[‘What Should Be Next’ is a weekly column where I examine and discuss certain trends, franchises, genres and ideas in the gaming industry, and where they should be headed.]
If you would have told me in 2004 that in the next generation of consoles the Gamecube’s successor would be the new king, that Microsoft would take a 10 million unit head start, and that Sony’s PS3 would be playing catch up — I would have called you an idiot. And I would have been totally wrong because that’s exactly how it all went down. But now, six years into the current gen, Nintendo is at a standstill and the margin that once separated Microsoft and Sony is now less than 2 million units. Sony is in position to reclaim the crown, but there’s still some unfinished business that needs to be done before that happens.
Change is a good thing.
Remember that hideous bubble jacket that you wore in high school? What you thought looked “slick and cool” when you were 16 years old probably didn’t keep the same charm and appeal at age 21. It is, after all, a five year gap. The same rules should be applied to design and user interface. And although UI is a very tricky thing — especially when trying to please the masses — it should be something that, along with your audience, is constantly evolving.
In 2012 the XrossMediaBar (XMB) will be nine years old. It originally debuted way back in 2003, on the Japan-only PSX. And if you ask me, it shouldn’t be allowed to see its tenth birthday.
There’s nothing technically wrong with Sony’s XMB, but there’s also nothing great about it either. The whole interface is cold and sterile; like something that you’d expect from a hardware company that has no focus on software. Oh wait.
It doesn’t have to be this way though and Sony is showing signs of software strength in other areas of the company, mobile devices especially. These little sparks of UI making their way to Sony’s line of Xperia super phones along with their latest Android tablets, show that the company does have it in them; unfortunately the effort and resources aren’t being placed into one of the most important pieces of their portfolio: the PS3. The upcoming PlayStation Vita does manage to change things up quite a bit and one can only hope that that it isn’t the only UI changes we’ll see making its way to the PlayStation brand in the coming year.
Livin’ La Vita Loca.
I don’t know how many times I have to say it. The PlayStation Vita is one awesome piece of hardware. Pictures and videos don’t really do it justice. Holding it in your hand is what really makes all of the difference. But if history tells us anything, its that no matter how compelling the hardware, it’s the software that needs to shine. Luckily, after checking out much of the Sony’s launch line-up it seems like they have that covered for the most part.
What Sony needs to do for the Vita to reach their expectations is to make gamers need (not just want) the system. Remote play is a killer feature, one that really never had a chance to fully live up to expectations on the PSP. However, if this time around it can be integrated tightly into the entire PlayStation experience (not just first party games) even a minor, (but highly sought after) feature like that can be a real difference maker.
We don’t need gimmicks like rear-view mirror functionality (remember that?), just great and intuitive experiences that only the combination of a PS3 and a Vita can provide for. In regard to the not-so-big and more casual games, they need to build out the relationships to get titles like Infinitly Blade 3 or Angry Birds 2 (come on, you know these are going to happen) day and date as their mobile phone counterparts. To make it plain and simple: they need to make gamers hate playing games on their cell phones. Long live dual analog sticks!
Keeping it in the family.
Convergence. That’s the name of the game here. Everywhere you look, every major player out there is pushing and pulling for your hard earned subscription dollars. I’m not even just talking about game companies anymore. It’s Apple, it’s Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, Spotify and the list goes on.
Everyone is playing the game of sucking you into their ecosystem in hopes that you become so invested in it that you never leave. What’s crazy about this is that not a single one of the companies that I mentioned above actually produces any of the content they provide. Instead, they just play the role of middleman, one that Sony (if they really tried) can potentially eliminate a need for.
This provides a unique opportunity for Sony as they’re planning an all out assault on iTunes and similar services in 2012 with their own Sony Entertainment Network. With over 56 million PS3’s out in the world and coupled with the upcoming Vita — the PlayStation Brand should act as a trojan horse or sorts, the same way it did for Blu-Ray almost 5 years ago. It’s an undeniable advantage that can get them relevant in the subscription space, really fast. And because Sony owns a boatload of the content that a lot of these existing subscription platforms offer, they can certainly start to play spoiler to these services in order to boost the value and power of their own offering. They just need make sure that the PlayStation brand is at the forefront to really make that push.
Bringing it all together.
PlayStation as a brand is on the brink of being the king of the (HD console) mountain once again. Since the beginning of the current generation of consoles, Sony has always banked their money on a 10 year plan. Now as they head into the half way point, with a full head of steam, it seems like they’re right on target.
They’ve shown a change in strategy with the consumer products in their repertoire by putting user experience at the top of the priority list, the same needs to be done with the aging PS3 User Interface. They’ve shown that the PlayStation Vita is the handheld that everyone is going to want, they now have to show that it’s the handheld that everyone is going to need. They’re about to show why you should do a subscription service with them as opposed to everyone else. Will it be enough to make people bleed triangles, circles, and squares? At the end of the day the ball is in Sony’s court but everything I listed above is what should be next for 2012.