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Monthly Archives: August 2012

After a terribly disappointing E3 conference, it’s great to see Sony back in the swing of things. Gamescom wrapped up a couple of days ago and it’s been revealed that Sony will finally deliver on the promised interplay between the PS3 and the Vita.

Cross-Buy

The biggest news from Sony is that a bunch of the most anticipated games of the later half of the year will be released on both the PS3 and Vita, and that buying the game on one platform means getting it for free on the other. Sony’s calling is Cross-buy, and while it’s not exactly earth shattering, it is what players have been scrambling over ever since the Vita came out.

Because, you know, buying a $400 PS3, a $300 Vita ( plus a $50-$100 memory card), and then paying $100 when you want to play a game on both is a little ridiculous. Maybe Sony will be able to sell some Vitas now that gamers will essentially be getting free games for it.

The announced games that will support cross-buy will be PlayStation All-Stars, Ratchet and Clank Q-Force, and Sly Cooper. Not a big list but Sony promises that cross-buy is here to stay and that more will definitely come.

At the same time, they also showed off some great cross-play between the platforms. During the Little Big Planet demo, the sack dude jumped off the screen, “landed” on the Vita, and was able to be taken away and played on the go. Pretty cool, but I need to see more of it.

Too Little, Too Late?

While many are super excited about this (mostly exiting Vita owners, by the way), I’m a little skeptical. I really want Sony to pull this out. I’ve always been faithful to them, but lately they haven’t given me anything to go on. From killing off backwards compatibility, to killing off key PS3 features, to building lackluster support around the fairly practical Move, to releasing the Vita as basically a Beta product, I’m kinda tired of empty promises and I’m not the only one.

Microsoft has a huge lead and they have proven time and again that they are thinking ahead of Sony. SmartGlass is literally a game changer. Xbox Live has always destroyed the PSN, and although you have to pay for it, at least it works well and doesn’t get hacked. If I want to buy something on the PSN, I don’t use a credit card because I’ve lost faith in Sony’s security.

I don’t know how the public will respond to Sony’s new strategies. Free games are always a good incentive, but is it good enough to resurrect the Vita? I’ll tell you the answer: It will only work if Sony sticks to it and puts out more (much more) cross-buy AND cross-play titles. The fact that Little Big Planet was the only Cross-Play title demonstrated is an ill-omen for me.

New Games

But let’s not end on that terrible note. I still have a PS3 and I’m sure many of you do as well. Well it’s going to get a workout with some of the amazing looking games coming to it soon. First of all, we’ve got some games that really show how much Sony is reaching for the most unique games on the market. New IPs! Which is awesome, of course!

Puppeteer

Puppeteer

This game looks as awesome as it looks dumb. I’m not sure what to really think about this one, other than it’s another LBP-ish platformer but with levels that change as you play them and instead of Sackboy, you’re some kind of deviant that stole scissors from a puppeteer and was turned into a puppet. However, controlling the scissors in a world created by a puppeteer sounds pretty fun. This is one to keep an eye on.

Rain

No it’s not a stepped down version of Heavy Rain. It will be a PSN exclusive, but before you run in fear, watch the damn video. Pretty good huh? It’s another one of those 3rd person adventure/platformer games that have been fairly popular amonst Indie circles, but it seems that the main character can only be seen in the rain. Apparently the main character is some sort of ghost that is chasing after another ghostly girl who always remains out of his reach. Both characters are only visible in the rain, providing an interesting gameplay mechanic to deal with. Overall, it looks to be an interesting adventure title with a great story.

Until Dawn

Another brand new IP for Sony, Until Dawn is not your typical horror game. Ironically enough, it’s actually stylized after teenage horror movies. Here’s the story teaser from the Sony’s reveal to give you an idea:

“One night, eight teenagers, a remote mountain on the anniversary of their friend’s mysterious death … The power’s out, there’s no phone reception and you’re trying to get the blonde cheerleader to notice you. What could possibly go wrong?”

