Features, Games

Sony: Play Different

Sony made many mistakes at the outset of this generation, but to bury its contributions during the last seven years under the weight of “$599 US DOLLARS” would be a tremendous waste. From the unprecedented value offered by Playstation Plus to the company’s courting of indie development, Sony has done a 180 since 2006, setting numerous examples their competitors should follow. As we eagerly anticipate the Playstation 4, let’s look at the little and not so little things Sony did right during the Playstation 3′s lifespan.

 

From Self-Publishing to Game of the Year

Even back in 2007 when the Playstation 3 lacked sufficient AAA titles, innovative downloadable games like Everyday Shooter and Pixeljunk Monsters gave Sony fans something to love. Clearly the developers behind these great titles had good experiences working with Sony. Jonathan Mak, the developer behind Everyday Shooter, released his Sound Shapes exclusively for Sony’s platforms, and all seven main releases in the Pixeljunk series have been Sony console exclusives.

In 2009, Sony created the “Pub Fund,” a program where Sony promises to match the development costs and guarantee royalties to promising potential PSN titles in exchange for exclusivity. The first game to receive the Pub Fund treatment was Burn Zombie Burn, and since then the initiative has assisted in the development of numerous high-quality releases, including IndieCade 2012 Finalist Guacamelee!. The Pub Fund debuted three years before Steam Greenlight.

Sony’s embrace of independent developers, smaller studios, art games, and downloadable titles has paid huge dividends, resulting in powerful and experimental titles like Papo & Yo and The Unfinished Swan to name a few. But everything came to a head in 2009 with thatgamecompany’s Journey. The spiritual sequel to Flow and Flower (also Playstation exclusives), Journey took home numerous awards in the categories of Art, Music, and Game of the Year, among others.

Sony hasn’t always been a perfect match for indies, famously dropping the ball with Super Meat Boy, but for the most part developers have been quick to expound upon their positive experiences building games for Playstation platforms. This stands in stark contrast to feedback regarding Microsoft, where many developers, Braid creator Jonathan Blow in particular, have been highly critical about self-publishing on Xbox 360.

Sony re-affirmed their commitment to indie development during their announcement of the Playstation 4, bringing Jonathan Blow on stage to show off his next game, The Witness, in the midst of much larger AAA titles.

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Playstation Plus

Unveiled at E3 2010, Playstation Plus has offered incredible value to gamers, and only gotten better over time. The service evolved from offering one or two games for a brief period to twelve games all the time, and then expanded further to offer an additional six games for the Playstation Vita.

Remember GameTap? Playstation Plus is the first successful digital game subscription service. iTunes, Netflix, Steam, and numerous other deals and services have drastically changed the perceived value of media content, making the $60 barrier of entry to playing a game a difficult pill for many to swallow. The price discrepancy between a free iPhone game and a $60 console game makes buying used at Gamestop or getting a Gamefly membership (options that don’t see the developers getting paid), even more appealing. When a game is featured on Playstation Plus, Sony compensates developers and publishers accordingly.

Sony has confirmed Playstation Plus will play a “prominent role” on the Playstation 4.

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Developer Freedom

You may not know it, but keyboard and mouse controls, mods, and Steam are not exclusive to the PC. 2007′s Playstation 3 release of Unreal Tournament 3 gave gamers the option to download mod files and transfer them to the Playstation 3 for in-game use. The process was miserable, but it was also the first time that many console gamers had ever gotten the chance to install mods. Several PS3 titles including Counter Strike: GO, Dust 514, and Unreal Tournament 3 offer the option of keyboard and mouse controls. The Playstation 3 version of 2011′s masterpiece Portal 2 was the first console release to include Steamworks features, allowing among other things, cross-platform play between the Playstation 3 and PC versions of the game.

It’s not just alternate input methods that Sony has shown commendable openness to. Playstation gamers have also enjoyed developer freedom to explore alternate business models. Released for the Playstation 3 in 2011, Free Realms isn’t just a massively multiplayer online game on a console, it’s also free-to-play, both designations that Sony’s competitors have shot down. Free Realms‘ release, along with Sony’s partnership with Blizzard to bring Diablo 3 to the current and next Playstation, may pave the way for Blizzard’s upcoming Titan MMO and World of Warcraft to come to Sony’s platforms. Free Realms isn’t alone in shrugging off any monetary barrier to entry. The upcoming Dust 514 is among several titles on Sony’s platforms that cost gamers nothing.

My favorite recent Sony trend has been the divorce of the single and multiplayer components in several titles. Last year Sony made the multiplayer component of Killzone 3 free-to-play, and followed suit with the single-player campaign of Starhawk (at least for Plus members). Both games were solid, but neither was incredibly successful. Any move to drum up interest in them can only be a good thing. Two weeks ago Naughty Dog announced that the multiplayer portion of their criminally under-selling Uncharted 3 would also be available as a pro bono standalone package.

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Conclusion

HDMI and Wifi from the word go, 3D, blu-ray, Playstation Move, Playstation Eye, bluetooth controllers, versatile media streaming, support for seven controllers at once, remote play, user-upgradeable HDD’s, Wonderbook, Playstation Home, and the Cell processor: Sony has officially thrown the kitchen sink at the wall during this generation. Some of their ideas were vital, some were pointless, and some attacked their press conferences for massive damage, but no one could accuse them of not trying.

After their Playstation Meeting on February 20th, I also wouldn’t accuse them of not learning. Generation seven was Sony’s to lose, and in terms of Western mindshare and American marketshare, they did. But no one ever learned anything from sitting back and watching 100 million Wii Sports machines fly off the shelves. Sony being put on the defensive has been a win for consumers, and a win for the feature set of the Playstation 4.

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Brooklyn-based gaming, tech, and culture journalist. Writer. Photographer. Dog Owner. Root Beer Float Connoisseur. @ShaneOSX on Twitter.

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