PS3 and why it is a failure

Posted in Consoles on August 18th, 2009 by samuraisam

Released in late 2006, the PS3 was billed by many as being the next generation of gaming because of its fancy Cell and Blu-ray technology, there was so much bullshit PR hype about the Cell processor, yet few even cared to read the details. In short it was going to kill every other gaming system out there, it was going to kill everything… almost 36 months later and it hasn’t done any of that. In fact the PS3 hasn’t even superseded the day to day sales of the Xbox 360 or Wii yes.

To start a failure of a console, you need a lead-up and launch littered with failures. You name the failure, the PS3 had it: missed deadlines, no vibration feature, stupid quotes from execs, not enough supply, bad PR from developers who call the consoles stupid. Never in recent times can I think of a product with so much bad hype surrounding it.

One of the first things I heard about the PS3 was the word ‘cell’, it was supposed to be some fantastical processing unit that would revolutionize gaming. Pinning next generation cell technology on how good a console will be is just about as good as the bit wars of previous consoles. Your average gamer, doesn’t actually care about the cell processor–gamers care about games.

The idea that a console, whose components remain stale throughout its lifespan, can remain an interesting platform for more than a few years is benign. The purported lifespan of the PS3 should be no more than 4-5 years, and there are enough reasons out there for this (Moore’s law anyone?). However Sony thinks that a lifespan of about 10 years will get them somewhere–the same as the PS2. We are in a different moment in technology now though. Sony is used to a land where it once had complete control of everything and had exclusivity agreements with publishers around every corner; it is unrealistic to expect a product to feasibly last 10 years anymore. In my opinion, with its 256MB of RAM the PS3 is not going to technologically last 10 years.

Another talking point prior to the launch was the the Blu-ray drive on the console. I don’t think I need to remind anyone of the HD-DVD / Blu-ray wars. I seriously question the necessity of the Blu-ray drive in a world where the capacity of games needn’t be so high.

“a device that is going to be state of the art and future-proof for the next decade” –Jack Tretton

You could merit the inclusion of the Blu-Ray drive as future-proofing… for a system that is already 3 years old. Probably the best thing about Blu-Ray for the PS3 is as a method to thwart piracy. This is a tactic that wouldn’t be too unexpected given Sony and its previous practices with proprietary formats:

“A company trying to sell technology and provide content faces a contradiction. Its manufacturing arm realizes the market wants a device that can handle content from a variety of sources, yet the content side needs to ensure that products are protected and available only through its own choice of format. Sony Music could not very well support a Sony product that encouraged piracy, so it opted out of supporting MP3 and attempted to push ATRAC, its own copy-protected format. Sony’s answer to iTunes, SonicStage, was designed primarily for use on Sony’s VAIO computer, and the initial launch of Connect, its iTunes Music Store equivalent, also ran into problems. Internal rivalry hindered Sony’s attempts to establish the company as a digital music force, despite its unique position of being the only company with a computer division, record label and electronics arm.”

The PS3 is the only modern gaming platform so far to have no piracy at all; the increased costs of Blu-ray in comparison to DVD have likely meant further reduced profits for publishers. Sony has so many people up its PR sleeve to put positive hype on its products though…

Interviewer: Wait, wait a sec. Saying there’s not enough capacity, are you talking about Blu-ray?

Kojima: That’s correct. There’s not enough space at all. (laughs) …There’s not enough space. We always talked about where to cut and what to compress.”

The capacity of a Blu-ray disc is 25-50 GB (depending on single or dual layer); here is a game developer saying he thinks that 50 GB isn’t enough space, even though his end product only marked up to 33.8 GB… and runs at 1024×768. There is some debate on forums etc as to what could possibly use this much space; some people point at lossless audio.

Given the recent developments of solid state memory (SSD, SDHC etc) Blu-ray isn’t even a warranted technology anymore and I believe we will see its welcome demise soon. The long loading times on optical-based media are easily avoidable by using solid state memory.

For a while the PS3 sat as probably the best value and highest quality Blu-ray movie player which was probably a good move on Sony’s part, though that time has now passed. The PS3 has to stand on its own from a gamers perspective.

