Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Sony is Playing Too Much
Sony has been boneheaded about the Playstation 3. Before all you fanboys jump onto the comments board and start flaming me, hear me out. It's a clearly established fact that the PS3 contains some incredibly saucy hardware capable of curing cancer, finding aliens, and assisting you with your assination information gathering. It's also a clearly established fact that Sony has no clear hardware roadmap as everything from price to system configuration has changed more times than ever seen with any console. While it appears the PS3 is on the way to recovery, has the system screwed early adopters of the console?
Consoles in the gaming market rarely see core hardware changes due to necessity. Developers often enjoy developing for consoles as opposed to a PC because game code can be optimized for a universal hardware base, where a PC game has to be optimized for the lowest possible configuration or two listed on the box. This convenience has lead to some incredibly astounding console games in both graphics and sound, but also play, as developers do not need to spend time optimizing code for several hardware configurations.
This isn't to say that core hardware changes don't occur - they do, namely in the form of shrinking the hardware or placing the actual chips in different spots on the circuit board. But these aren't true hardware changes in the sense of chips being eliminated or more RAM being added to the board or a better graphics chip being inserted. Miniatureization is an essental non-change, as it does not split the market between older console owners and newer owners. The Xbox 360, while also in three retail configurations, sport the same basic motherboard no matter the package. The minute a manufacturer starts removing microchips, the sooner they invite new electrical and processing problems into the motherboard.
Going a step further, developers will not even start to develop games on the assumption a peripheral has penetrated the market as deeply as the console core itself, despite the sales numbers showing high attachment rate, as they begin to split the market and decrease potential sales when they do. The Wii is an example of this, as no developer has dared to optimize a game for anything but one controller and nunchuck. Every wonder why games that are based on a special peripheral always include it, or why sequels have a separate SKU for an edition that comes with hardware? It is to avoid market segmentation.
Enter Sony and the Playstation 3. After numerous console delays and even more speculation as to cost, Sony released their next-gen console with a huge loss margin and at a price that is historically not supported by the market. Desperate to recover costs on the slow selling software, Sony did whatever they could to reduce cost. Enter the first hardware change - a smaller hard drive and the removal of the actual Playstation 2 engine chip from the motherboard. Enter a second change - the removal of the low end 40GB edition and a new, differently configured model. Now the market had three different hardware configurations of the same console and developers quickly became confused, as evidenced by delayed and slow releases. Sure, the CPU was the same but what else was? Sony themselves didn't know, as several more console configurations were released around the globe in an effort to somehow "catch on" with the mainstream. Even Sony's legacy - backwards compatibility - has gone out the window in an effort to just sell consoles.
The net result? Severel confused gamers that are cheated out of their money. Sony once touted all PSOne games would play on PS2, and PS2 would play on PS3. Now they can't all play together and if you listen, you will hear the confused and angry consumer complaining about this. Consumers are screwed in another way as well, in the form of development. Developers for the PS3, while still dealing with richly powered hardware, are unable to develop for a better configuration as they now have to focus on the lowest end configuration. While this may translate into a lost cutscene that would, say, show a cameo of an older PS2 game that could utilize the PS2 hardware to save resources, the impact could be much more significant in terms of taking advantage of full console power. And software emulation of PS2 hardware versus the actual on-board hardware? I smell an Xbox 360 syndrome in which many Xbox 1 titles will never be playable again. Consoles that were based on software emulation will be ignored as Sony focuses on the current line that lacks backward compatibility. Let us not forget that any Guitar Hero fan will have to buy an all new game an guitar controller for the PS3. A net change in dropping backward compatibility support is a drop in research to create hardware that bridges older peripherals into the new hardware. A PS3 with an emotion engine in it will not allow you to use the PS2 guitar, a huge slap in the face of fans of that hugely popular series - all in the name of cutting cost, since now Sony is not about to invest in an easy-to-produce PS2 to USB adaptor.
This is just one example of how early adopter gamers were screwed by Sony. Developers now will be forced to watch the hard disk cache, consider HD limitations for non HD iterations of the console, consider gamers without DualShock 3, and how to release games onto the PSN for play, since the hardware has changed so much. Xbox Live Arcade requires "trial versions" of all games, which is something PSN could learn from, but may struggle with due to said fractured hardware SKUs. There are a number of people who refuse to download something they are unsure of because of this. The list is longer than this but I think I've made my point. If you bought the PS3 early, you were screwed. Sure, another hard drive could be added here or there but the point is you shouldn't have to. The Playstation 3 is a great console, and one I want myself, but I'm still waiting on the final configuration to be decided upon so that I can make the best investment with my gaming dollar. What do you think? Has Sony really messed up with killing hard disk space and backwards compatibility? Are you willing to pay for previously included features at a later date? Do you even care? Let me know your thoughts.