In Defense of the PlayStation 3

Article

posted 7/12/2006 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann

After Sony's press conference last month there was a lot of bitching and moaning across the great World Wide Web.  People far and wide bemoaned the high price of the system, the new controller, the dual PS3 configurations and the lack of quality games that Sony showed off.  I might have even kvetched a little bit of it myself but after a few weeks of sitting back and looking at the situation it's really not as bad as the internets have made it out to be.

As GamingNexus' resident Microsoft apologist/fanboy it is a bit odd for me to write an article defending Sony.  If anything you would expect someone like me to pile on, heaping scoopful after scoopful of fanboy diatribe and scorn on Sony.   But that would be the easy way out, that would be the path of least resistance, that's what IGN would do.  Instead of writing yet another "PS3 g0t pwn3d by Nintendo and Micro$oft" article I decided to try and see the world from Sony's perspective.

This article has taken a while to write as various Sony executives have made some entertaining and down right baffling statements that has made writing this article exceedingly difficult.  While a lot of these can be chalked up to the usual bluster and chest puffing that precede a major console launch, some of the statements have been downright mystifying and bizarre.  Saying that the PS3 is going to be as powerful as a PC is one thing but saying that it is going to replace one is thinking just a little too far outside the box.  Never-the-less I’ve pushed on with this article. Saying that you’re considering that you will customize the devices to consumer specifications is also a bit baffling as you tend to lose the main advantage that consoles have over the PC gaming market.

The biggest issue is the price of the units.  Let's be honest, $599 or $499 is a lot of scratch to put down for a gaming console.  If you are earning minimum wage you'll need to work over 110 hours to come up with the coin to purchase the top end configuration.  If you are an overpaid technology consultant you're looking at a little over 17 hours to earn the money for the console but the point is still valid.  You are going to have to save up and pinch pennies if you want to have one of this sitting next to your TV in November (assuming that you can find one).

While the price is certainly high, the main problem with is that of expectations management.  I'm not sure why the expectations for a cheaper console came from as Sony has been saying since last year that the thing was not going to be cheap.  Of course that didn't stop all the analysts, bloggers, and mainstream gaming sites from saying that the unit would be price competitive with the Xbox 360 (which it is to a degree)...blithely ignoring the proclamations from Sony they started setting a new set of expectations and unfortunately for Sony that's what stuck.

Why is the unit so expensive?  Because there a lot of brand new cutting edge technology in the device and we all know that bleeding edge technology does not come cheaply.  The PlayStation 3 is more than just playing the next Grand Theft Auto game or the next Ratchet and Clank game.  It is about creating an entertainment hub in your living room. It is about doing more than saving the planet from pixilated pirates and aliens. It is about a complete home entertainment system that covers everything from games to movies to your family photos.

Another thing to factor into the price of the equation is that how long that PS3 is going to be sitting next to your TV.  Unlike Microsoft, Sony does not completely write off development/production of a console after the next version comes out.  The fact that Sony has just recently stopped production of the PSOne gives you some idea of how long Sony keeps cranking out their platforms.  If you factor this in with the financial concept of amortization you can easily justify the cost by spreading the cost of the device out over it's lifetime.  So $600 over the six year lifetime of the device and that's only $100 or so a year.  Divide that by the number of hours you play it a year and the cost isn't really that high.  If you factor in the time spent watching Blu-ray movies, photos, or what else you'll do on your PS3 you are further spreading out the cost of the system.  Is it a bit of a stretch? Well yeah but for gamers rationalization is a tricky thing.

The price (and likely initial console shortages) will limit the adoption initially but as the PS3 gets bigger and once the console gets its Elder Scrolls: Oblivion or Ghost Recon Advance Warfighter, gamers will be clamoring to get their hands on the system no matter what the cost is.  Plus by announcing the price of the system five months in advance it will give gamers enough time to stock away the cash they'll need to purchase the system.

 



Of course one of the primary reasons why the system costs so much is the inclusion of Sony’s new high definition Blu-ray technology.  While most seem to view this as the latest in the line of proprietary formats this one is a bit different as Sony actually has the support of most of the major motion picture studios this time.  This means that when all of the good movies start hitting shelves you’ll be able to watch them on your $600 PS3 instead of watching them on your $1000 Blu-ray DVD player.  The extra capacity on the discs should also provide developers with the ability to place even higher quality textures and movies on the discs.  This means that we’ll get better quality graphics without have to swap discs in and out. 

