Monday, December 22, 2008

An exercise in futility.

These days there are a lot of topics calling out to ‘Save the PS3’ or ‘Save Sony’. While I won’t deny this blog leans heavily towards the XBOX 360, both me and my husband owned Playstation consoles before. We recognize the milestones that the Playstation brand has brought upon in gaming, particularly in helping eradicate the expensive cartridge based medium popularized by Nintendo in the 80s by introducing the compact disc based media for videogames. In turn this new storage allowed for greater content and capacity for games compared to the old cartridges. Sony Computer Entertainment has also brought about so many new intellectual properties.

And while I do understand that Sony had their share of wonderful contributions, I am confused that there is a call to ‘Save the Playstation’ platform from apparent doom. Okay...now isn’t that going a little bit too overboard. Sure times are hard these days but I don’t think Sony will chuck away one of their most popular products. Sony didn’t trash the Bravia Line or the Vaio Line despite heavy competition, so why should they trash the Playstation? Howard Stringer must be off his rocker if decides to throw that away and chances are the Sony stockholders would have him fired in the very next hour if he does decide to do that.

So again...why is everyone panicking that Sony is a sinking ship? Because of the CNN article? Because of the Games Industry Biz articles? I fully expect IGN to write an article similar to the ‘Save Sony’ thread contents. Sony is losing money. It’s true...heck practically every single industry today is losing money. And Sony has been losing money on the Playstation line for quite some time now. As already stated by the numerous articles, yes they aren’t earning much with the PS3. I doubt they have broken even with the cost of maintaining their numerous first party studios as well as trying to grow their online services with the Playstation Network.


I may not be pro-Playstation these days but I don’t subscribe to the idea that they are on their way out. Sony’s problems is not brought about by the Playstation alone. Sure, they had some bad calls with the Playstation 3, particularly the inclusion of the Blu-Ray drive, and they have suffered losses from these calls...but its not enough for them to just throw away the brand line. Take for example the Mini-Disc, which was classified as a worldwide failure, but Sony still supported that format in Japan with by allowing J-Pop singles.

The articles from CNN and other non-gaming news sources point out how the Playstation brand is conceived. While many games are indeed multiplatform, the strongest selling point of the PS3, is also its profitability Achilles heel, the Blu-Ray drive. Recent news regarding the US or ‘global’ recession spells bad news for Blu-Ray, HDTVs and anything that may be considered as a luxury. For most people, the Playstation 3 is perhaps the most accessible Blu-Ray player out there. For the tech heads, its also one of the few (if not the only one) which can be updated online once the final standards for Blu-Ray is drafted. In today’s tough times, more people prefer either a Wii or an XBOX 360 for a game console because its cheaper. Even if those consoles are just $50 - $100 less...its still cheaper. And in today’s times, most people will stick with their ordinary DVDs and ordinary SDTVs rather than upgrade and try to figure out how to pay their credit card bills the following months.

I’ve written about the PS3 before and I’ve always felt that the inclusion of the Blu-Ray disk drive in the PS3 was a mistake. Although its not hard to imagine why they probably did it. In a culture where tradition is looked upon highly, the Playstation platform has technically been the ‘herald’ of a new form of optical media for game consoles. The first two being the widely successful adaption of the compact disc (CD) and digital video disc (DVD). The third being the failed universal media disc (UMD) for the PSP. And the fourth, the lukewarm, Blu-Ray disc for the PS3.

While there was nothing wrong with the underlying principle behind increasing the allowed space for data, what was wrong was not being able to maximize existing storage. However, Sony was not really concerned about that for they were a hardware company and they make their bread and butter by introducing new hardware with potentially high royalties in the event of mass acceptance and production. Once again, nothing wrong with getting profit...after all, companies strive to make a profit.

But the problem of the Blu-Ray format was it was too soon and there were so many uncertainties regarding the standards. To top it all off, while Sony has a great track record for hardware, their software support has much to be desired. One of Sony’s biggest competitors is Microsoft, one of the biggest software provider in the world. If there is anything one should know about software is that there are a million ways to skin the proverbial cat. Certain hardware limitations can be solved with an efficient software solution, thereby maximizing the hardware. Sony was not able to meet Microsoft in that regard with the XBOX 360. Nintendo, on the other hand, offered a completely different hardware implementation in the utilization of the good-old DVD disc.

Another one of Sony’s big problems, which is evident not just on the Playstation platform, is their overwhelming brand reliance. Sony has invested so much in their brand name and marketing. While that works for awhile just like it ‘worked’ in the rebranding of the Macintosh (Apple), you can only take brand reliance and brand perception to a certain level and its not guaranteed to draw in sales. While the Sony is ‘cool’ its competitors are also actively leveraging the strength of their brand name. The most notable of Sony’s competitors is Samsung who even created the World Cybergames Tournament, to show-off their displays.

In either case, Sony was stuck to the tried and true formulas of the past in order to meet the present challenges. And right now, those strategies aren’t working and will probably not work anytime soon given the present economic circumstances.

So why are things like ‘Save the PS3’ an exercise in futility?

Simply because even if consumers were to buy PS3s in droves, it will not help Sony solve the problems that they have internally. It’s not a matter of having enough sympathy to save Sony or the recognition of their accomplishments to justify salvation by the hands of the consumers. Sony, just like most companies today, doesn’t really care about those trivial matters such as an online petition to support their platform or stop the PS3 hate. Until Sony figures out where they went wrong internally, they are going to continue getting losses or at best minimize losses. But the PS3 for me will have a hard time catching up to the XBOX 360 and most SPECIALLY the Nintendo Wii.


We will never forget...

On a side note...let me say this... Part of the reason why I am unsympathetic to these pleas is because most of these people who were campaigning for this cause where the same haughty gamers who called for the 'death' of Sony's competition as a way of fanboy chest thumping.

Where were those Save-My-Console-of-Choice comments when the Dreamcast died? All I remember were the people clamouring for the blood of Sega, like some lowly slave in a roman tournament arena facing a hungry beast. Back then people fuelled the whole console war with the death of a console. And before the start of this present generation, people were already making bets on how long a certain console will last or who will be the ‘Dreamcast 2’. No one cared about the advancements Sega brought to the table at that time. All they cared about was its destruction.

No...the death of the Dreamcast proved to feed the 'superiority' of certain groups in the console fanboy wars. Now to explain to me why we should care about 'saving' the PS3 when back then nobody cared to save the Dreamcast despite the numerous advancements Sega has brought to the table? 'Concerned' Dreamcast gamers also gave the same reasons that are being provided today.

And today, we are faced we an interesting irony. A true exercise in futility.

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