Source: New York Times
Moving to enhance its PlayStation 3 game console, Sony today plans to announce new online capabilities for it, meant to draw gamers into Sony’s cyberspace community and allow them to share entertainment content they have created, à la YouTube.
The centerpiece, a new service called PlayStation Home, is to become available to consumers in the fall, said senior game industry executives, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plans. PlayStation Home is meant to build on and surpass somewhat similar offerings from Sony’s competitors Microsoft and Nintendo by allowing users to create persisting online identities that record players’ achievements in different games. As players progress through a game, they will unlock various virtual prizes that they can then show off to friends and rivals, the executives said.
Phil Harrison, president of Sony’s worldwide game studios, is expected to announce the new service today in San Francisco at the Game Developers Conference, the top convention for game designers and programmers. Shigeru Miyamoto, a top Nintendo executive and perhaps the world’s most famous game developer, is also scheduled to speak tomorrow but is not expected to make any major announcements. For its part, Microsoft earlier this week announced a contest that will award $10,000 to the best new game for its online Xbox Live service.
At the moment, though, the attention of gamers and the game industry is squarely on Sony as it tries to generate new momentum and buzz around the PlayStation 3 after a lackluster response when it was introduced in November.
In addition to squawking about the PlayStation 3’s price — $599 for the top version — critics and players have two major substantive complaints. Sony clearly hopes that developments this week will go a long way toward defusing each of them.
First, users have said that there have not been many great games designed exclusively for the PlayStation 3. Most of the big-name games for it have also been released for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 (less expensive than the PlayStation 3) and, with the notable exception of the alternate-history shooter Resistance: Fall of Man, the few exclusive titles for PlayStation 3 have largely failed to impress.
Mr. Harrison said the new MotorStorm, the high-octane off-road racing game that Sony has been championing for months, may answer those complaints. The glossy demonstration version of this game has already garnered raves online, and the full retail version hit store shelves yesterday.
“I really think MotorStorm could be the killer app for the PlayStation 3,” Mr. Harrison said in a telephone interview on Monday. “MotorStorm is the first title we’ve shipped that really hits the high notes of what the PlayStation 3 is capable of. That means really advanced physics and artificial intelligence, the graphical quality and the online gameplay free of charge.”
These days just having great games does not necessarily make a great game system (though it is obviously the most important factor). The second, and broader, complaint leveled at the PlayStation 3 is that while it is clearly a powerful machine, its basic operating software and the PlayStation Network online service have been clunky at best, especially compared with Microsoft’s slick, easy-to-use Xbox Live service.
This criticism perhaps reflects Sony’s most intractable problem over the last decade: its difficulty building strong businesses online, whether in digital music, in which it essentially ceded the category to Apple, or in console gaming, in which Microsoft has come on strong.
It is a deficiency that Sony seems well aware of and that today’s announcements are meant to address. Kotaku (kotaku.com), a popular gaming blog, reported preliminary details about PlayStation Home last week. Mr. Harrison would not discuss specifics of today’s planned announcements but he laid out a clear road map of how Sony intends to improve and augment its online service.
“Last year was a year of hardware,” he said. “It was all about the hardware launch, specifications, hardware technology. This is the year of software, about developing new services and, crucially, the migration from pure packaged goods, which has been the traditional delivery mechanism in our industry over the last 25 years, to something that blends the network and online services into the game experience.”
By way of example, Mr. Harrison mentioned the PlayStation 3 version of the karaoke game SingStar, expected to be released in May, first in Europe. “By taking SingStar to the network, we can allow users to choose which songs they want to sing and download them from the service,” he said. “The even more interesting thing from my point of view is that the users’ performances can then be shared with one another over the network, and users can score and rank each other.”
Sony’s overall plan, Mr. Harrision said, is to allow users to create their own content within games so that the entertainment experience begins to feel more organic, rather than planned.
“The packaged media approach on its own offers a closed experience,” he said. “You can only enjoy the game experience that the game developer put on that disc. But with the increase in adoption for the Internet and also the increased bandwidth, the Internet has democratized the audience to become content creators, as well as content consumers, and create what I call emergent entertainment. We’ve seen that with things like MySpace and YouTube and Flickr. Now we want to take those kinds of collaborative experiences and make them more central to the gameplay experience.”