How Sony Now Listens, and Still Doesn’t
With Vita and 3DS XL We See The Difference
by David Hilton
©2012 David Hilton
No matter how much people want to dismiss gaming on smartphones, they have succeeded where portable gaming in the past has failed: they sell very cheap games, sometimes free, and provide casual quick gaming experiences that captivate hardcore and gaming noobs. In short, they have taken initiative and grabbed some of the gaming market and grown it.
That means portables need to find a way to keep their traditional market and somehow provide an experience that will attract others, beyond what smartphones do.
In other words: Sony has learned from past mistakes, and Nintendo hasn’t.
Nintendo 1, Sony 0
For me it became a matter of renting both one weekend and playing Tomb Raider on PlayStation and Shadows of the Empire on N64. Though Shadows wasn’t the best game going and Tomb Raider was better, a few things grabbed me and got me to buy the N64.
The graphics on the N64 were more impressive than the pixel-prone PlayStation and Shadows was more accessible for someone who had been out of gaming for awhile.
So in short: accessibility, new tech that made gaming interesting and better to play, better graphics, and a famous popular franchise.
The Sony strikes back
However, there was the appearance of issues that would plague Nintendo to this day, and may ultimately destroy them if they refuse to learn.
First, the lack of regular titles being released meant that Sony’s PlayStation offered a game library much larger than the N64.
Second, Nintendo was relying way too much on their own franchises, which were strong titles with strong identities, but essentially the same.
This demonstrated a gaming company steering their future based on their past. This isn’t a bad strategy as such, because you see what you are doing right and build from that.
The problem is that gaming was changing enormously, something Nintendo realised after the Gamecube, an excellent console I loved with the best post-purchase service, did poorly against the PS2 and even Xbox.
The Gamecube had tried to do the same as the N64 and failed: lack of regular new titles, reliance on its own franchises, and stubbornly making a console that couldn’t play dvds, only its smaller proprietary discs.
Sony’s biggest success to this day, in my opinion, was the intelligent decision to make their PS2 a DVD player… first.
By the time Microsoft entered into the games console race, Sony had captured the gaming world.
The illusion of Wii
Nintendo realised two things: it needed to get out first with a new console, not follow, and it needed to offer something new and different, as it had when it introduced the analogue stick, something used to this day.
Their answer was the Wii.
It instantly grabbed people’s attention: a console that doesn’t rely on fiddly complicated controllers. It sold like hotcakes and before you knew it soccer mothers and grandmas were lining up to buy a games machine.
Well done Nintendo.
Or was it? The success of the Wii meant that the flaws were not highlighted enough.
Flaws like the fact that it was the console of choice for shovelware (games that were crap money grabbing exercises), it relied way too much on the Nintendo franchises again, and it lost the attention of real gamers fast with a lack of new core gaming IPs (Intellectual Properties) that worked well on the motion-based console.
PS Vita and 3DS woes
But today there are smartphones that cater to many of the same people, and in a much cheaper way.
So it comes down to mostly core gamers and fans of Nintendo franchises when the 3DS was launched, featuring something new: glasses-less 3D and more power.
Yet the price was way too high, it had a poor launch line-up and the games so far way too few and mostly uninspiring, the 3D plagued by bad press about the ‘health risks’, and it again has featured way too many of their same franchise games. For my analysis about the 3DS (and PSP GO) failures, click here.
Yet it was Sony who stuffed up the most with the PSP, and especially the PSP GO. They thought that ignoring the potential noob gamer market, largely being gobbled up by the DS, was the right way to go. Stick to hardcore gaming experiences, seemed to be their mantra.
There is no denying that both the PSP and 3DS aren’t total failures, but I argue that they are failures by not dealing properly with the emerging modern gamer’s philosophy: quick, easy, cheap, diverse (core and non-core, franchise and non-franchise), accessible, and connected.
Portables: Definition of insanity
The 3DS still tries to keep doing the same, hoping things will turn out different, and the 3DS XL, rather than learn from what gamers have been saying, ignores most of their input and just follows the DS to DSi XL philosophy… just make it a bit bigger for Ma and Grandma.
Sony learned from its foolishness with the PSP when they only had one analogue stick for gaming. Here was a portable gaming console trying to be ‘the hardcore portable’ that only had one analogue stick, no matter what people said.
Sony learned to listen, finally, when the PS Vita was announced with two analogue sticks and a good launch line-up. They had a mix of franchise games and big hit titles announced with it. So far, unlike the 3DS, there are few, if any, third party cancellations of titles.
Sony’s focus remains on the core gaming experience, but also adds new noob friendly features with smaller fun games that use the back and front touch pads. Nintendo’s 3DS also had great noob-friendly mini-games that used the 3D feature, but they were few and not very deep.
It knows that these need to be made with the same attention as AAA console titles. It knows that there should be more than gimmicky uses for what makes its portable different.
And it knows to attract the hardcore with good controls (better than smartphones) and offer games that can be played differently (using rear and front touch).
Nintendo has learned nothing. It has just announced the larger version of the 3DS, the 3DS XL, and it doesn’t add a second analogue stick, despite the demand, and it doesn’t offer a huge wealth of new titles along with it.
They’re relying on the same old franchises and the 3D gimmick, combined with the same awkward control system, now with poorer visuals than the PS Vita. The dual screen is positive, but how much it adds to the gaming experience now seems limited.
Just take a look at an email I received today. Three Mario games advertised. When will they realize they need to get something new into the wild?
If Sony continues to attract publishers and AAA titles that look like their console counterparts like Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, and Call of Duty, and keep using the touch pads creatively, it should capture the majority share of those looking for a portable with gaming experiences richer than found on the smartphones.
The only question will be if gamers really want console-like experiences on the go at all.
The tech world changes rapidly now. People’s opinions vary, but when there seems to be a clear message about what gamers and potential gaming markets want, and where gaming seems to be heading, it is foolish to ignore it.
Back when I was trying to decide between the PlayStation and the N64, my criteria as a mostly non-gamer was: accessibility, new tech that made gaming interesting and better to play, better graphics, and a famous popular franchise.
Which do you think has achieved this so far? My vote is with the PS Vita.
©2012 David Hilton
Filed under: Console gaming, Handhelds, Mobile Gaming, Oxcgn Special feature, Xbox 360 Tagged: | 3DS, 3ds failing, Microsoft, nintendo, nintendo losing, Playstation, Playstation Vita, Sony, sony winning, Tomb Raider, Video game console, Vita, vita faiilng, Xbox