Like many tech journalists, I’ve certainly done my fair share of Sony hating. What makes Sony such an exasperating company for me is its past: Sony used to make technology that was genuinely interesting, inspired even, and it was worth buying. Its stuff used to be so good. I wrote a review of an all-in-one Sony PC a couple of years ago that touched on Sony’s background:
"Not all PC manufacturers aspire to £499-plus-free-printer-scanner-kitchen-sink ignominy… It should not come as any surprise that Sony also considers itself above the vast swathe of beige PC builders. In John Nathan’s biography of the company, former CEO Norio Ohga talks about its approach. ‘Sony must always be extraordinary,’ Ohga says. ‘I always asked myself what was essential to the company. I find myself thinking about the Chinese character san, which means to shine dazzlingly like the sun. It’s not simply a matter of brightness. San means an extraordinary radiance.’"
These days of course, Sony usually comes across as bitter (why else would it stick Rootkits on customers’ PCs?) and out of touch (claiming people should work extra hours for a PS3!). Nothing embodies the fall of Sony like the PlayStation 3 – it comes across as overpriced and not very innovative, but having seen Sony’s presentations at GDC, I’m feeling perhaps all is not lost for the Japanese giant. In fact, I’m really surprised PlayStation 3 Home, LittleBigPlanet and the SingStar stuff haven’t garnered more praise.
Matthew Ingram, whose blog I really, really like (and respect – he’s a tech journalist *AND* he keeps his blog updated with smart posts daily, which is more than I can do) rounds up and summarises much of the criticism in a a post entitled ‘Can Sony Get Anything Right?‘ He focusses on the fact that PS3 Home is a bit of a Second Life rip-off, but lacks the open and flexible nature of the original:
"It sort of looks like a really nicely designed shopping mall where you can only buy things from one company… As for the likelihood of success, Tony Hung has a great phrase in his post at Deep Jive Interests, calling it “charming, desperate and futile.” I couldn’t have said it better myself."
Now, I do agree with the first bit, and on its own, i think Home would be an underwhelming riposte to Microsoft’s decent Xbox Live, but with SingStar and LittleBigPlanet, Sony is showing that it really *gets* online, and perhaps in a more radical way than Microsoft and Nintendo do.
Let’s compare SingStar with the upcoming Xbox360 version of Guitar Hero 2. I’m a huge GH fan, and the biggest, biggest problem with the PlayStation 2 version is the songs. There’s some good ones, some bad ones… but what you get on the disc is all you get. Clearly, when we have Emusic and the iTunes store, that’s hopelessly old fashioned. Yes, you can mod new songs into the game, but not easily or officially: what most Guitar Hero players want is a huge and deep catalogue of songs to explore, whose wares are cheaply priced and delivered instantly over the net. The Xbox 360 has the technical infrastructure, but it’s not there. From Koatku’s preview, the 360 version sounds
identical to the PlayStation 2 version, but shinier. Now SingStar for the PS3 (a roughly comparable music performance game) sounds like it delivers online functions like Mariah Carey delivers diva behaviour and high notes: in spades.
Secondly, check out the video below for the PS3’s LittleBigPlanet: awesome physiscs, totally customistable levels, including the abilities to import your own stuff, and a way to share them: it’s basically Flickr for games. And that is awesome: fun, collaborative, competitive, inspiring: a complete other world.
I’ve posted before about how awesome GamesIndustry’s editorials are, but this week’s hit the nail on the head when it comes to Microsoft’s online approach:
"For all that Microsoft talked the talk about customisation and user participation when the Xbox 360 was rolling out, the company hasn’t really walked the walk. Xbox Live is beyond a doubt the most robust, consistent, fully-featured, user-friendly and generally brilliant online service we’ve ever seen… but Allard’s proud boasts that the HD Era would be all about user customisation seem to have been reduced to snap-on covers for the console, downloadable skins for the interface and the ability to play your own music in games."
Xbox Live is good, but it’s basically a store for buying games, a shared leaderboard and a way to hook up with friends for a game. it’s basically Steam + XFire + TeamSpeak/MSN/Skype wrapped up in one slick package. Which is good, but it’s not the be all and end all of online. Sony has got some neat new ideas, bright shiny ones. Watch the last 5 minutes of the LittleBigPlanet presentation and then see if you can honestly say Sony can’t get anything right.