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.

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?