Lessons Well Learned: Why Sony is Poised to Win This Console War

When Sony showed us the Playstation 4, they did just about everything right. They focused heavily on games, and features that would improve our gaming experience. They also gave all this plenty of time. About 2 and a half hours. All this was good, but now that I think about it, I realize that it wasn’t necessarily the features themselves that made it good. It was the fact that right there, we watched the Playstation brand pick itself up from its loss to the Xbox360, and proceed to grow. The presentation, and some articles afterward, showed us that Sony had taken great pains to learn lessons from this generation, the results of which all carry forward to the Playstation 4.

Most likely the number one thing people hate about the PS3 is how long it takes to download updates, or to download Playstation Network games only to have to install them once they’re done. Sony has crafted answers to both these problems. Updates to the OS, and to PS4 games will download to flash media in the PS4, then installed when they can be, all in the background. That will save a bunch of time as it is, but then we get to downloadable games. The data for these games is going to be compartmentalized, and when you choose to download a PS4 game, you can begin playing your game within minutes of starting the download, even while the game keeps on downloading in the background. The first packet of data might include the menu, opening cutscene and first game area, and by the time you finish that one, presumeably the next area will have been downloaded, and so on and so on. I cannot wait to see this technology in action, and I really hope it works. I believe games will truly be on demand when that happens. To add to this, Sony has said that it will take almost no time even to launch a game. They’re trying to remove the waiting period wherever they can.

Next up, Social Connectivity. I freely admit Xbox Live got it right when they included a headset with their console, and made Xbox Live a huge social gaming network. Now, Sony is following suit, adding their own flavor as well. Playstation 4’s will also come with headsets now, and the port will be in the controller much like it is on Xbox, but it’s the PS4’s Share button that really shows what Sony is doing this time around. With the PS4, you will be able to capture about 10 minutes of your gameplay at a time, and upload that to Youtube and presumeably Facebook. But if that’s not enough, you’ll also be able to stream directly to Twitch TV right from the PS4. It doesn’t stop there, either. If you’re stuck on some part of a game, you can ask one of your friends for help, and with your permission, they can actually take over your controller, and play that part for you. From what I understand, they can do this even if they don’t own that game, as the video feed from your console is fed directly to them using the PS4’s Cloud technology. Pretty sweet, huh? I thought so.

The last thing I want to focus on when speaking of the lessons Sony has learned is something I’ve talked about before, the PS4’s focus on games, and game developers. First of all, Sony restructured their hardware, no longer using that crazy, proprietary tech that made it so difficult for developers to make games for the system. now, because they’re using hardware closer to a high-end PC, developers should have a much easier time porting their games. Add to that that Sony loves, and prominently features independent game developers, and we have a winner. Developers are singing the PS4’s praises already, and with good reason.

Sony brings a lot to the table with their latest console. It’s powerful, yet simple to use for developers and consumers alike. It sounds wonderful, and in my opinion it’s absolutely the right direction to go in. I am left wondering now what we don’t know yet. Could there be as yet unannounced ways in which the PS4 will improve on its predecessor? I wouldn’t be surprised, and I look forward to finding out more at E3 in just a couple short weeks.

Xbox Unboxed: A More General Look at Where Microsoft Went Wrong

As anyone who follows me will know, this isn’t the first blog I’ve posted about the recently announced Xbox One. My first focused on the implications of the console where blind people like myself were concerned. Still, that leaves a lot unmentioned, and I want to take a step back, and offer my opinion on the console overall, minus all that other stuff. Some of the information here will be similar to that in the first blog, but considered from a different angle. I’ll do my best not to stray from this, and we’ll see where that gets us.

The Xbox One, the one device for all your in-home entertainment. Yeah, it sounds pretty good on paper, but it’s also not true. One of the big questions surrounding the console when it was announced was whether or not it would be backwards compatible with Xbox 360 games. Microsoft has already given us a flat no on this, saying that they expect people with large Xbox 360 libraries to keep their 360’s. In my opinion, this kind of statement does one two things. Either it throws off a vibe that, following the release of the Xbox One, Microsoft will simply cease to care about its enormous library of previous titles, expecting everyone to move forward to their “one entertainment device” plan, or they do care, and they’re just blatantly making a misstatement because someone in marketing thought the Xbox One sounded like a cool name. It’s not true if you still have 360 games you want to play, is it? You need 2 devices then, totally negating that statement. I understand the hardware is diferent and all that, but even Sony has plans to put their entire backlog into the cloud, so at least consumers would be able to play whichever games they desired. I’ll discuss that more in a later blog.

