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It's Just About Time for a Regime Change
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on May 17, 2006   |   Episode 104 (Show Archive)  

   

Here is an overview of Sony's PlayStation 3 booth at E3, notice how everybody seems to be able to play a game without standing in line!
Nobody likes to lose. There is nothing worse than suffering through a defeat, it crushes your ego and rips apart your confidence. But sometimes you need to lose; sometimes it's the only way you can learn and become a better person. After eleven years of total PlayStation dominance perhaps it's time for Sony to suffer a defeat the likes of which hasn't been seen in several generations, perhaps it's time for a regime change.

Now don't get the wrong impression, I'm not against Sony or their products. Out of all of the current generation systems on the market I own more PlayStation 2 games than Xbox or GameCube and I constantly find myself defending their PlayStation Portable. But I'm no PlayStation 2 fanboy either; I have

Gran Turismo HD sure did look good, too bad it's just a remake of last year's disappointing GT4!
been vocal about its shortsightedness and consistently stupid business decisions. For me this is not about the company but rather what is best for the video game industry, and I have no problem saying that having the leader of the pack falter every so often breeds a better industry.

With E3 behind us and the PlayStation 3's launch exactly six months away it's clear that Sony has their work cut out for them. Despite what Ken Kutaragi might think, the PlayStation 3 has a number of real world problems working against it. For one thing, it's a little on the expensive side. Although they will offer two separate models, the PlayStation 3 will still be hundreds of dollars more than the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii.

Another problem Sony will be forced to deal with will be the complexity and cost of making games for their next generation super system. With its various cores, bizarre architecture and extreme processing power the PlayStation 3

Is it just me or is that HD-DVD player extremely large (and ugly)?
promises to not only be enormously difficult to program for but also extremely expensive. With the system's high cost, expensive format and huge production costs, will anybody end up benefiting from the PlayStation 3?

The cynic might think that the PlayStation 3 is nothing more than a ploy to get people to buy Sony's own Blu-Ray technology. After all, Sony has put a lot of money on their next generation DVD format and will do just about anything to see it triumph over HD-DVD. When the president of the company refuses to call the PS3 a game machine it's hard not to worry that Sony has forgotten about the gamer and is focusing all of their attention on those high-end audio/videophiles.

Will the average gamer be sold on the idea of hooking two HDTV's together to get the most out of their games? A nice high definition TV is expensive enough; it's impractical to think that gamers will be able to afford two of these $2000 TVs and then want to hook them up side by side. Most gamers don't have the cash to

More people like the comedy stylings of Carrot Top than want a next generation DVD player!
buy two different HDTVs and hook them together; let's be realistic here, we're talking about gamers who have to save up to afford Sony's $600 asking price.

Another one of Sony's selling points is the Blu-Ray DVD, next generation DVD they pioneered. Unfortunately for Sony the idea of upgrading to a brand new DVD player seems to be unpopular with consumers, as of a recent Reuter's poll only 19% of the respondents were "very interested" or "somewhat interested" in the idea of Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. If one of the big selling points for the PlayStation 3 is Blu-Ray then it would seem that Sony has overestimated the amount of interest in these new DVDs.

But the problem is that none of these improvements really change the nature of video gaming, they are merely an attempt to attach Sony's other technology to their popular game system. Having two HDTV's tethered together or using Blu-Ray isn't going to drastically change the way we play games, at best it will do nothing more than change the way we look at the games. Add in the high costs to develop games for the system and you can already see a few chinks in Sony's armor. For the sake of Sony (and the entire video game industry) I say it's time that they feel the disgrace

The PlayStation 3 may be more of the same, but it will have Metal Gear Solid 4 and that means something, right?
and disappointment of coming in last. It's time that they know what all of these other companies have felt as they've battled the people that brought us Beta Max. Sony, it's time for a regime change!