Sounds like a terrible horror movie, but am I the only one interested in seeing this reproduced in a game format? It’s being created by Supermassive Games as a PS3 and Move exclusive, meaning you’ll use your Move controller to point your flashlight, aim and fire weapons, tune radios, solve puzzles, and generally deal with the environment. There will also be 7 different characters to play through, and here’s to hoping that you get to throw the stupid cheerleader to her death.

Check out this fact sheet for some more pics and examples.

The Other Big Games

I’m not going to go into detail about the bigger releases, like Black Ops 2 (for PS3 and Vita apparently), Playstation All Stars, the new Sly Cooper game or the new Ratchet and Clank game, because honestly, they’re going to be good and you don’t really need to know more. You will buy them and love them (if you have a PS3, that is).

Playstation Mobile

Sony also finally released Playstation Mobile, which is to say, they finally opened up their own app store. Basically, it seems more like an advertising scheme between Sony and Android OEMs than a way to bring real games to Android, but it’s nice to see Sony putting it’s gaming muscle into Android, regardless.

Essentially, the Playstation Mobile app will be available to those phones and tablets that are supported, and this app will unlock, according to Sony, a “wide range of portable experiences.” This means it will be a store, where you can buy mini-games that appear to be mostly spin-offs of popular Sony IPs. New titles are slated to be added to mix, with developers such as THQ, Team 17, Action Button Entertainment, Muteki Corp., Viambeer VOF, and Necrosoft. Playstation Mobile will also connect with your PSN ID, which I’m thinking may mean that these mini-games will be cross-buy and cross-play compatible with the PS3 and Vita. I haven’t tried this out, but I’m hoping.

I don’t understand why Sony can’t just add the games to the Play Store, like EA and various other games companies. Well, actually I do understand why. The reasoning is betrayed by the “compatible devices” that Sony showed off. On the day of the conference, Sony pointed to it’s own phones and tablets (duh), as well as Asus’ tablets and, in a bizarre twist, the Wikipad. To sum it all up, HTC announced soon after the the fact that some of it’s devices would soon get the app as well. What does this mean? Well, since Asus’ tablets are shown alongside the Wikipad while Samsung, Motorola, and Acer are ignored, one can only assume that this has everything to do with advertising. Sony’s not looking to cash out from game sales, it’s looking to cash out with profitable contracts with OEMs. Therefore, we can assume that since Sony’s ambition is to get companies on-board, their attention to the store and games themselves will be predictably lackluster.

Keep in mind, this is only my opinion, and it should be taken with a grain of salt. However, since Sony was only forthcoming with the developers who’d signed up, the OEMs that signed up, and not any games that were being developed, it’s clear that Sony was targeting this release at OEMs, not gamers. We’ll see what happens, but I’m skeptical.

Necromancy Is Much Harder Than Moving On

So wraps up another Gamescom. It’s great to see that Sony is finally catching up the promises they made last year, but it’s also disappointing. In a world where technology moves fast, we tend to expect huge developments every time a Sony or Microsoft decides to throw a party. We got a couple of good tidbits, like cross-buy and some great new IPs, but cross-buy should have been released with the Vita. The fact that it wasn’t released then shows how much Sony was hoping to cash in with the Vita. The fact that it is being released a year later shows how desperate Sony is. The Vita doesn’t sell, and therefore, neither do the games. The PS3 is slowing down as well. People are losing faith in both MS’ and Sony’s consoles now that they are heading to the end of their cycles. But at least the Xbox 360 has SmartGlass to look forward to. What to PS3 owners have? More games? An expensive year-old unsuccessful portable console they feel compelled to buy only because they’re getting free games for it? Maybe-sorta-cross-play compatibility? ONE, count them, ONE new game that supports the Move?

It’s great to see things finally coming around for Sony’s consoles, but while Microsoft is moving at the speed of light, Sony is still stuck trying to fix square one. I’ll enjoy the PS3 games. Heck I may even pick up a Vita to try out this cross-play/buy thing. But the fact that everything is coming together a year before you release your next console is a little insulting. Just saying.

