My youth was spent with the bitter tears that only a child who wants a PlayStation but only owns Nintendo consoles can cry. It was me, sadness and the cold, lonely dark glow of my television as I played through Chrono Trigger for the sixteen billionth time (Oh, woe is me). When my sixteenth birthday came to pass, walking through Sam’s Club, I spotted something that brought a twinkle to my eye: A PlayStation bundle with two controllers, a copy of Gex, some obscure racing game I’d never heard of (for the record, that game was called Gran Turismo 2) and a memory card. After reciting “Buy me that!” in three different languages, my parents calmly ensured me that at no point during their rule over my life would a PlayStation enter their household. We trudged on.
The next lane housed a Nintendo 64 bundle with two controllers, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64. I sighed heavily. My parents placed the Nintendo 64 bundle into the cart and said “Happy Birthday”.
Many years have passed since then, as have many living arrangements outside of my parents’ reign of terror, and I am happy to inform you that the PlayStation has indeed been an integral part of my gaming life. Sony has enthralled me from 32-bit to 128-bit and filled me with great satisfaction among a great many gaming genres: from Ace Combat to Xenogears, my library has filled with adventure, action, puzzles and pretty much anything without the NFL logo on it. The PS2 remains, to this day, the single-most favorite entertainment console I have ever had the honor of owning, and the PlayStation 3 has always been “next” on my list of things to heedlessly throw money away on.
There’s just one problem, Sony: You haven’t given me enough reasons to buy one. So I keep bumping it to “next”.
For a console that came a day late and two hundred dollars heavy to the next-generation console world, I’m still having a hard time understanding how one could justify the purchase price of the PS3 versus, and you will have to forgive this most humble writer’s only seemingly competitive choice as far as mainstream consoles go, the Xbox 360, from a purely value-to-dollar based investment investigation.
I will try to present my case as clearly as possible.
Anything You Can Do, He Can Do Cheaper
Devil May Cry. Batman. Assassin’s Creed. Final Fantasy. Street Fighter. Mega Man. Need For Speed. Grand Theft Auto. Ninja Gaiden. Rock Band… Two things should have happened when I listed those games. First, you would think “This man has wonderful taste in video games,” to which my response is a polite thank you. I know. Secondly, whether you own a PlayStation 3 or an Xbox 360, you should have noted that you have access to those games. The reason is simple; all these games are available on both consoles. They’re all fairly high-budget (Oh, Mega Man. We’ll let you slide for now because you’re so darn cute), high-quality titles, and both sides of the “console wars” have been given the chance to host these games, with virtually no difference between them.
This is where pricing differences become somewhat critical: If, out of the box, the Xbox 360 can give me a competitively similar experience for $150 where the PlayStation 3 costs $300, why on earth would I purchase a PlayStation 3? More on that in a bit, because the answers are almost enough to push my attitude in the other direction. I want to keep this rant going for the moment.
There’s Something Wrong With My Disc System
Cross-platform issues plague both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, but it seems to me that the most cripplingly embarrassing issues come up, unfortunately, on the Sony side. Devil May Cry 4 required a lengthy installation process that, while it was assured would make the Xbox 360 blush as far as loading times went, fell short of expectations. Essentially, the 360 version performed virtually neck-and-neck straight off the disc than the PS3 version did installed to the hard drive; hardly the image Sony wanted to portray.
After an embarrassing release in Japan on the PlayStation 3, Bayonetta was worked on for the western market before being released stateside, and by and large many of the issues that plagued the Japanese release were properly addressed… that isn’t to say completely removed. The palettes were still off and the game didn’t look as sharp as its 360 counterpart, not to mention the ability to install the game to offset the horrendous load times between deaths had to be patched into the game after release. Ironically, the Xbox 360 version was installable before the PS3 version.
However, I feel it’s necessary at this time to note that, with great personal experience in the matter, Final Fantasy XIII performed MUCH better on the PlayStation 3 framerate-wise than it did on its Xbox 360 release. I was disappointed that they had decided to leave out the original Japanese audio track from the PS3 release, but as I’m not sure just how much space that game takes up uncompressed (The Xbox 360 version had noticeably compressed video sequences to squeeze the game onto three discs) that may have been necessary. The sheer amount of spoken dialogue in the game would lead me to believe that, under the circumstances, it was more than likely not even close to being an option to have two audio tracks, even on a Blu-Ray disc.
A Blu-Ray disc. What is that, 50 gigabytes of data storage?
That’s a lot of space.
