs to do but the one thing that will make the biggest difference the fastest, is to find a way to drop another $100 off the price. Right now there are more exclusives on the 360 and most of the biggest and best games on PS3 are cross platform titles. Even with blockbuster franchises like MGS4 and Resistance, Sony’s exclusive lineup can’t quite go toe to toe with the 360 and a slew of games like Halo 3, Mass Effect, and Gears of War. They simply haven’t the edge in the software department right now so if they want to have a prayer this generation they need to compete in the price category.

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It is absolutely essential that they find a way to make the machine accessible. It would even the playing field and prompt people to begin to consider the system’s other unique qualities.

There are plenty of reasons to own the system instead of a 360 but none so obvious as the extra $100-$200 it will cost you to do so. It doesn’t matter if you prefer the system or not, like Sony better than Microsoft, or Solid Snake more than Master Chief. If you’ve only got about $300 to spend on a console, guess which one you’re going home with.

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Another Take: Eric Bouchard

As much grief as I have given the PS3 over time, you may be surprised to hear that when they were first announced, I really wanted Sony’s new console. I had no real interest in the 360, even though I had owned an Xbox and enjoyed the games on it. Gears of War was the game that changed my mind. After getting a hold of it and a 360, I have not looked back.

The Playstaion 3 is a great system. People who do not acknowledge that are just being ridiculous. There are some things Sony’s powerhouse can do that the 360 cannot, but Microsoft has done a much better job leveraging the advantages it does have, including online presence, a larger install base and a lower price.

Microsoft has one other major advantage, however, and Sony has given to them. Sony entered this generation with a bit of bravado. Some can argue the company had a reason to be confident. After all, the Playstation 2 was an absolutely dominant system, having won the battle for the last generation without question. It even continued to sell strongly after the new consoles were released. Problem is that Sony’s confidence soon turned to what many gamers perceived as arrogance. Questions about Sony’s rather high price for its console was met with comments that people would just have to work more to be able to afford it. And this was only the beginning:

-Sony criticized Microsoft for using software driven backwards compatibility when its systems were able to play almost all of the PS2 games. Just over a year later, backwards compatibility was a thing of the past for Sony.

-Sony pointed to the fact that Microsoft had three skews for the 360 and said it was confusing to console consumers. Since then, Sony has managed to release several different versions of the PS3, so many that it can become confusing even to those who make it a point to learn which system is which.

-Sony pointed to PSN saying “We allow you to game online for free!” The company has used that line to bury its head in the sand, and its stubborn refusal to change the online play to make it more user friendly has been baffling. Sony touted Home as the thing that would close the gap between PSN and Live, but in its present form, Home is nowhere close.

-Sony’s stubborn refusal to lower its price last holiday season hurt it severely, especially in light of the current economic state.

If I was going to add one piece of advice to this debate, it would be for Sony to realize just where it stands right now, in third position in the current console battle and not gaining any ground. The company needs to drop the arrogance and start actually trying to reach out to gamers again. This starts with a price cut, but that cannot be the end of it. In order for Sony to really become competitive in this generation, it needs to realize it is no longer the lone dog in the fight. It needs to stop putting its foot in its mouth and work to recapture the hearts and minds of gamers.

In the end, gamers are a forgiving bunch, and most of us really do want to see the PS3 succeed. It can be hard for us to really want to back the system, however, when Sony continues to act like it can do whatever it wants and we’ll just sit back and take it. The sales of this generation of consoles and multi-platform games should be enough to give Sony a clue that it is time for an attitude adjustment.

If the company waits too long, the PS3 will suffer, and so will gamers.

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