Tuesday, 30 December 2008

How to Save the PlayStation 3

Sony finds itself playing a fierce game of catch-up with the competition. Here's how it can reclaim lost territory

Last generation, Sony set the bar. Despite being the underdog in horsepower and built-in Internet capabilities, the PlayStation 2 shattered sales records and was the clear victor of the console war with Microsoft and Nintendo. This time, with the PS3, plagued by an expensive price tag and other issues, Sony finds itself playing a fierce game of catch-up with the competition. It's time for the company to reclaim lost territory. Here's how it can do it.

The All-in-One Box
Even though Sony has its own movie and television studios, Microsoft was the first to launch a movie download service and most recently inked a deal with Netflix. Sony's online movie catalogue is still in its infancy, with even fewer movies available in HD, and the price is high for a digital-only copy of popular movies ($15 for Batman, really?). Sony should be the leader in this realm. It should work to reduce the cost of Blu-ray movies, especially considering the credit crunch. It should also implement its once touted IPTV here in the States and work fast to expand the PlayStation Store lineup. It will take a lot of work, but if anyone is capable of pulling this off, it's Sony.

Home Sick
Home was supposed to be Sony's answer to Xbox Live. Arriving late and still in beta, this is not exactly what we hoped for. Voice chat is up, and then it's down. Avatars are slow to load. The amount of items to purchase is incredibly limited. We can't watch movies yet with our buddies. The only game we can launch from Home is Warhawk. In fact, despite Far Cry 2 having one of the few dedicated gamer spaces, its multiplayer is not synced with the Home software. Instead of a grand evolution of online connectivity, all we have is a glorified chat room. After waiting this long, Sony had better step up to the plate and make Home a compelling experience if it wants to compete with Microsoft's New Xbox Experience. There's still time, but we have short attention spans.

Indie Gaming
It's true that there are plenty of forgettable games released for Xbox Live Arcade and WiiWare, but new games appear almost every week. Now with Microsoft's realized XNA program and the cheap development costs of working with WiiWare, we're seeing a much greater number of games coming from independent and small game developers. On the PS3, however, new downloadable releases are rare, despite some of the best (flOw, Everyday Shooter) coming from small teams. Sony should stop flexing its muscles a bit and show more love to the little guys.

Try Before You Buy
Almost every Xbox 360 game receives an online demo that allows players to get a taste before spending their money. Demos for downloadable games on the PlayStation Network, however, are nowhere near as plentiful. Yes, Microsoft stipulates that each game has a demo, but couldn't Sony require the same thing? People like free things, and if Sony would be more generous, people would probably open their wallets. Beyond this, there needs to be more betas. Sony has had a few good ones (Killzone 2, LittleBigPlanet, Resistance 2), but there should be more, and they shouldn't be restricted to Qore subscribers.

We Still Love the PS2
Early adopters can play PS2 games on their first generation PlayStation 3s, but that doesn't help consumers purchasing new consoles. Sony made a horrible mistake by nixing ability to play PS2 games from the current PS3 models and needs to address this issue. It should start by offering PS2 games for download. With all those massive PS3 drives, we would gladly pay a reduced price for the PS2's legendary catalogue.

Don't Forget Your Roots
Once upon a time, if you wanted to play a Japanese role-playing game, you'd have to own a PSOne or free PS3. Now, Square Enix will port Final Fantasy XIII to the Xbox 360 and also has a number of exclusives for that console. Several other prolific Japanese RPGs have been 360 exclusives or at least made appearances there first. How did this happen? Until very recently, Japanese gamers weren't even interested in Microsoft's console. What was once a staple for Sony is now a rare treat.

Despite having its own MMORPG studio, Sony has not released a single one for the PS3 (with The Agency still a ways out). Sony, you need to get back to your roots before they dry up.

The Death of the Exclusive
How many PS3 exclusives can you think of? You can count them on your fingers, and Microsoft and Nintendo seem to get more than Sony. Traditional PlayStation-only franchises are harder to find, and even timed-exclusives that Sony eventually gets are very off-putting to gamers who could buy a 360 instead, just to play the games they want months in advance. Having exclusive content for games such as BioShock and WWE SmackDown vs. Raw is a good start, but Sony needs to work harder to score exclusive content.

Money Doesn't Grow on Trees
Although the PS3 is an amazing piece of hardware, many people cannot afford Sony's $399 base price. The Wii is still at a mass market price point at $249, and Microsoft's $199 version of the console sells surprisingly well. Sony, however, won't cut the price until next summer. Why? The monthly sales figures have not been outstanding, while the much cheaper Wii is still selling like hot cakes. Sony, you have to be in touch with gamer's wallets. And while online multiplayer gaming might be free on the PS3, you're charging for things like Qore, even while Xbox Live is offering tons of video and preview content for free. With a cheaper console, you'll sell more games. That's the only way you're going to be able to recoup the cost of the hardware.

Streamline the Online Experience
When you think about all you're getting with an Xbox Live Gold account, the price of admission really doesn't sound that high. The PlayStation network is free, but you never score the perks Xbox 360 owners receive. The PS3's community platform, despite Home's rookie efforts, needs a lot of work. There needs to be a unified online interface, one that doesn't require that you spend five minutes logging into Home to access. Offer more tournaments and get developers in there to play with fans. Just because online play is free doesn't mean that it should be sub par. This is the most important aspect of next generation gaming, and you're severely lagging behind the competition. Get the system up to snuff fast, or people are going to stop waiting and move on. We know that you can do it, but we refuse to wait long.

Via: Businessweek.com

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