This week marks the beginning of Playstation 3 sales on PAL regions such as Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa for customers who have been waiting ever since it was delayed to March 2007. According to USA Today, sales of Playstation 3 in the PAL markets mirror early sales of the Xbox360 and Playstation 2. However, many customers may not be aware of how royally Sony screwed them as they enthusiastically hook up their PS3s.
Earlier reports confirmed that Sony was shifting from a hardware-based backwards compatibility to software emulation that is used by the Xbox360. Upon closer inspection of the PAL Playstation 3, we can see that the Emotion Engine, the chip that allows for backwards compatibility with PS1/2 games, has been replaced with a cheaper graphics chip. We would think that Sony “gimped” their own console to cut costs to sell it to the competitive PAL markets, but the PAL equivalent prices are still close to the retail prices in both the North American and Asian markets. This means that customers in PAL markets will be paying a little more for a lot less than what their NTSC counterparts are currently using.
The below chart shows the percentage of old games that will work via software emulation:
It’s interesting that Sony would even make hardware revisions to the PS3 so early in the product’s life-cycle as opposed to making changes around 1-2 years after its situated in the market. It is even more interesting that the early versions of the PS3 has problems with hardware-based backwards compatibility that were just solved with a 1.51 firmware upgrade that will now resurface as Sony Computer Entertainment implements a snap decision to switch to software emulation. Although Sony is best known for their know-how in hardware, it is safe to say that software is not their strong point and places them at a relative competitive disadvantage to Microsoft, who built their core competencies around software applications. This is one explanation on why Sony will have much more trouble implementing software emulation for their PS1/2 games.
However, it looks like they won’t even bother will future firmware upgrades to get the essential PS1/2 gaming library to become backwards compatible with the Playstation 3:
But, as 1UP pointed out, a number of high-profile games aren’t compatible. Metal Gear Solid 3, for example, will run on software emulation, but Metal Gear Solid 2 won’t. Will that change? Probably not, says Sony. “We are pleased with the number we have been able to make playable for the European launch, but as we have made clear before, our focus going forward will be on innovative new applications and services for PS3 rather than on backwards compatibility,” said Nick Sharples, director of corporate communications at SCEE.
“We will test all forthcoming PS2 titles, but it would be unrealistic to expect significant increases [our emphasis] in the number of playable PS2 titles in future firmware upgrades given the above. Whilst J&D and MGS are not listed as playable, their successors MGS3 and Jak and Daxter 2 are playable,” Sharples continued.
Sharples wouldn’t provide a firm answer on whether games like MGS2 would be emulated in the future, but his answer doesn’t provide much promise. Instead, he suggests looking at the sequels as replacements of sorts. “We will certainly be testing our own future PS2 releases and will offer the facility to our publishing partners,” he said, but once again reiterated the focus going forward was on PS3, not the past.
Translation: “too bad your favourite games won’t work on the PS3; so buy the sequels to make it up because we’re not going to fix the problem”. It’s just great to know that Sony does not care about it’s customers when they made press conference emphasising that they will cater to their “Playstation Generation” through backwards compatibility so they can migrate from their old Playstations when PS3 came out. It’s even more ironic that Sony is abandoning a business model they successfully implemented to both preserve their existing PS1 customer base while at the same time adding a new benefit that motivated old and new customers to purchase the new Playstation. This model worked so well that Microsoft made an effort for backward compatibility on the Xbox360 through software emulation while Nintendo allowed for Gamecube games to run on the Wii.
These developments don’t bode well for existing users of the Playstation 3 either because we will lose the ability to play many of our old PS1/2 games once we install firmware version 1.6. This also means that the Emotion Engine chips dedicated to solid backwards computability will be replaced with inferior software emulation for existing users that choose to update to version 1.6, which only allows for background downloading that doesn’t work if you’re playing games and zooming while browsing the Internet. One day you could be having a blast in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and the next day you realise it can barely load after installing version 1.6. This is even worse for those people who actually sold their Playstation 2 systems to pre-order their Playstation 3 only to learn that barely 1/3rd of their old games can work on the PS3. Not only is this an issue for existing customers, but there were actually new PS3 users who bought PS2 games for the first time to play on the PS3. Sony did a fine mess by both alienating their existing customers and depriving themselves of potential dollar opportunities as well.