Although nothing has been confirmed officially by Microsoft, it seems the rumors are all over the internet painting it as the next closest thing to fact. Microsoft Surface (well at least the ARM version) will come out at $199. Yes, that means that Microsoft’s own home-built de-facto example for how to build a Windows 8 tablet will get thrown in the bargain bin with the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7. Is this necessarily a bad thing? No. But it’s a very odd move for Microsoft to make. But it could be their most important one yet.

War Against the OEMs

Surface’s unveiling was a giant middle finger to it’s OEMs. In my opinion, Surface is Microsoft finally becoming aware of it’s slowly dwindling relevance. The problem with Windows based computers is not Windows itself. Microsoft has screwed up in the past, sure, but never to the detriment of the Windows market. Vista shuttered the industry, but Windows 7 proved that Microsoft still has it. Windows 8 is a mixed bag, but no one can deny that it is a huge gamble for the company. But if it pays off, then it’ll pay off big.

Microsoft gained it’s market dominance in the 90’s by doing exactly what it has done for the last 5-10 years: let the computer builders like HP, Dell, Packard-Bell, Compaq, etc., cut each other’s throats by driving down prices and profit margins. Computers became cheaper than ever before, and they offered a better bang for buck than Apple computers. It didn’t matter if Compaq was gobbled and destroyed by HP. It didn’t matter that Packard-Bell faded into irrelevance. It didn’t matter that Gateway represented the typical rise and fall of most Windows OEMs. What mattered  was that Microsoft sold more PCs than Apple, it sold more software, and it created the powerful legacy that we now know as Windows.

Today, things are ironically quite the opposite. PCs continue to be cheaper than Apple computers. You can definitely get better spec for buck. However, Apple has turned everything on it’s heel by convincing customers to look for build quality. One of the first things I was told to do, when I was thrown in an Apple training facility at the behest of the retailer that I used to work for, was to pick up a MacBook Pro and compare it to any of the PCs we had on the shelf. The difference, we were told, was quality. It wasn’t heavy or bulky. It felt rugged, powerful, and worth something. Whether those titles really belong is up to interpretation, but the fact is, Apple has learned how to finely mold it’s image. Everything from marketing, to packaging, to UI design, to the way it deals with fans, and even to the keynotes given by execs, are all designs around a central design that constantly argues for quality and innovation.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has lost control of it’s image. Think about all the TV ads today that have to have a computer on it. Or the TV shows. Or movies. Unless there is a blatant advertisement (Apple and Sony both control most movie product placement), you will normally see a MacBook Pro. If, on the rare occasion that the advertiser wants to be super-generalized and include a PC-ish laptop, normally the design centers around some sort of circa-early-2000s Dell laptop. You won’t see a Dell XPS, or an HP Envy, or an ASUS U5 series, or a Toshiba Portege. That’s because the image of a Windows computer is based on three things: Cheap, unreliable, and virus ridden.

Now does this terrible image have anything to do with Microsoft? Not really. The problems most people have with computers either comes down to poor programming from some developer, poor driver programming, or faulty hardware. Microsoft does not build computers. But the fact is, Microsoft has let the OEM blood letting go to far. OEMs have now doubled around and wounded Microsoft. If the OEMs go down, they want to take Microsoft down with them. And guess what, if the HP debacle is anything to go by, or Apple’s continued dominance of the tablet scene, or Apple’s rising computer marketshare, PC OEMs are indeed running into trouble.

Screw the OEMs

Surface was Microsoft’s way of trying to regain control from the OEMs. With Surface, Microsoft told OEMs and the rest of the world that they knew that their OEM partners would create nothing but crap. So instead of going the way of Android tablets and allowing the crap to come first before creating their vision (aka the Nexus 7), Microsoft decided to show the world what Windows 8 meant to them. And sure, it’s a beauty. It seems well crafted, great screen, responsive, it has a brilliant fold-out keyboard, and even a kick stand. With Surface, Microsoft told the world what it wanted Windows 8 to be.