That’s A Lot Of Space
Forgive me for being droll, but I was under the impression that I was buying a videogame console. I know Microsoft and Sony have been pimping these consoles out as “Entertainment Centers” or “Family Computers” or whatever the term-du-jour is for “Stuff That Isn’t Videogames”, and I know Sony has a history of going over-the-top, generally with satisfying results. When many people didn’t have a CD player, PlayStation owners had one hooked up to their televisions. When DVD didn’t have such a firm grip on the home entertainment scene, PlayStation 2 owners proudly bought their $25 movies-on-a-disc and watched their favorites in style. While I cannot blame Sony for wanting to push the envelope of home entertainment and shove sixteen thousand extra pixels per frame of Avatar in my face, I can’t help but wonder if maybe we could have done without what equates to be a $200-300 High-Definiton DVD Player being stuck inside my Videogame console with no way to get it out. Going back to an earlier point of contention, most of the library that the Xbox and the PlayStation boast are shared. That means what’s fitting on a standard DVD for the 360 is being tossed onto a Blu-Ray disc for the PS3. We’re talking 4-6 gigabytes taken up out of 50. That seems like an awful waste in the name of early-adaptation of a home entertainment medium which, at the time of the PS3’s release, nobody was sure if the Blu-Ray was even going to survive the High-Definition disc battle. I think everyone should count their blessings that Sony was able to throw more money into a hole than Toshiba could and “win” that battle before we had another Betamax disaster on our hands. And what has Sony won? As of 2008, an 8% market share in home video purchases versus the DVD’s 92% share.*
Games like Metal Gear Solid 4 certainly make wonderful use out of that space, but how many games actually took up a majority of the disc?
In the end, no matter what the bottom line is as far as the purposes of these videogame consoles is concerned, Microsoft is making people pay much less for it than Sony is. And I can respect that.
Backwards Compatibility: What Happened?
That’s all I can say on that matter. I am, to this day, puzzled as to why this feature was started and, suddenly, discontinued, with “price” cited as a reason. If they were referring to the warehouses of unsold Slim line PS2 machines collecting dust, maybe that's a valid price concern. I hardly think that’s a good enough reason. I want to play my PlayStation 2 games on an HD-TV and make them look pretty.
But I cannot. So much for that.
Back to why I might pay $100 more for a PS3 instead of buying an Xbox… I must apologize to the Halo and Gears of War fans out there: I don’t dig these games that much. They’re both top-tier titles for the 360 and have a massive fan base. Unfortunately, I’m not counted among them. I find the Halo storyline cliché and, frankly, both forgettable and unwanted. I cannot speak of Gears of War 2 without cursing and spitting furiously, so we’ll just tip-toe around that minefield (And I liked the first game SO MUCH). I can respect them both for their ability to sell consoles and create a passionate fan base, and that is as far as I’m willing to go.
Sony has, and continues to this day, to bring more flavor and more variety, in these humble eyes, to the western market than the 360 does. I have to give Microsoft credit where credit is due; as far as the Japanese-styled games go, they gave it no less than three solid attempts: Lost Odyssey, Tales of Vesperia and Blue Dragon were just a few titles to catch my eye as 360 exclusives that appealed to me. Unfortunately, these games were, more or less, ignored by their consumer base.
My taste is eclectic, but Japanese-flavored games are my bread and butter. Not surprisingly, they find a cozy home in Sony’s camp, as they have for a very long time now. Metal Gear Solid, Valkyria Chronicles and Disgaea, right off the top of my head, are all games that would assist me in deciding to pick up a PS3. If I were more of a shooter fan, I would draw on such titles as Killzone. For the adventurer, maybe I would list off Uncharted or Heavenly Sword, or heaven forbid I forget, God of War and Heavy Rain.
But we’re talking about me. I can be selfish.
All in all, I have to say, the PS3 exclusives are quite lovely in comparison to the 360’s library of Only-on-Xbox titles.
Throw in built-in Wi-Fi and a hard drive, and I have to say, the package is definitely shaping up to be a bread winner. There’s only one problem…
The Xbox Was There First
Age and treachery beat out youth and enthusiasm. Most of what I want is available on the Xbox. I can walk into a Best Buy with $150 and walk out with what is, at heart, an extremely comparable if not virtually identical gaming experience, and for half the price of its Sony counterpart. The fact that I’m such an avid fan of Sony’s flavor makes this all the more heartbreaking. In this market, 50% less says a lot, and I just can’t consciously justify spending another $150 for what the PS3 brings to the table.
It’s noteworthy that, were my wants more aligned with the online gaming aspect of these consoles, even with Microsoft’s new Xbox console with the built-in Wi-Fi and Hard Drive, I would have no problem siding with Sony whatsoever. Achievements versus Trophies aside (another disappointment due in part to a rushed release on Sony’s part), playing online for free is a very strong motivator. Add to it the fact that Sony is currently working on offering a premium online subscription that will be able to compete with the Xbox Live framework more closely (not to mention the fact that I like the idea of buying old PlayStation games more than most of what’s offered on the Xbox Live Arcade) and we’ve finally got a more level playing field between the two.
Unfortunately for Sony, that’s not a part of my equation, which is first and foremost, playing games. Motion control for $100? Well, aside from the fact that the original controller was supposed to fulfill that function (I'm looking at you, Lair) and the comically negative comments they had towards the Wii during its inception, the Wii's an established console with an extensive library. And I have a Wii already. I think I'm set there.
I’m not sure what Sony can do to fix this problem I have. I’m not sure how much more time they have left to do it. I've waited patiently for a long time to see an edge to justify the price hurdle. It's just about time to jump.
*As a side-note, I’d also like to go back to the 8% market share point brought up earlier. I did a limited amount of research, but unfortunately 2008 figures were all I could pull up… if anyone has any newer numbers that can shed the light on how many BR-DVDs are sold versus DVDs from, say, 2009, your input would be welcome and appreciated. I’m actually quite curious.