Opinion - Playstation 3 worries about innovation to sacrifice quality

Posted by Mark Raby

Opinion – Sony has really tried to improve the gaming experience with the PS3 through new and innovative technologies, but unfortunately this mindset has led to a decrease in the number of quality games.  That is just one of the things that's prevented the mass adoption everyone was expecting for Sony's latest console.


The Playstation 3 in pictures ...

Blu-ray
The PS3 has long been touted for its superior inner components.  Containing the highest level of technology and game media capacity, the Sony console would certainly seem to have the most potential.  So far I have really not seen that potential captured however.  The list of PS3 exclusives is kind of pathetic, which means that, even though Blu-ray Discs have enormously higher capacity than the Xbox 360/Wii standard of DVDs, most of the PS3’s games are essentially identical versions of titles on the other consoles.  This means publishers, for the most part, aren’t using up those dozens of gigabytes allowed on the BD medium.

Also, I have gripes about the forced inclusion of a new media player.  Blu-ray movies certainly do look nice on an HDTV, but the explosion of installed players (because of the PS3) has created a seemingly insurmountable lead for the format.  This has left HD-DVD trailing since day one, even though I believe it has superior technology and much more innovative bonus features.  Some of the Blu-ray movies cranked off of Sony’s express manufacturing line do not even have menu interfaces comparable to standard DVDs.  This has created a real problem in the competition for the next home media format, as Blu-ray has done very little to innovate beyond an improved picture and capacity potential.

Online overhaul
There is no question that the PS3’s online system is leap years above what Sony offered with the PS2.  A universal screen name, online elements that can be accessed outside of specific games, and a digital download store are all fantastic additions to the Playstation’s online repertoire.  Of course, all of this is basically identical to Xbox Live.  There’s little that is actually exclusive to the PS3.

Sony did catch my attention with Warhawk, because of its online-exclusive nature.  However, it is difficult to find a full set of players ready to go at any given time.  It was a bit too soon in the console’s life cycle to release a game like this because once there is a sufficient installed base and users are more aware of PS3 online, Warhawk will become antiquated and its potential will never be realized.

One thing absolutely worth commending, however, is Sony’s attitude towards external online features.  A big part of that is the Playstation Store.  Sony has shown an immense amount of devotion to downloadable online content, probably even more so than the Xbox 360, and definitely with a wider scope than Nintendo’s Wii.  With the $20 Tekken: Dark Resurrection, and even a day-and-date release of Warhawk digitally and on Blu-ray, Sony has smashed through the capacity barrier of console-powered digital downloads.

Sony has also made available special themes to customize the PS3 main menu and downloadable game/movie trailers.  The Xbox 360 also offers these, and perhaps even more notable is the Xbox Live Video Marketplace.  So Sony’s downloadable library is not 100% better than those of its competitors, but it is certainly pushing the envelope.

The PS3 also includes a full-fledged Internet browser, capable of downloading movies, music, and images.  The Xbox 360 has no Web browser at all, and the Wii’s browser has very limited saving capabilities.  This makes the PS3 the console with the least restrictions, which is a vitally important designation when you consider that this generation is highly focused on creating a do-it-all machine.

Of course, Sony is really trying to re-mold the online experience with Home, but no one really knows how that will turn out.  Based on various beta tester reports, many functions have been changed giving the feeling that Sony really doesn't know where to take this platform.  It is certainly the most ambitious online console plan we’ve seen, but right now no one knows if it will actually be the killer app it is supposed to be.  I am skeptical right now, simply because  there seems to be no real strategy for the future of the service.


Limitless accessories


All three consoles have USB ports for external peripherals, a page taken right out of the PS2 book.  The PS3 also brings something new to the table, though, with full Bluetooth support.  Right now it is the only console that allows Bluetooth headsets and keyboards from any manufacturer to be compatible, as well as select Bluetooth printers.

The Xbox 360 and Wii look kind of limited in comparison, regarding peripheral accessibility.  Sure, the 360 has headsets, keyboards, dance pads, guitar controllers, and all the typical stuff, and the Wii has its own unique array of devices.  However, the PS3 has the most interoperability.  It’s just easier to find a device that will work.  There’s no need to hunt down a box with “for PS3” labeled on it.

The Playstation Eye is about the only peripheral that requires users to have a specific model number.  It is also one of the great PS3 stories, or at least has the potential to be.  I have thoroughly tested out the Eye’s flagship game, The Eye of Judgment, and it has blown me away.  I still have yet to find a way to stump the camera.  Its object recognition is immensely better than the original EyeToy.  In the future, Sony says it will be able to recognize facial expressions, create standalone video presentations, and allow players to “be the character” in future PS3 titles.

I remember the same kind of expectations arising from the PS2’s EyeToy and it sort of became a lost memory for non-enthusiasts, so it is definitely too early to say that the PS Eye will actually do anything to “revolutionize” gaming.  It’s very difficult to build too much on the PS Eye right now, but I do see it becoming a staple for the PS3 that will eventually be one of the console’s defining characteristics.

A question of control
Sony has found itself in a very interesting position with the PS3.  With the Wii, Nintendo really captivated everyone and threw the entire industry on its head.  Meanwhile, the Xbox 360 had built a nice control scheme, along with a controller that rumbled and was able to support an array of specifically built peripherals.  Where did this leave Sony?  The PS3 controller is an exact duplicate of the PS2 controller, except without the signature rumble pack.

This left the control experience of the PS3 as the least innovative, right off the bat.  As a seeming gut reaction to the Wii, Sony added in motion-sensitive controls, but they are so awkward that I would rather just use the control stick.  All in all, though, this leaves gamers feeling like they are playing a last-generation game on the most expensive new-generation console.

Sony needs to do something to make the actual experience a little more innovative.  It is doing that with the Playstation Eye and with Bluetooth connectivity, and it has talked about bringing back rumble pack-type force feedback, but those are just the tip of the iceberg.  Right now the PS3 is the only console with an “old-school” feeling, and not in a good way.

Summary
Quite evidently, the PS3 is the most “open” console.  Users are not bound to the very rigid set of specifications mandated by the Xbox 360 and Wii hardware.  This should make it an appealing target for developers and consumers, but it’s not.  Unfortunately, in trying to make the actual specs of the system as cool as possible, Sony seems to have forgotten that it still needs quality games.

I should also not forget the price barrier.  That one seems to have thrown Sony an enormous curve ball.  It’s hard to even remember all the different models of the PS3 Sony has tried to market, each one backfiring in the end.  It is kind of hard for anyone to really become loyal to a system when the system’s maker doesn’t even know what it should have inside.

I imagine this has caused all kinds of headaches for developers as well.  I can picture the frustration – “What kind of online integration can I have?”  “Will PS3 users take advantage of the Sixaxis control?”  “Is it worth the investment considering the superior installed base and cheaper production cost for the Xbox 360 and Wii?”

Sony has a long history of creating a lot of hype, and getting people to genuinely believe in it, and then letting them down, but it has an equally long history of wowing the consumer electronics community.  The PS3 is sitting on the fence right now, with some really ingenious development backbones to it, but few people seem willing to step inside and actually explore it.  What Sony needs are good games…no, great games.  It needs more than a game that justifies owning a new system; it needs a reliable selection of games that justify buying the most expensive gaming console in recent memory.  Sony should take a step back from trying to bleed out all these new technologically sophisticated demos and work on actually bringing in consumers, then amaze them with the system’s abilities.