The problem is that they are selling Surface. Yes, Microsoft is formally breaking the taboo and making it’s own computers. A Microsoft tablet may very well be selling right next to an ASUS tablet or a Sony tablet, or an Acer tablet. Or not. Acer has already been very vocal about it’s displeasure at this move. They want to boycott Windows.

The whole “pissing off the OEMs” thing seemed a little weird. Aren’t OEMs what make Microsoft? Could Microsoft survive without OEMs? Certainly if there were no OEMs to build Windows-based computers, there wouldn’t be any Windows computers right? Well maybe not.

My original thoughts about Surface was that it was going to be a high-cost but high-end Windows 8 tablet. It would be the primo awesomeness, and it would let the OEMs do the bottom feeding to fight for 2nd place. However, it was conservative enough to allow OEMs to also compete for the “greater than Surface” award. However, that strategy still relies on OEMs to at least pick up some of the competition that would be offered by the Nexus 7 or a potential iPad 7-inch. For that matter, it would also place Surface in direct competition with the iPad. Unfortunately, Google has proven Apple is really hard to beat at it’s own price point when you have an underdeveloped app catalog. Since Windows RT will be ARM-based, it will also suffer from a lack of Windows program support. The only place Windows Surface tablets will get apps is from the Windows store, and there will be approximately 450 apps available on launch. Considering Apple’s iPad touts hundreds of thousands of apps, and Android’s catalogue rising every day, Microsoft has some catch-up to do.

Cue the Rumors

Well, these rumors are throwing a huge wrench into the theorizing. $199? What the hell Microsoft? With that price point, Microsoft has officially decided to tell OEMs to go screw themselves. There is literally no way in hell that an OEM is going to make a Windows 8 tablet that is cheaper than that or as high quality as Surface for the same price point. Maybe HP might decide to make one out of pure glass and charge $500 for it hoping that some poor schmuck will buy it because he thinks more expensive = better. For the time being, OEMs be damned.

Microsoft would also be hard-pressed to ever sell a tablet that wasn’t at a loss, since $199 would officially be the go-to price for any Windows 8 tablet. Certainly, there’s a lot of speculation on this rumor, and even the original source of the rumor notes that it’s “complicated.”  A 10-inch tablet with 32GB of storage and a foldable keyboard is ludicrous at $199, and while the low price could indicate some sort of service-based subsidization, it could also indicate that Ballmer is descending into madness. Currently, Microsoft needs OEMs for it’s laptop and desktop divisions. To piss on OEMs at this point is akin to pissing in the wind.

On the other hand, didn’t the Nexus 7 do the exact same thing? Sure it’s only 7 inches, but it has the best hardware in the industry, the Nexus name, a great hardware partner (ASUS), and the newest version of Android on the market. Ironically, you don’t hear much about OEMs boycotting Google. But then again, nobody could sell an Android tablet before the Nexus. So as OEMs struggled to sell even a few tablets, Google sits back frustrated as it looks at the latest Apple earnings reports. Google could only get it’s OS, it’s app store, and it’s marketplace out to the public by selling a tablet at or below cost.

Google actually has the OEM advantage, but it failed them. By creating the Nexus 7, Google alienated it’s OEMs, but it also finally created the first successful Android tablet.

Let’s consider for a moment that these rumors might be true, somehow. Obviously the justification is to get Windows 8 into the public sphere in (possibly) huge numbers. Obviously that wouldn’t work if Microsoft’s OEMs jumped ship and turned to Android, as Android would be a more secure platform to invest in at that point. But once again, let’s imagine that Microsoft somehow stroked the OEMs into going along with it. Consider that this is actually Windows RT. It’s Metro without Windows. No classic desktop, no legacy programs, although SmartGlass will make it fairly useful for streaming. But for all intents and purposes, Windows 8 RT is tied into Microsoft’s Windows store. So obviously, by giving away Surface, Microsoft would be building a bigger user base. But at the same time, Windows 8 RT is as close to a Microsoft-owned “walled garden” as you can get.