Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sony Is Forcing My Hand

I don't want a Playstation 3. I think that I've made that pretty clear in the past, but it's worth reiterating. It costs too much, it doesn't have any good games, it represents a new media format that I don't want to support, and it is being pushed on me by an arrogant, lying company that has somehow managed to exhaust the massive goodwill generated by the two amazing consoles that preceded it in record time. Also, if I want to get really nit-picky (which I do, because I'm feeling a lot of Sony hate at the moment), its controllers don't rumble (yet), HDMI cables must be purchased separately, and its game boxes are too damn small (is there something wrong with DVD-standard, you pricks?). I don't like Sony, and I don't want their overpriced grill. But I might be about to buy one.

Though it may come as a surprise, I haven't always hated Sony. Far from it, in fact. After their amazing E3 showing two years ago, I was ready to give my first-born child to play their magical future-box. But things turned sour at last year's E3 when they finally announced the price, and they've just gotten steadily worse since then. At this point, I have trouble reconciling in my head the way I feel about Sony now with the way that I felt about them in years past. Well, some years past, at any rate-- if I go back far enough, that love goes right back to hate again.

You see, I've been here before. I didn't want a Playstation either, back when it was competing against the Nintendo 64. I had been a die-hard Nintendo fanboy my entire life, and I wasn't about to turn my back on Nintendo for what looked to me to be the next 3DO or CD-i. As far as I was concerned, it had ugly graphics, it had bad loading times, and it didn't have any good games. I was the last hold-out among my friends, and I still didn't own one several years (roughly four, as I recall) after its launch. After playing my cousin John's PS1 extensively, I had decided that I preferred my N64. But then a friend brought one over and finally showed me a game on it that I had to have (*shakes fist at Aiden*), and I was sold. I bought one the next day, along with a copy of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, and I never looked back.

That's the way I've always made console purchasing decisions, really. I can harp all I want about price and features, but what it always ultimately comes down to is that first must-own game, and everything else be damned. On the Sega Master System, it was Phantasy Star. On the NES, it was Dragon Warrior. On the SNES and N64, it was Mario. On the XBox, it was Knights of the Old Republic. Hell, just last year, on the 360, it was Oblivion, as evidenced by the fact that now, over a year later, the only other 360 game that I own is Gears of War (although that number will at least double in the next couple of months, with titles like Blue Dragon, Eternal Sonata, Bioshock, and Halo 3 on the way). If a gaming console has a game that I need, I will buy it, period, even if it is so expensive that only the five richest kings of Europe can afford it.

The only exception to this rule is, amusingly enough, the PS2. When I purchased my Playstation, I purchased a philosophy. I embraced Sony's console of the future, and they could do no wrong. I loved my Playstation, and I bought a shit-ton of games for it (the overwhelming majority of which were role-playing games). When the PS2 came out, I waited outside Toys R Us before the mall opened on launch to make sure that I had one, shitty launch titles and all. In my defense, I wasn't as well-informed then as I am now, and I didn't know how much I would hate Summoner and Kessen, both of which I fought tooth and nail for on launch day and then sold back to EB several months later for a fraction of what I paid for them. And the only reason that I held off that long was so that I could show everyone this video.

That launch was a hard-learned lesson about unwarranted early adoption. I am now on my second PS2, as that first one was one of many launch systems with hardware problems. I paid top dollar for what was, after a full year of ownership, essentially a glorified DVD player. It wasn't until December of 2001, over a full year after my initial hardware purchase, that I finally purchased the first PS2 game that deserved a space on my shelf: Final Fantasy X. Nothing to scoff at, to be sure, but very late in coming. Fortunately, FFX was just the start, and soon the PS2 had a library of quality RPGs to rival even the original Playstation. Unfortunately, however, this epic RPG boon also marked the beginning of the bane of my existence, which my readers have seen me rant about repeatedly and at length: my backlog.

Let's take a moment of silence to remember better times and then move on.

Although I used the term disparagingly above, it is worth noting that the PS2 was my first DVD player, even if I never intended or wanted it to be. In fact, it may surprise some to learn that, up until I purchased my XBox 360, it was my only DVD player. I've never owned a dedicated one, and I doubt I ever will. I've heard many people, some of them friends, speak derisively about people who don't have a dedicated player, claiming that consoles are such drastically inferior players that no intelligent person would settle for one, but, and I say this with all due respect: please kindly go fuck yourselves. In principle, I support my multimedia functionality being on as many discrete devices as possible, and I'd prefer it if none of my consoles played movies (and ideally passed the savings on to me), but the fact of the matter is that they do, and I'd be foolish to ignore it and buy a separate stand-alone player simply on principle. My PS2 and 360 have always given me an entirely enjoyable DVD-viewing experience, and those of you who I addressed above are just being elitist pricks.

Before this post degenerates further into childish name-calling and I lose sight of the topic at hand altogether, allow me to explain how this is relevant. I didn't really have any concept of what a DVD was back when I purchased my PS2-- my VCR was good enough for me. I've never really been much of a videophile, and was even less of one then, so I didn't see what all the fuss was about. The fact that my PS2 could play DVD movies was a fun curiousity that had absolutely nothing to do with my decision to purchase it. I never had any intention of buying even a single non-game DVD. Now, almost seven years later, my shelves are filled with them. I think you can see where I'm going with this. Just to be safe though, I'll spell it out: there are obvious parallels between the PS2's DVD drive and the PS3's Blue-ray drive.

