It's now been almost 2 years since the PlayStation 3 found its way into consumers hands, and things are looking brighter over the horizon. Blu-Ray has won the format war, there's a good lineup of titles dropping throughout 2008, developers are getting more of a handle on the hardware, and sales are keeping pace - at least with the Xbox 360.
Unfortunately, one area has stayed stagnant since its inception, and there doesn't seem to be much of a sign of improvement until at least this fall. I am referring to the PlayStation Network, and its abysmal showing this far.
As we all know, Microsoft came out of the gate with an extremely strong showing in almost every aspect of their online service. The marketplace, albeit a bit slow in the beginning, was soon filled to the brim with content for users to download.
Whether it be the extremely functional community features, demos of almost every game released for the system, a plethora of downloadable content and titles, or the much hailed foray into downloadable movies and TV shows, LIVE has set the bar in terms of what a console online experience should be.
No one expected Sony to deliver to the same extent as Microsoft, simply because Microsoft had years of experience with the first Xbox, as well as a much stronger software backbone, but after the first year or so, most would have liked to have seen SOME effort on Sony's behalf. Yet, here we are at the beginning of June, and PSN really hasn't change that much.
I have no trouble applauding Sony for the effort they've put in so far, as well as their fantastic policy of releasing some games as downloads as well as in store on disc. I think this is something that Microsoft has sorely overlooked, and leaves limitless possibilities in terms of content and delivery.
Unfortunately, past that, Sony receives mostly failing marks in their online efforts. Sure, PSN is free, but you have fractured community features, a barren wasteland of content, no video store, and the almost irrelevant HOME service.
I used to eagerly wait for Thursdays to see what Sony would be dropping into the PSN Store. Maybe a couple new PS1 games? Maybe a new arcade game that would pique my interest? How about some demos?
Almost every week I am left feeling overwhelmingly disappointed. Latest update PSN store update: Rock Band Songs, 9 trailers, and 2 wallpapers. The week before that? Rock Band Songs, a whopping 11 trailers, a Pixel Junk album, a couple themes.
Sure, they dot the landscape every once in a while with a demo or two, or some add-on content, but it still leaves this empty feeling inside. On the flipside, Microsoft has over 120 downloadable arcade titles (compared to Sony's roughly 30), as well as countless other content for their games. Can one make the argument that the 360 has been around longer? Sure, but the disparity in numbers between the two marketplaces doesn't account for the time difference.
Can someone else make the argument that Xbox Live has a lot of old games on it that feel like filler? Absolutely, but this brings up a really significant point; more content makes you FEEL like there is just more out there, and that you are getting more for your money.
If you walked into a store, and there were 5 or 6 products strewn on the floor, a couple other products hung on the wall in a scattered fashion, and one bored clerk standing in the corner picking his nose, how is that going to make you feel about shopping there?
What if then, you walked to the place next door, and there you found aisles and aisles of content, people walking around, music playing, employees greeting you and saying offering to help. You are not only going to shop at the second store, but you are going to feel a hell of a lot more fulfilled doing so.
Sure, it's great to see Echochrome, GT Prologue, Warhawk and Super Stardust on the store, but come on, am I really supposed to be exicted about Go! Sports Ski, or Toy Home? We continually hear about how important PSN is, and having all this exciting, original content, but I'm still waiting to see it. Hell, at this point, I'd settle for some of the OUTSTANDING lineup of PS1 games that Sony has locked away, but even that seems too difficult.
The most incredible thing to me about the situation, is the sheer possibilities of games they could release on PSN, that could sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Wouldn't it be great to see an old school Fallout type game on PSN? How about a 2D RPG in the vein of Secret of Mana, or a side scrolling fighting game ala Final Fight?
With the incredible cost of making most disc based titles today, developers could present extremely compelling and appealing content through the PSN store with its ease of use and limitless download cap, for a fraction of the cost.
Another issue presented with the PSN service, is one that has been beaten into the ground since the launch of the PlayStation 3. There have been rumors for months now about the in-game XMB, which will solve all the problems that the PS3 has, by allowing for in game invites, chatting and messaging. While these features would truly help the PSN, it still leaves me with the feeling that it will be tied together with string and duct tape.
Will it be a feature that every game will be able to utilize? How will games suffer from implementing these features? What games that are already out, will utilize these features? We will have to wait and see, whenever it does arrive, but it still has to leave many people with an uneasy feeling in the pit of their stomach.
There really isn't much left to discuss aside from HOME. Upon its unveiling at GDC, HOME and LittleBigPlanet lit up the conference, and instilled hope into countless Sony fans around the world. Finally, Sony was getting its act together, bringing out interesting, innovative content to match or beat the offering of the Xbox 360.
Unfortunately, here we are over a year later, and HOME is nowhere to be seen. The more that is shown, the more it seems like HOME is a marketing megalith first, and a place for gamers to mingle second. It was revealed at the recent Gamers Day event in Europe that HOME was delayed once again due to a "lack of focus on gamers", still leaving many people in the dark about what features the service will offer come Fall 2008.
Even when it does arrive, is it going to be relevant enough at this point for people to truly integrate it into their daily gaming lives? There was a buzz, an excitement after HOME's announcement at GDC, but that excitement has been reduced to a murmur after all the delays and insights into its troubled development.
There has been a lot of talk about what Sony is going to be giving us, with very little of the actual giving. The video store is rumored to drop at E3, HOME is rumored to be here in Fall, new and exciting content is rumored to be coming, and yet week to week, nothing is here, and I'm feeling more and more disenchanted.
Sony had a huge opportunity to put these features in place over the past 6 to 8 months, and truly take a bite out of Microsoft's market share. The question is, is it too late for them to get this all back on track? Only time will tell.