Thursday, July 23, 2009

FEATURE - Why the PS3?

Sony's Playstation 3:
For people with poor math skills.

If you're one of the ten or fifteen people who read this blog on a regular basis (by the way, thank you for reading this blog on a regular basis - I really appreciate it!), it should be pretty clear that I play my games on a Playstation 3, and don't possess a Wii or Xbox 360. I have nothing against the consoles that I don't own, or the people who own them. Take my good buddy Mario, for example. He's got every console - and aside from a touch of jealousy, I certainly bear the guy no ill will.

Given time, I may pick up a Wii simply to experience Muramasa: The Demon Blade and probably Zelda, and when Microsoft drops the 360's price to $100-150, I'll be hard-pressed to convince myself that it's not worth the money. I'm not much interested in discussing hardware reliability or whether the free PSN is a better value than the pay-for-play Xbox Live. Let's ignore all that for the time being - this article isn't about why I didn't buy an Xbox, but why I did shell out about $550.00 for a backward-compatible Playstation 3, and why feel it was a very sound investment in my entertainment future.

Do you like movies? Do you like listening to music? Clearly, you don't mind browsing the internet. Let's talk a little about investments in entertainment.

Here is a DVD player.

Most folks have a small DVD library -the version here is as cheap as they come, and won't get you any fancy-schmantzy bells and whistles like upscaling. The PS3 does that, though.

Here is a cheap Blu-ray player.

Not many folks have a sizable library of Blu-ray movies (not many folks even have HDTVs), but after a trickle of interest in the format, sales have become rather robust over the past year. When it first appeared on the market, the PS3 was the cheapest Blu-ray player you could find. This is no longer the case, but let's just add it to the list of things the console can do. $340 worth of entertainment so far.

Here is a CD player.

To be honest, the only CDs I still have around are Jimi Hendrix: The BBC Sessions, Led Zeppelin 1 and 2, the Pulp Fiction soundtrack and a few game soundtracks. But still, if you want to play a CD, the PS3 wants to let you - and if you don't want to bother with the disc in the future, you can copy every CD to the hard drive for easy access later. $390 - the thing has nearly paid for itself already.

Here is an MP3 player.

This one is a cheap, no-name portable player, but you get the idea: the PS3 can do this too. If - like many - you have a sizable collection of music on your PC that you wish you could listen to in the living room, the PS3 is a solution. Just copy your whole library onto a flash drive (or stream it straight to the console) and you're good to go.

$450 so far.

Here is a personal computer.

No, no, I'm not going that far. But after searching around Best Buy and, this is the cheapest bit of hardware I could find for the purpose of browsing the internet. It turns out smart phones are obscenely expensive, and that's before you factor in a contract with your service provider.

So if you like the idea of sitting on your couch and browsing the web, the PS3, again, wants to let you. I've actually become so fond of the PS3's browser, the only reason I turn on my PC these days is to write this blog.

Nobody's going to buy a personal computer (or smart phone) merely for the purpose of internet browsing, however - so this argument is hardly rock-solid. Let's count that $300 as $150 - which seems reasonable. $600.

All this talk of music, movies and internet is almost enough to make one forget - but the PS3 actually plays games too! And not just games - classic games.

Here is a Playstation.

I must confess, I skipped over the PS1 back in the day, but nostalgia forced me into purchasing a copy of Metal Gear Solid and cult-classic mid-quality survival horror title Galerians - so this is just another one of those little extra features I'm glad the PS3 can boast. Should we count the cost of a memory card? I think we should. $620.

Here is a Playstation 2. Sorry, I feel compelled to take this thing all the way.

The PS2 is still the best selling console ever made, and as a result it has an absolutely phenomenal library of software. I have a relatively modest collection of special-to-me PS2 titles - a little over fifty - and there's still a few more I need to find, so a major selling point for me was backward compatibility to the PS2.

But David, PS3s aren't backward-compatible any more. How the Hell can you cite that as a selling feature?

Oh, I can't, really. I mean, I could try to convince you that BC is eventually coming back, but the fact is if you purchase a new Playstation 3 it won't play all those lovely PS2 classics that seared themselves into our consciousness. Unless, of course, you're willing to pay a significant premium to an online retailer. But just for the sake of argument, let's include it as a range and throw in a single, cheap, used memory card. The Playstation 3 is now worth $620-$725.00 - and if you thought that was a stretch, I've got one more doozy to lay on you.

Here is an Xbox 360.