A lot of people consider the new wireless controller to be a blatant ripoff of the new controller for the Wii.  These are probably the same people that think Apple came up with the Graphical User Interface and the mouse (guess what they didn't).  I'm not saying that that the Wii isn't innovative, new or cool but rather that the technology has been around in one form or another for years and that they've done a good job of taking existing tech and re-packaging it in a more consumer friendly way.  Sure we’ve seen the technology before and maybe Sony is just dusting it off for another run. 

What’s different and possibly better about the PS3 solution is that you get the benefit of the new control scheme but also compatibility with the last two generations of Playstation games. The control scheme is exactly the same and you don’t have to worry about extra controller sleeves or extra controllers when you want to play older games.  Your games are going to play exactly the same and you aren’t going to have to learn a new controller scheme just to play an older game.

Another benefit of Sony’s controller direction is that you will be able to turn it off and play without it.  Nintendo’s “Wiimote” while slick is also limiting in that the game is going to have to support it and not every developer is going to want to sink money into something that may just be a niche controller.  It also means less strain on your arms and muscles.  Sure it’s cool to be able to play video game tennis by making a swinging motion but are most gamers going to be up for playing something like that for more than an hour or two at a time?  Are most gamers going to have the stamina or desire to play a virtual nine holes of golf after a long week at the office?  I would gander that Nintendo fan boys will be easy to spot at E3 next year as they are going to have one very well developed arm and one skinny arm.

It’s also been noticed that Sony’s controller will lack force feedback and while it sucks, it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise given the new motion technology and Sony’s inability to come to an agreement with Immersion Solutions.  That said it’s a shame that the two companies couldn’t come to some agreement as it does hurt both companies and gamers in the long run.

Another item of concern is Sony’s decision to release two different configurations of the PS3.  A premium configuration as well as a lower end configuration with a smaller hard drive, no built in memory card slots, HDMI port, or wireless networking. This decision was probably made when Microsoft their dual SKU strategy and the logic for it is the same.  The dual SKU’s provide consumes with choice and with the exception of the HDMI port, consumers who purchase the lower end system will be able to purchase add-ons that will allow them to have the same functionality as the higher ends system.  The HDMI port of course is the real rub here as the HDMI port is supposed to handle part of the copyright solution for Blu-ray movies.  However Sony has guaranteed that those who purchase the lower end configuration will be able to play Blu-ray movies.  I still don’t think that a dual SKU system is a good thing as it confuses the non hardcore consumer but like I said earlier once MS did it you had to bet that Sony would.




I’m also a bit mystified that people are considering that Sony’s online service is a copy of Microsoft’s Xbox Online.  This like the controller “copying” is just an evolution of something rather than just copying it directly.  Aggregating demos, online content (like game trailers and videos), setting up multiplayer matches, and micro transactions is nothing new as to a degree America Online and other content providers have been doing it for years if longer.  All Microsoft has done is to create a successful service that brings a concepts together in a customized interface for the Xbox 360.  I’m also curious why people aren’t saying that Nintendo’s virtual concept isn’t just a knock-off of Xbox Live arcade, it’s the same concept right?

What Sony is doing differently is that they aren’t going to charge for multiplayer matchmaking like Xbox Live does and they are creating an open system so that developers aren’t constrained to their system…they just provide the hook-up to that system (whether or not game companies charge for matchmaking services on their end is a slightly different matter). 

The real X factor here is whether or not Sony leverages their large content library or not.  While Microsoft and Nintendo are gaming power houses the one area they really can’t compete with Sony is the amount of media content (movies and audio) that Sony has in house.  We all know that Spiderman 3 is going to be one of the biggest movies of the year in 2007, what if Sony released a few PS3 only trailers?  What if the Blu-ray version of the movie included some playable content or some mini-games that you could only play on a PS3? We could also see Sony releasing songs and music videos in advance on their service which would give them a huge boost on Microsoft and Nintendo who have to go to third party companies to get content like that.  Sony could also release a music service that would allow you to purchase and play songs on both your PSP and your PS3.

I think this covers most of the main beefs of the system.  I’m not going to touch on what seems to be a fairly weak launch lineup so far as Sony may have a few cards up its sleeves and that most launch lineups are usually pretty weak.  To be honest this article was a little harder to write than I thought it would be as it is not always easy to write against popular opinion.  That said I am looking forward to seeing what other surprises Sony has in store for us as we get closer to the launch line up and I’m already working on the paperwork to take the day off before the system launches to stand in line at my local electronics retailer.