From that persepctive, what does a Blu-ray drive offer? It’s a 2x speed Blu-ray drive. That means… it arguably has the same/worse transfer capabilities as an Xbox 360 DVD drive. It does have around 5 times the capacity, but whats the point when it would take over an hour and a half to read all that data?

Given that one of the primary benefits of console gaming in comparison to PC gaming is the lack of installation requirement, it is slightly weird that the PS3 requires installations of some games. We’re talking 20 minute installation times.

The controller is one of the most important elements of any consoles as it will form the staple interaction device of most users; if it fails, the console fails. In this case, the PS3 launched with a controller that featured no vibration. Even though Sony claimed it was because it interfered with the sixaxis component of the controller, every man and his dog knows it was because of a lawsuit at the time. Since then, Sony has restored the vibration feature as standard.

The graphics on the PS3 are barely better than anything else out there; despite being released an entire year after the Xbox 360 the graphics are only marginally better in most cases and in some cases arguably worse. The number of games that can actually output at 1080p (1920×1080) natively are few, many popular titles such as Metal Gear Solid 4 run at a paltry 1024×768. In comparison to a PC the graphics are far, far worse nowadays.

One of the staple titles of any Playstation console has always been Gran Turismo. You can’t screw up Gran Turismo… Gran Turismo 5 prologue (the ‘teaser’ to the real release of Gran Turismo 5) features no rendered damage, and get this–no tyre track marks at all. Driver, from 1999 on the PC and PlayStation 1 had more realism in that regard. Despite these shortcomings, the game still scored 80 on metacritic.

The games of the PS3 up till now (33 months) have recieved lower ratings in comparison to the first 33 months of the PS2′s life and the first 37 months of the Xbox 360′s:

PS3 (33 months) PS2 (33 months) Xbox 360 (37 months)
Min: 72 73 75
Max: 98 97 98
Range (lower is better): 26 24 23
Average: 80.7 81.5 81.9
Median: 80 81 81

(the xbox is taken from a 37 month period because metacritic doesn’t list the month at which games were released, I simply omitted 2009 to get it down to 37 months)

Of course these are all aggregated from professional reviews and not user opinion and are from different periods. There are also some wild things going on with Playstation release dates (PS2 released in Japan several months before other places). From these statistics the median and range are probably the most important factors as when higher indicate an increased number of positively recieved games.

Average Median
2006 73.75 77
2007 72.96 74
2008 72.89 74
2009 72.79 72

These statistics show the year-on-year performance of games (again, based on metacritic scores) which are gradually worsening. You can read statistics any way you want to, the point I think that these statistics show is that the PS3 has poorer quality games than other platforms and that the games are slowly decreasing in quality rather than slowly increasing in quality.

Console fanboys often point to console and game sales in Japan… a region that accounts for around 18 percent of global game sales. In the rest of the world (the other 82 percent) these sales figures don’t even figure; Japan is a very specific region, with a specific culture and specific interests in gaming.

From my personal perspective the PlayStation forms a bridge between Japanese/Asian games and a European and Western market. Sony conveniently has an array of Japanese programmers and designers to quote every so often for good PR.

Programming on the PS3 has been denounced by several key industry figures. Notably, Gabe Newell pissed off the entire Sony fan base by denouncing the PS3 as a development platform. John Carmack also shared his somewhat negative opinion regarding the PS3. I guess what you can take away from both of these is that Sony has chosen a platform which requires a very different development manner to other consoles and which probably leads to games that work on a PS3 only working only on a PS3. Keep in mind this is two very highly-placed game designers (creators of Half Life/Steam and Doom/Quake respectively) saying that something isn’t perfect about PS3 development. There is another article on Cnet that discusses some other developers that think the PS3 is a pain to develop on–Only 3 years into the PS3′s 10 year lifespan and people are already talking about memory limitations.

Behind the PS3 are a group of execs at Sony that spend all day and all night making stupid statements. Literally 24 hours a day they spew stupidity on a continuous basis. The level of elitism and preposterous nature displayed in these comments is second only to those associated with Daikatana.

“Now, rumble I think was the last generation feature; it’s not the next-generation feature. I think motion sensitivity is.”

“PS2 was still going strong after eight years, and with the power the Cell processor provides, not to mention the fact that PS3 is inherently future-proof, we see the PS3 sales curve far outlasting that of PS2.”

