- Release those negative vibes; there is plenty for Sony to celebrate.
Do you remember when the PS3 was released? It's hard to believe that after all the pre-release hype, recheduled launch dates and unethical E3 blunders that this upcoming holiday season represents the PS3's first Australian Christmas. It is only eight months old... and even if you want to think globally the machine is only now sucking in the deep ones to blow out that big first birthday candle. We're not offering excuses for Sony's lacklustre media coverage, they dug their own hole, but we're not about to join the chorus of cries proclaiming that the PS3 is one big wrong.
In fact, we believe that there are plenty of things that the PS3 does right. Make no mistake; the top spot on the next-generation podium remains the company's goal and a realistic target. There is no doubting that it has been an arduous birth, but even beasts of great power take their first steps on shaky legs. We wonder what those who've been poking the beast with a stick and call it names are going to think when it grows it fangs and sharpens its claws? The only way now is up!
So what does the PS3 do right?
1. Customisable Hard-Drive:
On face value, the humble hard-drive may not seem like anything more than a side note halfway down the PS3's feature list, but it could be Sony's best play. Avoiding the pitfalls of going with their own proprietary hard-drive as seen in with Microsoft and the Xbox 360, it empowers the user to take control of their own media storage. The PS3 accepts any 2.5" hard-drive, which not only means the price is independent of Sony's whims - fluctuating instead with the general market price - but also it can grow with the technology. If a 500GB hard-drive comes out today, tomorrow it can be in your PS3 without losing any of your old material.
This ensures that the PS3 can be the entertainment HUB of your lounge-room and not just a games machine. As media goes digital en masse over the coming years, the PS3's customisable hard-drive will be able to maximise its users activity, rather than relugating them with undue space restrictions as is already happening with the Xbox 360. And with the announcement of the awesome Play TV (which turns a PS3 into a HD digital set-top box) you will be able to record all your favourite TV shows, as well as your music, photos and game content in a cost-effective and user-friendly fashion.
2. Free and Accessible Online:
Much like a hooker, what the PS3's online interface lacks in sexiness, it certainly makes up for in accessibility. But unlike a hooker, it's free. For the Xbox 360, online was first and foremost a money-spinner and while it's quite functional, it is also heavily restricted to ensure that Microsoft reap cash out of every user. Hell, you can't even sign up multiple users to the one home account! By offering online gaming for free, Sony has made the PS3's online experience about everyone, not just the wealthy. Sure the PlayStation Store remains a key income stream for the company and its partners, but it's a big deal that you don't have to pay for the right to play your games online.
By comparison, you effectively pay 'tax' to play the Xbox 360 online. Sure the roads to your destination have less potholes, but we'll take a few bumps and bruises to paying a tax! And what does it mean for multi-format games? As support for split-screen dwindles in the face of the online revolution, games are being released with incomplete feature sets. The box art for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of Game 'A' may pimp '12 multiplayer maps' and '16 players online' and both have an RRP of $119.95, but to enjoy that feature on the Xbox 360 version you also need to pay a subscription tax to the 'Soft. Bugger that!
3. The SIXAXIS Controller:
Leaving rumble out of the PS3's SIXAXIS controller was a big mistake, there's no doubt. But the controller itself remains a 'right' for two main reasons, both of which are only strengthened by Sony's recent decision to head back to rumble. Firstly, you can recharge your controller straight out of the box by a USB cable. It sounds simple enough and it is, which is why we're stunned both the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii opted for the old-school battery approach. You can buy an expensive and functionally dodgy (ours never worked) recharge pack for the Xbox 360, but who wants to have to do that?
Motion-based controls were also a smart idea, even if the current lack of strong SIXAXIS titles would suggest it's a failure. Sony has marketed it pathetically too, which has seen the Wii pretty much take control of the concept in the minds of general consumers. But the option is there for savvy developers. So far, the only game we would heartily recommend for its SIXAXIS controls is Warhawk, but the feature can only do good things for the console in the long run. All it needs is a smart developer, a good idea, and intelligent marketing sometime in 2008 to make inroads on the Wii demographic.
4. PS2 Support:
It seems odd, but one of the key things Sony has done right with the PS3 is to support the PS2. A quick glance at this week's games charts sees PS2 software dominating with ease, proving that the vast majority of Australian gamers have yet to make the leap to next-gen. By continuing to support the PS2, Sony reaffirm their brand with the casual game market, which will go along way to tipping these consumers in the PS3's favour when they do decide to upgrade. Not only that, but it's Sony itself, rather than third-parties, providing that software support, which means it's the company's brands being reinforced with consumers.
Obviously, backwards compatibility is a key player in the continued support of the PS2. During the PS3's weak launch window, the best games you could play on the console were the PS2 releases God of War II and Final Fantasy XII. The PS3's Cell processor is proving no cakewalk for developers and while they take their time coming to grips with making games for the console, the continued growth of the PS2's fanbase eases the pain for the PS3. And let's face facts, there are still games coming to the PS2, like Rogue Galaxy, that are good enough to be worth a look from gamers that only own a PS3.
5. Quality Parts:
It's the standard rule of technology: the more you pay, the better it is. There is no substitute for quality, and quality costs money; it's that simple. Don't believe us? Go buy the $10 HDMI cable from your local geek hut and then locate a $200 option: now run them side-by-side and compare. Or take a $40 pair of headphones and run them up against something in the vicinity of $400 - your ears won't want to go back! The PS3 costs more than its competitors, yes, and it took longer to get to market, true: but the difference in quality is obvious.
