Tuesday, May 09, 2006 

Sony: "Imitation is Our Way of Innovation"

This week just so happens to be the most exciting week of the year for video gaming. The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 has just kicked off in LA, and everyone in the gaming world has their collective eye glued to their computers, awaiting the latest news to come out of the expo. This year in particular happens to be a very exciting E3, quite possibly the biggest yet; we are at the dawn of the next-generation of gaming consoles, and everyone and their mother wants to see what's going to be destroying our free time for the next few years. While Microsoft got a jump on the competition last year by announcing the Xbox 360 at E3, this year, the two other big guns of the gaming world, Sony and Nintendo will announce their plans for their next-generation systems, the PS3 and the Wii, respectively.

Yesterday, Sony was the first one out the gate with a press conference, where they hoped to disrupt the buzz that has been building for both Nintendo's innovative new system and Microsoft's excellent 2nd generation gaming line-up (ahem, Halo 3, ahem). Did they succeed? The short answer... no. Long answer.... NO.

As the undisputed winner of the past two console generation wars, Sony has been riding high on their success, taking immense pride in the fact that they have been able to not only wrest control of the gaming industry from Sega, Nintendo, and Microsoft, but that they've done it in such a dominant way. To date, Sony has sold close to about 40 million PS2 systems in North America alone since the platform's debut in 2000, more than twice the number of Sony's nearest competitor, Microsoft. So, it goes without saying that entering into the new generation, the PS3 is the one to beat as Sony hopes to make three straight gaming generations of unbridled success.

Judging from the way they've approached this E3, however, Sony appears to have let its success get to its head. Right from the beginning of their press conference, Sony execs smugly declared the that next-generation of gaming starts, "when (they) say it starts." Umm. Right.

For the past year, Sony has been playing up the fact that their PS3 system is hypothetically three times more powerful than the 360, and yet, when you look at the games that were shown for the PS3 yesterday, the games graphically looked about the same as 1st-gen 360 titles. Sure, Metal Gear Solid 4 looks amazing, Heavenly Sword, a new IP from Sony, features gobsmackingly delicious visuals, and the just announced Final Fantasy XIII games (that's right, there's more than one FF XIII coming out. We haven't even played FF XII yet!)
also looks set to rock, but none of these games appear to be titles that couldn't appear on the 360, technology-wise. Once again, another Sony console launch, another lie told. ("Emotion Engine," anyone?)

For about an hour and a half, Sony executives took turns on stage to spit yet more marketing drivel into the ears of the thousands of gaming journalists from around the world. They kept on talking about "innovation" and "pushing boundaries." Yada yada yada.

Sony execs discussed their strategy for online gaming, and well, it sounds a hell of a lot like Xbox Live, just without that annoying yearly fee. Sony plans to launch a robust online gaming service similar to Xbox Live, except the big difference is that the service is free, compared to Microsoft's required $60 a year fee. Sure, it sounds good, but Sony didn't show the online interface. So far, it seems as if Sony is just copying Microsoft's lead, but no one will know exactly what's up with Sony's online strategy until we actually get to see it for ourselves.

Sony then announced the PS3's launch date: November 17th in North America. The cost?


I repeat, $599.

Sony has decided to throw its massive weight into electronic politics by outfitting the PS3 with an expensive Blu-Ray drive. The company hopes to win the next optical media format wars, and in a competition between the Blu-Ray format and the HD-DVD format (which, MS has sworn support for), Sony is prepared to do just about anything to keep Blu-Ray from becoming the next Betamax. Even if that means outfitting their PS3 system with a Blu-Ray drive, thus making the system incredibly expensive. By taking advantage of early adopters and Sony fanboys, the company hopes to get enough PS3s (aka, Blu-Ray players) into people's homes to make HD-DVD useless. Sony has so much confidence in their Playstation brand name, that they're just at the point where they feel that they can slap the Playstation name on anything, sell it for whatever price they want, and then watch the money roll in.

It's disgusting. I can only hope consumers are not that stupid to fall for Sony's trick.

Now, Sony is selling another SKU that's $100 cheaper, similar to how MS sells the 360. The difference is that the lower model sports a 20GB HD instead of a 60 GB HD, and is not WiFi enabled, does not feature Memory Stick ports, and cannot do HDMI. So, not only do they copy MS' online service, but they also go about making the same freaking mistake that MS made by selling two SKUs, one of which is useless? Couple the two SKUs with the fact that there will only be one million PS3s available worldwide at launch, and it appears that Sony is doing just about the impossible: It's going to actually have a worse launch screw-up than the 360.

And then, there's more. Sony announced that they were releasing a revolutionary new controller. So, what do they do? They come out, and show off the same freaking PS controller that Sony's been using since '95!! Are they freaking serious!? Revolutionary? Yeah, right. But wait, I'm forgetting something: apparently, the controller has a motion sensor built into it, AND features a 360-style guide button in the middle of it.

Behold, Sony's "innovation"

Uh-oh...Sony just copied Nintendo and Microsoft again...

Seriously, the inclusion of a motion-sensor into the PS3's controller is just downright deplorable. They shamelessly placed the technology into their controller in an attempt to steal Nintendo's thunder. And it wasn't even done right. The game, Warhawk, was demoed using the motion-tech in the controller, but it appeared to work poorly, and looked tacked on. I'm sure someone in Nintendo is just shaking their head in disbelief over Sony's "innovation."

I really don't get you, Sony. You guys have utterly dominated the market for two console generations, and the best thing you could come up with for your new system is more of the same shit from before, AND stolen features from your competitors? It wouldn't have hurt to try something NEW.

Sigh. This conference just made me want to see the MS and Nintendo ones even more.