The state of Sony’s woes

What can Sony do to revive the PlayStation brand?

I was having a long chat with a friend the other night about the PlayStation3. We’re both XBOX 360 gamers this time around – and we have both been PlayStation owners in the past. We both agreed that the PS3 is the superior machine, both in terms of specs and build-quality (in all honesty, in regards to construction, the 360 is a seriously bodged job), but neither of us could envisage purchasing the Sony machine in the future.

But why?

The reason is of course XBOX Live, Microsoft’s online gaming platform. For all intensive purposes, Sony’s online presence is nowhere near as robust or comprehensive (regardless of Live’s recent outages). Unless Sony can create a similar online model, which harnesses the community, it will never capture a new breed of gamers who relish online competition.

Microsoft are of course not hardware specialists. Sony’s machine conveys beautifully why Sony products are sought out by consumers. The PlayStation3 is arguably the best Blu-Ray player on the market, is stacked with technical bling – including the best CPU available (at this or a similar price-point), and has the sharp looks to match (even if my partner thought it was a George Foreman grill in our local Currys). Add into the mix the much under-advertised partnering with Sony’s PSP handheld device, and you have a technophiles dream set-up. Hell, the XBOX 360 doesn’t even have inbuilt Wi-Fi.

The problem is: Sony doesn’t have Microsoft’s software or networking experience. Sony is critically late to the table with its online offering. Think about it; Sony has a huge content library. Games, music, TV, and movies are all within Sony’s stable – and yet Microsoft, a company famous for desk-based computing, is leading the way in the networked living room. It’s crazy.

One solution to Sony’s woes is the hacker community. Yellow Dog already offer a free version of Linux for the PS3. The PS3’s stonking Cell processor offers one of the best computing platforms available. If Sony endorse and help finance the hacker community to embrace the platform, they may encourage developers to create valuable and original IPs, encourage an organic community, and enjoy the sort of credibility they had during the early days of the PS1. It won’t change the PS3’s fortunes overnight, but it may offer an alternative to Microsoft’s frustrating play-pen mentality (XBOX Live doesn’t have an internet browser, and users are secured safe within XBOX LIve’s limited network). Sony must also increase the robustness and quality of the online gaming they offer – but that’s a given anyway.

Another option open to Sony is to use the PlayStation3 to launch a fully integrated download service. Sony has the content and the hardware, so why not marry the two. They’re already way ahead of Apple and XBOX Live in that they have a huge movie catalogue in-house. Sony could also widen their product line with a series of consumer PVRs that also use the download service. Home-cinema freaks would no-doubt prefer a sleek black hi-def Sony component under their 50” HDTV than a piddley AppleTV box. The PS3 could offer people the perfect gaming – Blu-Ray – internet – PVR – download solution, and the PS3 could truly become that tech manufacturers dream device: the hub of the household network.

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