Speaking of screw-ups, Sony made the following errors in their Playstation 3:
1. They allowed retailers to sell consoles to people who would simply resell them at the gray market for higher premiums. Soon dumbasses in North America would buy Playstation 3 just to sell them for at least $1000USD flooding the gray market as seen on eBay and depriving real customers the chance to buy the system. Eventually the dumbasses who tried selling the PS3 on eBay or other gray markets would realise they have failed and returned their systems within 30 days while customers who wanted them would lose patience by then and settled on the new Xbox or Wii. This is one of many explanations on why retailers suddenly have PS3s in stock and it’s not just credited to Sony’s improved “supply chain”.
2. They lost the ability to have force feedback on their controllers. Instead of settling with Immersion like Microsoft did to retain the much-enjoyed rumble functions, Sony decided to make a snap decision to remove it from their controllers in place of rumble function. They rebranded their “Dual Shock 3” as the “Sixaxis” since it offers six degrees of freedom and then acted as if they wanted this feature on their system all along when it was far from the truth. Their official PR even wrote bullshit claiming the rumble function would interfere with motion sensing even though that never happened with Nintendo’s Wiimote. Also, the developers who were coding “Warhawk” for the PS3 complained in interviews about how Sony gave them limited time to program motion sensing functions into the game in time for one of their press conferences. If you’re a PS3 user, you may have noticed how light the Sixaxis controllers are and how it feels like there is empty spaces in the areas where the Dual Shock motors would have been. Now it looks like Sony gave into Immersion’s demands and will be reintroducing force feedback into future PS3 controllers and accessories.
3. The Playstation 3 is used as a Trojan horse in 2 format wars. The first format war the Playstation 3 is supposed to help Sony win is the one between their blu-ray versus Toshiba’s HD-DVD. So far, it appears that Sony is winning this format war with more studio exclusives and corporate support, but it is also alienating game developers at the same time. Several developers have complained about blu-ray because it has relatively slower load times than conventional DVD drives and it is expensive to replicate blu-ray discs needed to play on the PS3. The second format war that Sony is using the PS3 to fight is the memory card format war as seen by the availability of memory card slots for compact flash, SD flash and Sony’s Memorystick. It appears that these slots were intended to be used for moving external data and even game saves similar to the Wii, but the availability of three different slots makes it confusing for the user to choose a proper card for the PS3 and it increases the costs of making a PS3. From popular use, we know that SD flash is one of the more popular formats, but it is frustrating that Sony did not bother to get their developers to program their games to save on external memory cards.
4. They keep making snap decisions. After making a piss-poor impression with soundbytes taking about fighting giant enemy crabs in feudal Japan and with SCEA CEO Kazuo Hirai making a pitiful attempt to generate excitement by making horrible “Ridge Racer” impressions, Sony decides to promote Hirai as the COO and President of Sony Computer Entertainment, which demonstrates the Peter Principle in play. Then there were the idiotic decisions to first remove rumble then restore it, add a 20GIG PS3 that no one seems to buy; have a limited Playstation Network that runs on a closed webpage; magically lose exclusives such as Ace Combat 6, Devil May Cry 4, GTA4; and finally screw over half the fanbase by gimping the Playstation 3’s backwards compatibility. One SCEI official once said that “FlOw” was the PS3’s killer app; this really tells you the sad state Sony’s in.
5. Sony’s idiotic move to gimp backwards compatibility, alienating customers old and new…
The USA Today article sums up much of Sony’s troubles:
Sony’s new PlayStation 3 video game has gone from top dog to underdog in record time.
Despite the buildup and hype around its arrival in November, the PS3 has been outsold so far — at a rate of almost 2-to-1 — by the Nintendo Wii.
In February, the Wii was the top-selling console video game system with an estimated 335,000 sold, outpacing the Microsoft Xbox 360 (228,000) and the PS3 (127,000), according to The NPD Group.
For Sony, that performance “is simply abysmal,” says Newsweek‘s N’Gai Croal. “The PS3 is sucking wind right now. …. Price is a factor. Some of the negative buzz is a factor. Some of the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) is a factor. And the lack of a large number of triple-A software titles is a factor.”
Nintendo’s $250 Wii, released the same week as the PS3 ($500-$600), has sold about 1.9 million so far, compared with 1.1 million PS3s.
As a PS3 owner, lets all hope that Metal Gear Solid 4 will stay exclusive and Sony can finally turn things around by actually listening to their customers and with their Playstation Home service. Otherwise, it looks like many Sony users including myself may switch over to Microsoft or Nintendo when the next console comes out.