If you want to play 2008's game of the year, Fallout 3, the 360 is more than capable - along with 2007's critical darling and commercial success, BioShock. A good 97% of current-gen HD titles are available on the console (estimated), its graphics far outstrip Nintendo's Wii, its games are much more mature, and it allows you to play online with friends or download movies directly to the console.

The point being, of course, if you want to play Fallout 3, BioShock and near all of the current-gen high-definition video games, if you want to play online with friends or download movies to the console, the Playstation 3 - again - wants to let you.


The Playstation 3 has other capabilities that I'm not aware of, never use, or wouldn't try to put a price on - like, for example, curing cancer - but let's stop before I step off the precipice of good sense and push the console's arguable value past a grand. All of the above reasons are, I feel, good reasons to choose to purchase a PS3.

The company line at Sony, which we hear repeatedly, is that they are trying to sell a "value-added" piece of hardware - one that's worth double what the competition is charging. Clearly, the PS3 is capable of doing a helluva lot of stuff - and all that stuff certainly didn't make my purchase decision more difficult - but the real reason to buy a current-gen system is to play current-gen games.

For me, the real reason to buy the Sony system are the current-gen games I could not have played on another console.

And to purchase the console when it first appeared would have, admittedly, been a six hundred dollar leap of faith. What were you going to play? Genji? I waited two years until I bought my PS3 - when the library was significantly more robust - and there are really only two reasons I was prepared to pay half a grand for it.

Reason 1: the devs

Sony's been around for a while, and in that time it has gotten quite cozy with some very, very talented development houses. Naughty Dog, Insomniac, Sucker Punch and now Guerilla Games are all world-class studios pumping out triple-A stuff exclusively for the PS3. This is a simplified example, but the only question I really had to ask myself about which current-gen system I would purchase was "which can I play the next Ratchet & Clank game on?"

If I had bypassed the PS2 last gen and instead gotten comfortable with Halo on the Xbox, it's entirely possible I would have an equally romantic attachment to Master Chief, but that's not how things worked out for me. I love Kratos, I love Ratchet and his robot, and now I can't wait to get my hands on Uncharted 2.

Speaking of Kratos, there's Sony's first-party studios. Sony Santa Monica have established themselves as a world-class developer, pushing the PS2 beyond its limits with God of War 2 - lord knows what they have in store for us with GoW3. Sony's Japan Studio doesn't often put out products with such high gloss, but they make up for that with high-concept fare like my beloved Siren series. And of course, let's not forget Team ICO.

Reason 2: the philosophy

ICO is a great example. It didn't sell particularly well when it first came out, but it also did things with a video game that no one else even seemed to attempt. It was the first legitimate mainstream example of games-as-art, and despite tepid sales Sony kept right on supporting the vision and supporting the development of Shadow of the Colossus.

As games become more expensive to create, the formula will become closer and closer to Hollywood's: the millions of dollars invested will only be invested where there is the least amount of risk. More Halo, more Gran Turismo, more Call of Duty - because those games are practically guaranteed to recoup the investment and go on to turn a reasonable profit.

High-minded stuff like Ico, Flower and The Path will be harder and harder to come by. God I'd love to see The Path on PSN (which will never happen). Anyway - the market for such titles is smaller, and so titles that are both big-budget and high-concept (see: Heavy Rain) become increasingly rare.

The main reason I have any degree of brand loyalty to Sony, particularly with all the crap they've pulled, is - what appears to be - a corporate philosophy of supporting titles that push the boundaries of what a game can be, not just the boundaries of technology.

My point is this:

That's a helluva deal.


  1. For the first half about the arguable value of the PS3? Absolutely. I just wanted to take the "value added" line Sony feeds us and see how far I could run with it.

    I'm not an industry analyst, I can only speak to my own experience - so the two reasons in the second half are honestly why the PS3 was the choice for me.

    Admittedly, perhaps "a helluva deal" is a little excessive - the original line was "totally worth it" - which it is, to me.

    I suppose I should also note that Sony actively supporting The Weird Shit is also subject to debate. For example, here's a Google-translated interview with the makers of The Path that sheds a less than flattering light on the process of working with Sony:

  2. Well, thank God you were kidding. I used to think you were a relatively smart guy. I can now go on thinking that.

    Maybe you don't have the money, but if you do, you should get a decent medium-end PC. You'll find a lot of that "high concept" fare you crave. And access to almost all the best 360 games that aren't on the PS3.

  3. >.< I know. In all likelihood The Path and say, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet won't come to PS3, and the solution for that is a game-capable PC - but even at a relatively economic $299, that's a pretty hefty price tag just to play indie games and 360 ports.

    ...did Gears 2 even get a PC release? (checks) Nope.