The Xbox One requires the Kinect to be connected in order to function. I touched on this a bit in my last blog, but even speaking generally, I feel this is a big mistake. Microsoft seems to believe that everyone has these extremely large livingrooms, perfect for some fun activity with the Kinect, which requires you to be about 8 feet back from your TV. That is simply not the case, and it is the very reason many people, definitely not all of course but many, avoied the Kinect when it was originally launched. I will say that it’s a bold move from Microsoft. Clearly they have a lot of faith in this tech, I just feel that faith is misplaced. I’ve heard whispers that the Kinect 2 will work in smaller spaces than the previous one, but so far that’s it. Right now I’m inclined to believe things like that were said to try to calm us down.

The Xbox One’s strictness on used games is another big issue. Even to play your games at someone else’s house, you have to sign into your Xbox live profile. This, of course, means you can’t lend games to your friends unless you also lend them your account information, which, ya know, is kind of a nono. But ya know what? People are probably going to do it if they want to let their friends try some awesome new game for a bit. The alternative is that the friend pays a fee, which is as yet undetermined, though I’ve heard that it may be as much as the price of the game, to get their own license for the game. Effectively, you can lend them a game if they buy it. That doesn’t make much sense to me, and it’s a big blow to the sense of community Xbox live is supposed to be known for. It also does a great deal of harm to the used game market, though Microsoft supposedly has plans, plans which they refuse to detail, on how they intend to keep that market alive.

Speaking of the sense of community, though, Xbox One seems to me to have a very minimal focus on games. Oh sure they’ll be showing some games at E3, but first impressions mean a lot, and the first impression of the Xbox One made it seem as though this device as a gaming console at all is strictly an afterthought. It’s all about the live TV and the integration of Kinect and Smartglass. It’s all about video calling with Skype. All things that, in my mind, should come secondary to what the gamers, the ones who should want this device, really want to hear about, which is games. Added to that the way they have chosen to treat the independent community, not giving them their own section of Xbox live anymore where their products can get the exposure they need to succeed on the platform, and I’m pretty convinced that it’s gaming that’s the afterthought here.

What it comes down to is this. When E3 rolls around in just over 2 weeks, we the consumers, we the gamers, need Microsoft not just to show us games, but to show us very good games. We need reasons to buy this console. We need system sellers. More than that, we also need to be told we’re wrong, and that needs to be proven to us. The Kinect 2 needs to work in small spaces, these plans of theirs for the used game market have to be worthwhile for everyone, and they need to change their attitude towards the independent developers out there. That’s a tall order, and that’s not even everything, but right now that’s what they need to do. If they don’t, this console will fail. I said before to friends that the new tech in this console is neat, but Microsoft, neat is not enough anymore.

The Xbox zero: Why the Xbox One may be the wrong choice for blind people

Both major consoles in our next console generation have been revealed, and while we don’t know everything about them, enough information has been confirmed that conclusions can begin to be drawn. There are some worrisome things which I will touch on here, but which aren’t completely clear. If these things are true, though, and some of them are, the blind may need to be wary.

First and foremost, it has been confirmed that the Xbox One requires the Kinect 2 sensor to be hooked up before one can begin playing. It is an integral part of the console this time around. On the surface this doesn’t actually seem like a bad thing. Blind folks do love the kinect’s voice control features, and if we learn the available commands, navigation could be a breeze. However, it still remains true that not everyone has the large space the Kinect requires for its camera, and this could present a couple problems.

I for one, don’t have the 8 feet of space the Kinect wants. This could, for example, result in me accidentally performing some gesture the Kinect recognizes, and the Xbox switching to something crazy without my knowledge, all because I happen to be within range. While we might be able to say “Xbox home” and get out of that situation, it’s a workaround I fear we’d be using far too often.

That is a minor concern, mostly because there is a workaround, but what about this? Consider the implications where games themselves are concerned. Since every Xbox One will come with a Kinect 2, developers can feel confident that everyone will have that technology. I believe this will lead to an increase in the use of the Kinect in games, and believe me, even when developers bring in the Kinect, they don’t have to use every aspect of it. All a developer has to do is start requiring specific gestures for actions in their game, maybe gestures directed at specific parts of the screen, such as grabbing something for instance, not allowing for voice control, and we almost certainly will be barred from playing that game. I could be wrong about the ways in which I suspect developers will use the device, but I can also tell you that most currently existing Kinect games are unplayable by the blind. I think it’s a valid concern.

I know it’s hard to believe, but the thing is, I actually really like the Kinect. I can respect technology even if I can’t take full advantage of it, and yes, voice control is great wen and where it’s allowed. And yet, I have felt ever since it was confirmed that the Kinect being a REQUIREMENT with the Xbox One is a huge mistake, as well as just being bad for the blind folks out there.

