The PS3 had its fair share of hiccoughs but Sony is working to rebuild the Playstation brand with its successor.
Evolution is tricky when you’re on top of the food chain. You become something of a lazy giant, resting on your laurels and happily tooth picking the remains of your last victim. But while you’re idly sitting on your throne, the cute little monkeys down below are catching up on Darwin. By the time you realize what they’ve been up to, there’s a BFG9000 aimed at your head. And that, in a contrived metaphor, has been Sony’s PlayStation brand in the last few years.
Kazuo “Kaz” Hirai, seems to have lit a flame under this giant’s arse.
Sony always had a ‘you’re either with us or against us’ approach. This was painfully obvious with the customized hardware that made the PlayStation such a difficult child to develop for and resulted in inferior ports for the PlayStation 3. But the days of slave-riding your developers and warmongering publicity stunts (so popular during the nineties) are over. There’s just too much competition and too many platforms for any company to afford to alienate its developers or users. So while Sony was busy drawing lines in the sand, Microsoft was giving gamers a voice, Nintendo was finding a new audience (the so called ‘casual gamer’) and indie and mobile gaming were on the rise. By the time the PS3 came out, Sony seemed out-of-date and out-of-touch, with no clear gaming strategy beyond hoping their established fan base would simply throw money at them. Luckily, the newly appointed president and CEO of Sony Corporation, Kazuo “Kaz” Hirai, seems to have lit a flame under this giant’s arse.
As Michael Denny, Sony Worldwide Studios vice president, mentioned in an interview for the Official PlayStation Magazine, the recently revealed PS4’s PC-based architecture is “what the development community wanted”. This is Sony letting go of its past and creating a machine that will motivate its developers instead of baffling them with empty promises. No more customized chips with corny names. Sure, severing all technological ties with the past comes at the price of no direct backwards compatibility (a definite no-no for the loyal fan base), but sacrifices have to be made when moving forward and there will always be out-of-the-box solutions (Gaikai, anyone?). And by betting on existing technology, Sony drastically reduces development costs as well (savvy business sense now also included).
This is a popularity contest and Sony seems to be aiming for prom royalty…
But this isn’t just about creating another pretty (and somewhat sluty) machine. This is a popularity contest and Sony seems to be aiming for prom royalty, swooning developers by streamlining its processes and offering up financial incentives to studios. Not only to big, PlayStation sceptic companies like Valve and Blizzard, but, and perhaps more importantly, to indie developers as well. How best to win the public’s support than by siding with the underdogs of gaming? Who wouldn’t pick Rocky over Apollo Creed? And it appears to be more than just smart business. At the Game Developers Conference, Douglas Wilson, developer of the upcoming PS3 exclusive Johann Sebastian Joust, described Sony as “people who really get games, and get developers, and are as passionate as we are.” And this is one voice among many. The press is filled with dozens of creators praising the new and more approachable Sony, one that actively pursues innovative games in direct opposition to Microsoft’s dictatorship. More and more Sony is showing a true understanding and appreciation for gaming and its users, fighting to pull video games from the gimmicky depths they have sunk to.
It’s funny how the tables have turned. Microsoft, once the proud home of the real gamer, is now more concerned with gimmicks than actual games, and Sony, always struggling to find its place, is slowly reaching for the hardcore gaming throne that once belonged to Microsoft. The recent PS4 reveal was never about introducing a new and shiny box. It was about attitude. A public relations stunt, to distance Sony from the slow, obstinate beast, born of the radioactive fallout of the Nintendo/Sega wars of the nineties. This is a new and focused Sony. A company finally willing to let go of past glories and look towards the future.
Image: AZAdam via Flickr