Here's a simple example. Last night we tried to watch a DVD on an Xbox 360 Elite. The disc was scratched a bit, and halfway through the film it just stopped playing. Skipping chapters didn't fix it, fast-forwarding and restarting had no effects either... the shitty ROM just couldn't deal with the blemished disc. We stuck the same disc in the PS3 and it played like nothing at all was wrong, and without the incessant whir of the drive either as bonus gravy. It's a simple function of quality: Microsoft cut corners in key places and like many of their consoles, their faces have started to go red.
Everyone loves it when you give to charity, right? Politicians do it to win votes, celebrities do it to hide their drug intake, and guys do it to impress chicks. Folding@Home isn't quite a charity, but it is the same idea. For the uninitiated, Folding@Home is a rather cool concept that uses the unused power of personal computers around the world to examine the molecular structure of proteins in the hope of curing diseases. If you thought Crysis was a system whore, try breaking down a protein one day - forget running MSN at the same time, that's for sure.
The PS3 was a big recruit to the Folding@Home initiative, bringing in thousands of the all-powerful Cell processors. The software works by allocating unused system resources to the globally running folding project that runs in the background while your machine is on, and since very few games have yet to even tap into the Cell's famed might, we're guessing that means a lot of leftovers for the scientists. It is possible that one day Sony can claim they played a pivotal role in discovering a cure for, say, Alzheimer's... which is a pretty big 'right'... right?
7. Not Rushing the Major Franchises:
Launches suck: that's just a fact of gaming life. The Xbox 360 launch was craptacular, so was the Wiis... hell, even the PS2's initial software line-up was a suck-fest of epic proportions. At best, launch windows are a great opportunity to debut new franchises. Regardless of the quality of the game - not that MotorStorm or Resistance: Fall of Man were stinkers - the relatively small library means you're forced to play them. This ultimately gets you interested, or even excited, in a sequel down the track when developer know-how has improved.
But for established brands, launching too early on a new console can have the opposite effect. Crappy visuals, dodgy online integration and zero gameplay evolution are the hallmarks of rushed launch releases and they come at a time when users are expecting the next big thing thus doubling the negative response. Games like Project Gotham Racing 3, Amped 3 and Project Dark Zero suffered a mediocre reception on the Xbox 360, for example. A year on and we are only now starting to see Ratchet & Clank and SingStar appear, while it will be 2008 till Gran Turismo, Killzone and other key PlayStation franchises see the light of day. As a result, they'll feel like a genuine step up in evolution, and much more 'right' for consumers who have invested in the machine for their favourite games.
8. Intelligent Internet;
Surprised? Other than being free the PlayStation Network has been routinely kicked in the nuts by media around the world when compared to the familiarity of Microsoft's networking and online interface for Xbox 360. As we mentioned before, the PSN doesn't paint a pretty picture, but its issues are skin-deep as beneath the surface we're finding a rather solid experience. The key to this is Firmware, the system by which Sony update the PS3's dashboard on a regular basis. And boy has it been regular, with more stuff already coming through Firmware in the past eight months than we have seen through the life of the Xbox 360... but then again, maybe it launched half broke?
But there is more to it than that anyway. Sony are making developers jump through less hoops to be part of their online experience. They're not restricting the size of content for starters, which means bigger arcade titles and even cheap games (Warhawk could be downloaded for half the price of its store shelf cost). It has allowed ease-of-implementation for mod support in games such as Unreal Tournament III, too. But perhaps the most important call of all was the use of dedicated servers, ensuring that 42 player Resistance: Fall of Man online, even against international players, is lag free and fun. Despite all its hype, few games on Xbox in Australia can facilitate play against internationals at all, let alone of this magnitude.
9. Going Blue:
Yes, it delayed the launch of the PS3. Yes, it upped the cost of console. And yes, it might not even end up winning the format war against HD-DVD; but going Blu-ray was the right decision. Sony's problems were in large part due to the slower than expected uptake of HD technology, that has kept the old-school component cables and dodgy 2-channel sound relevant long after it should have been dead and buried. But the graves have now been dug and soon Microsoft and Nintendo will be standing there mourning as Sony's PS3 parties its ass off. Plus, Blu-ray has given developers much more freedom in the construction of their games due to its extra storage space, which should ultimately make for superior experiences once properly utilised.
But this isn't the only blue that is oh so right for Sony. Support of gaming accessories through Bluetooth connection opens up the potential gameplay experience considerably, no to mention its general user-friendliness. Regardless of the manufacturer, Bluetooth keyboards, mice and headsets will sync-up with the machine. From a gamers point-of-view this is awesome news, allowing developers to explore mouse, or keyboard driven gameplay experiences with more conviction. This will become particularly important when the ever-popular MMORPG genre begins to take a foothold in consoles.
10. All-in-One Entertainment:
None of us were happy with the hefty price-tag that launched alongside our stunned expressions and the PS3 in March of this year - $1000 clams is serious mullah to outlay before you've even got a game. But while we lament the cost, there is no doubting that the PS3 is wonderfully suited to the home of the future, much more so than any other console in history. Hardcore gamers may baulk at the concept of a 'multimedia HUB', but the general consumer does not. For your average Joe, buying a jukebox, an HD Set-Top Box, a photo album, a DVD and Blu-ray player, a CD player, a connective device for your PSP and an internet browser in one shiny box is kickass value for money. And it's probably the biggest 'right' the PS3 has made.
Sony learnt their lesson in the last generation. The PS2 launched at a ludicrous $750, but that wasn't bad value for a games machine and DVD two-in-one back in those days, and it suckered in a multitude of consumers for whom gaming was a secondary consideration. The PS3 aims to do the same, and it's getting there, even if Blu-ray hasn't quite taken off like DVD. Still the knowledge that it comes out of the box with HDMI, wireless, multiple card readers and the other functionality mentioned in the previous points is a good argument to any potential buyer, make no mistake. And it gives Sony's 'ten year plan' for the PS3 legitimacy.
So there you have it, the 10 things the PS3 did right.