Asking for somebody to fail is a tricky proposition, the moment you utter those words you can be painted as a tyrannical fanboy or as somebody who has completely lost touch with the industry. But I assure you that I wish Sony no ill, I merely suggest that they smell the rancid stench of defeat now so that they can be a stronger company in the future. Although it sounds contradictory, I say that Sony failing would ultimately be to their benefit.

With its high price tag, technical troubles and the "more-of-the-same" design, perhaps its time Sony goes back to the drawing board. But Sony isn't going to rethink their game plan without a good reason, and although it sounds mean and vindictive I'm afraid the only way they'll get to that brainstorm table is if they suffer a terrible defeat. Without knowing what failure tastes like Sony will never have reason to change their tune, they have been the industry leader for the past decade.


With all this talk about regime change I bet you thought we would be talking about a certain unpopular President!
Perhaps ten years is the maximum length of time any one company should lead, without giant risks and heated competition our industry would simply stand still. For the sake of our industry maybe it's time Sony lets somebody else take charge so that they can figure out what the next big thing is. I'm not talking about a next generation DVD nobody is interested in or how good the system will look on two HDTV's, I'm talking about doing something no other game has done before. I'm talking about going back and remembering what made video games so much fun.

There is a precedent for the drastic action I'm talking about, Nintendo dealt with something very similar a decade ago. For much of the 1980s and 1990s the Nintendo name was synonymous with "video games." Everybody knew what Nintendo was and who the Super Mario Bros. were. Their Nintendo Entertainment System was far and away the most successful console of

Nintendo's popular line of characters just wasn't enough to keep them on the top of the video game market!
the 1980s, and their Super NES managed to snag even more gamers. With their hugely successful franchises, cool accessories and exclusive content Nintendo looked practically unstoppable.

But the mid-1990s proved to be a difficult time for the once-strong Nintendo. Both Sony and Sega managed to release their consoles a full year before the Nintendo 64, making the Big N struggle to play catch-up right out of the gate. Despite featuring a few major game releases (including Super Mario 64 and a Legend of Zelda adventure) the Nintendo 64 lagged behind the more popular PlayStation console. It was Nintendo's first major loss, a defeat that should have sent them back to the office to innovate and come back stronger than ever.


After falling behind for a few years Nintendo has finally recreated themselves with one of their best ideas in years!
But Nintendo didn't learn right away, instead they released the GameCube, a console that suffered from nearly every problem found on the Nintendo 64. Although the GameCube featured a number of great games, it lacked third party support and mature-oriented games. In some ways it looked like Nintendo had learned their lesson (they opted for a disc-based media), but at the end of the day the GameCube suffered the same fate of the Nintendo 64 because Nintendo didn't go far enough.

Fast forward to the Nintendo of today and you see a strong company with a brand new console that is nothing like you've ever seen before. They went back to the drawing board and designed something new, unique and, dare I say, sexy. The Wii is more than just a

Failing sucks, but sometimes you have to know how it feels to lose everything you have! What doesn't kill you will only make you stronger!
next generation console with better graphics; it's a console that offers you something new and innovative. Their past failures allowed them to get back to the basics and come up with something that everybody is talking about. The decade out of the lead did Nintendo a lot of good and may ultimately help them regain the top sales crown.

Nintendo's past failures have only helped make them the powerhouse they are today ... and the same could be true for Sony. After a decade of total domination perhaps it's time for Sony to take a step back and see what gamers really want. Do we want fancy graphics are new game play? Will we be excited about buying a new game system to watch next generation DVDs? Will the gamers who can't afford expensive TVs line up for the PlayStation 3?

I suspect Sony isn't going to like the answers to these questions. If Sony's next generation console does land with a thud I can only hope that everybody involved will go back to the drawing board and try to figure out what gamers want. What is good for Sony's bottom line may not be what gamers ultimately want, and this is one company that should take a good long look at what the consumers are saying. I don't want Sony to lose money, but if they are going to innovate and lead this industry they are going to have to try a little harder. If Sony doesn't get a wake-up call soon it may be too late. Sony, it's time for a regime change!
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