Now, the last concern. This is the one that we don’t have full confirmation of just yet, but if this proves true, we won’t be able to play any disc-based gamees at all. It has been confirmed that every disc-based game for the Xbox One has to be installed to the console. Some of us do that anyway with our 360’s, so we’re OK with that. However, one source I read said you would also have to enter a code which came with the game to download a small chunk of data that then registers that game to your console. You must do this before the game can be played at all. Now, if you’re a sighted person reading this, think about that for a second.

These codes, if they exist, are going to be on little printed cards that come in the game box. This means that, in order to play at all, we have to find someone sighted to at least read the code. Entering it isn’t the problem so long as it can be read. Attempting to scan it and perform optical character recognition is one option, but the likelihood of some characters being wrong is quite high, even with today’s technology. Well, nothing against the sighted, but we blind folk tend not to want to be reliant. We want to be able to put in a game, and play it all on our own. ON top of that, some of us live alone, and have nobody in the immediate area to ask anyway. I see this as the biggest potential problem for us.

I am not, by any means, saying this is the final word, and blind people should absolutely not get an Xbox One no matter what. I’m saying that we should be very careful. Watch the updates as they unfold, pay attention to E3, be as informed as yu can be before making that decision. If it turns out I’m wrong abut all this, fantastic. Go for it. However I feel it was worth it to bring all this up, just in case it hadn’t been thought of yet by others seeking to get the console. If things continue on this trend, it will be a major step backward for Xbox, who was the first to give us an accessible marketplace. Time will tell, though, as more information arises. Expect more on this topic in the future.

The Sony Entertainment Network Store: We’ve Come a Long Way

When the Xbox360 and Playstation 3 first made their appearances, there was a huge gap between them if you were a blind person. One that could really separate those who chose to get a PS3 from those who chose the Xbox. On the one hand, the PS3’s interface was easier to navigate, and the audio visual cues you sometimes got when highlighting a game or saved data were a tremendous help. on the other hand, the PS3’s store, from where you could download full games, demos, and downloadable content to add to the experience of a game, was absolutely inaccessible to those who could not see it. The very first PSN store was actually a web interface that you used the thumbstick to slide a cursor around. That was no good. Then they updated it to a more gamelike interface complete with sound effects for moving between items, but this still wasn’t good enough. We couldn’t rely on menu memorization in an ever-changing environment like the Playstation Store.

When Sony launched their Idea Share program, the blind community became hopeful. Here was Sony asking us, the gamers, to give them ideas moving forward. They said they wanted to know what we wanted, and they’d do their best to implement it. The blind community went insane, went straight to the board, and the outcry began. PSN store! PSN store! We had success there as well once people understood our situation. Some sighted folks actually started agreeing with us, and helping us campaign for this feature. Then, the program sort of died out without any sign that our prayers would be answered. Well, ladies and gents, I’m now convinced that they have been.

It happened in two waves. First, Sony announced they were completely restructuring the PSN store. We figured this would apply to their web site, but, and this is me being perfectly honest here, a lot of us blind people are very jaded nowadays. We tend to doubt we can use something because there are still so many things we can’t. It’s not a good attitude to have, but it’s also a difficult one to get rid of. Anyway, up comes the new web site… and the store is open to us. Using our screenreaders, we can now navigate it via the site, add content to our carts, and complete the purchase. Still, there was one thing missing. We couldn’t put the download into our PS3’s download queue unless we went to the console. We had to memorize our way over to the account management option, and to the giant download list.

This was technically enough, in that I wouldn’t have complained if it hadn’t gone further. The download list was sorted by newest to oldest purchase by default, so what we just bought was always the first item there. This helped, but there was still an occasional issue where content had both the main game file, and the unlock file to download. The purchase from the store didn’t inform us of this, so we had to work that out on our own.

Just today, I have learned that all our troubles are over where that is concerned. Having just grabbed some of the latest Playstation Plus content, I was looking at the order confirmation page, and there I saw a new link. “Download all to PS3 system.” “No way,” I thought. “Like, noooo way!”

Yes way. I clicked on the link, and a few seconds later, the link’s text changed to “in download queue.” I then clicked on that link, and low and behold I was viewing my PS3’s download queue with my screenreader on the web site. I saw that the game was in waiting, as was its Playstation Vita counterpart, which I hadn’t even selected. Hurray for the crossbuy program!

This is truly great news for us blind people. This kind of functionality has been available on the Xbox360 for years now, and we’ve enjoyed it, but it’s wonderful to see this gap finally bridged. Personally, I want blind people to grab themselves up a console because they want to play this game, or that game on that console, not because they live alone without a sighted person willing to help them through the store, and therefore only really have one choice. At last, blind people can choose PS3 and Xbox360, soon to be PS4 and Xbox1, based on content, not interface restrictions. Now the Wii You on the other hand… Well, let us not get into that now, shall we?