“DVD is current generation. Why would you support current generation?”

“We don’t provide the ‘easy to program for’ console that (developers) want, because ‘easy to program for’ means that anybody will be able to take advantage of pretty much what the hardware can do, so then the question is, what do you do for the rest of the nine-and-a-half years?”

Such a disconnection with the customer base is alarming to say the least. If I was a PS3 user I’d be offended by most of the comments from Sony.

Given that the PS3 is now on the verge of being 3 years old, some long overdue price cuts are on the horizon; the end profitability of this console is already non-existant. Sony’s year-on-year console sales are down. The attach rate of the PS3 is comparitavely low.

Sony believes that the PS3 will be the ‘dominant’ console in the near future. The sad reality is that even if the quality of games increases and propells the PS3 to have a longer existance, the console will whither away on the technical side; it had a failure of a launch and still remains a technically questionable console. It is already far underpowered in comparison to modern technology and instead of trying to aim for a short, sharp lifespan, Sony is under the impression that a product will actually somehow last for 10 years in this day and age.

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Steaming success

Posted in Game Reviews on July 8th, 2009 by samuraisam

I remember Steam’s first steps, there were so many puns involving steam engines, steam rollers, and all manner of other steam technology and everyone saying how it was going to fail, and how it wasn’t working. I think it was such a difficult step in 2003 to launch such a service, it was a drastic move that would have been devastate to Valve if it had failed, but instead they took the step and steam is the biggest most bad ass success in gaming today. I buy practically all of my games on Steam.

While we’re all pointing very angry fingers towards the MPAA and RIAA and their relevant industries for trying to spread draconian DRM, steam has managed to slip somewhat similar DRM right under our eyes, but to be perfectly honest with you I do not at all feel threatened–I line up with everyone else and order anything that remotely interests me. To say I’ve spent a bit of money on games using steam would probably be a bit of an understatement. I’ve also enjoyed exploring older games like the early Doom incarnations and wolfenstein too; although I have played all of these I have never owned them myself and never gone through the entire games.

It’s unfortunate that the film and audio industries can’t put their collective heads together and see just how well steam works, why can’t I just buy a movie I want online and not have it be such a big issue? I know services are out there already, but none are like steam.

Finding old games on there like Deus Ex has been such an absolute joy (My steam copy counts as my 3rd copy of that game, at last no more having to buy the game again and again because of stupid Cd scratches)

Sadly the only limitations with a service like Steam are from those companies stuck in their old ways who have regional agreements (that prevent the sale of old as fuck games that aren’t available anywhere anymore to me in the middle of the desert) and also those that can’t seem to agree on better pricing agreements (that would make steam even in price to most major releases of games).
The perfect example of the regional restrictions would be the x-com series which for some unknown reason aren’t available for sale globally, despite being from around 1993 and being apparently unavailable for sale anywhere else; It’s like do you want my money or not?. Fortunately these issues seem to be outside of Steam/Valve and instead relate to other companies.
The other great thing so far and in the future will be mod support (blackmesa soon and sven coop v2 sometime in the next decade or so after that if we’re lucky), by being able to support games like these via distribution on Steam it is just the best damn service ever. i don’t think any other service hosts mods for free just because they’re good mods. Good on Steam.

If only every company could operate like Valve/Steam they might be able to see why Steam is such a success. Sadly, it is unlikely any of these companies will ever change their tone in at least the next 5 years or so.

Having said all this I’m not without my criticism, I still think they could make Steam even betterer by taking most of the suggestions people leave in the official forum and acting upon them or responding to them. I myself have left at least a few suggestions in there that have had no official response, most notably,Steam plugins which is my hope that one day steam will launch a plug in ability for the overlay (think IRC on the overlay, plus media center controls plus whatever you could ever want).
There are also some older games in the Valve catalogue that have small bugs that would only take a few hours to iron out (though admittedly I know nothing of programming); obviously non Valve games can’t be fixed by Valve so you can’t really fairly count those as being faulty.

Of course most people interested in gaming on PC would’ve heard of Steam by now, but to those who haven’t hopefully this is of some help.

Overall I rate the Steam service an even

10/10

because it’s the best damn thing ever.

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