So, given this historical precedent, does that mean that if I buy a PS3 I'll have shelves full of Blu-ray movies seven years from now? Not bloody likely. I have no way to confirm this, but I strongly suspect that if I had never purchased a PS2, I would have eventually purchased a stand-alone DVD player anyway, because DVDs are awesome. The fact that I didn't need to make any extra purchases to play them was just a bonus. They are a clearly superior movie format to VHS in several immediately evident ways. Blu-ray movies, on the other hand, are (if I squint and cross my eyes a little) a bit prettier. When I think of Blu-ray, I don't think of DVDs-- I think of Sony's other failed proprietary formats: Betamax and UMD.

The inevitable failure of the format is really a non-issue for me, though. Or at least, it would be, were it not for the fact that the PS3's inflated price-point can be laid squarely at the feet of the Blu-ray drive. Really though, I think I'm more bothered by the tacit endorsement of the format that a purchase would entail more than I am the inflated price tag. I'm not in this for a new movie format-- much like every other gaming console that I have ever purchased, I just want it to play games, and that's it. It does that well enough, but since it doesn't have any good ones yet, all of this discussion would seem to be moot. So why in hell am I considering buying one?

To answer that, we need to go back to March. The PS3 was originally announced as a global November launch back at E3, but when Sony realized that they would not have nearly enough units ready to meet demand, they announced that the European launch would be delayed until March. And then, to add insult to injury, they announced that the European PS3's would have a small but notable difference in their internal architecture: whereas the North American and Japanese units had supported backwards compatibility through a 98% compatible hardware solution, the European units would instead support it through emulation in order to cut manufacturing costs. However, this emulation, while theoretically improvable through future firmware updates (don't count on it), was drastically inferior to the dedicated chip, with only 72% of PS2 games being compatible, many of which still had issues ranging from "minor" to "noticeable". This change was restricted to Europe at the time, but it was clear that the days of hardware backwards compatibility support in North American PS3s were numbered.

Thanks to my sizable backlog, that change was a big deal for me. As I said, I bought a shit-ton of games for the PS1 and PS2, and I would like to be able to play them once my PS2 dies (again), and if I were to pick up a PS3, I'd like to be able to shelve my PS2 for good. I can't imagine that I'm alone in this. Why Sony would choose not to properly leverage the collective libraries of two of the most popular video game consoles of all time is beyond me. Regardless though, the decision had been made, and I knew that I would likely have to make a decision eventually between early adoption and a lack of backwards compatibility, and as you may have guessed, that time has come.

Things began on a much brighter note, though. Yesterday, on the Monday before E3, Sony announced that, effective immediately, the PS3 was finally getting a desperately needed $100 price drop, and that a new model was being phased in at the old price with a larger hard drive and a pack-in game. This was great news, and although I still had no intention of buying one any time soon, it was nice to know that, if I did, it would be at least $100 cheaper. However, later that afternoon the other shoe dropped, when Sony also quietly stated that the new model would introduce the software-based backwards compatibility, and that the hardware compatibility was being phased out of North American units. Crap.

So here I am. I don't want a PS3. If I were to buy one right now, I wouldn't use it, because there is literally not a single game on it that I would choose to spend money that I don't already own for the 360. And yet, chances are that I will buy one eventually. If it has even one exclusive game that I need, whether that game is Final Fantasy XIII or Resident Evil 5, I'll have to buy one. But both of those games are quite far off, and neither one is guaranteed to remain a PS3 exclusive. Then again, this is Sony that we're talking about, and there is established precedent on each of their last two systems that their software library will become an unstoppable juggernaut as the console ages. Noone can deny that they're on track to lose significant market share compared to their dominance of the previous generation, but they are still Sony, and no matter how negative public perception might be, it is the Playstation 3, successor to the Playstation 2, and people are going to buy it. But will I be one of them?

At this point, I just don't know. I find myself waffling either way between one moment and the next. I'm certainly not alone in the way that I feel, in that Wired's Chris Kohler thinks that the newly-reduced $500 model is the model to buy, echoing many of my thoughts. Also, since these announcements, the PS3 has shot up the Amazon sales rankings like a rocket. I really feel like I'm being forced to decide right now if I will ever purchase a Playstation 3. If I will, then I should buy it now, but if I don't and then decide later that I want one, I'll be kicking myself for years. Sony is forcing my hand, and whatever I ultimately decide to do, I hate them for it.


Anonymous NOS said...

While I understand it's annoying to have another box sitting around, if you're really worried about backwards compatibility, I'd just pick up a new PS2 and keep it mint until you finally get around to the backlog. The damn thing is like the size of a DVD case or something crazy now, and only costs 100 bucks. That's pretty much what I spent on a plastic guitar and game for a console I didn't even own.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007 6:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Aiden said...

I can't believe i read that.
Also i like it when im mentioned in posts.

Thursday, July 12, 2007 9:08:00 AM  

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