Why Live Is On Top, What Sony And Nintendo Can Do About It

There might be a lot of reasons why the Xbox 360 is considered the standard in console gaming today, but the biggest one can probably be summed up in one word: Live. Everything about Xbox Live shows why Microsoft is ahead this generation (outside of raw hardware sales), but I think the reasons why their competitors can’t keep up should inform what they try to do for the next round of consoles.

Despite the 360’s lack of exclusives recently, people still mostly buy multiplatform games on the 360 because they’re already plugged into Live: friends, achievements, etc. They already see it as the superior service, which is the most important difference between the game platforms. People like to talk about how Live is an overall smoother experience compared to PlayStation Network and Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and how it still has the most features on consoles. I feel like a lot of people miss precisely why that is and why no one else can really do anything about it.

Out of the three main competitors, Microsoft is the only one that’s actually a software company – a company that specializes in operating systems and software services. They were the first ones to get out and innovate this console generation, and they did so in a way playing to their own strengths. Xbox Live just so happened to be a thing that spoke to the growing North American audience of console gamers. That’s why people compare the PS3 and the Wii to the Xbox 360 instead of the other way around – Microsoft established the standards for people’s expectations. Sony and Nintendo can’t keep up because it’s a game they don’t know, and they couldn’t have seen it coming.

I’m sure a big part of the reason why PSN hasn’t finished playing catch-up with Live is because some aspects are affected by the underlying hardware. Cross-game chat is possible in the Xbox 360 because Microsoft set aside certain resources in the console to work underneath games – something Sony can’t add after having released the PS3. I wouldn’t be surprised if earlier hardware planning played into how patches, firmware updates, and other services work between the consoles as well.

Even if Sony sees this and makes the PS4 capable of doing everything Live does now, by then Microsoft will have already moved on with further innovations that Sony won’t be able to foresee. It’s a moving target. The only company that’s been able to keep up, and even surpass Live in a lot of ways is Valve with Steam, and that’s because they’re working on an open platform – the PC.

What I’m trying to say is: Sony will probably never catch up to Microsoft as long as they keep following after them. Nintendo already knows this which is why they aren’t trying to copy Live at all. I think Nintendo has the right idea when they say they want to innovate on their own, it’s just a matter of following through with that.

The PS3 is exemplary of Sony’s strengths – it’s a better media-consumption device than the 360. I use it to watch all my movies and a lot of TV shows (despite all the channels that just popped up on Xbox). If Sony were to introduce something new next gen that Microsoft can’t do, it should have to involve the fact that they distribute movies and music as well as the appliances on which to play them. We know Microsoft is probably planning to integrate Xbox with Windows 8, Sony needs to somehow leverage everything they’ve got on their end: Sony Entertainment Network, Bravia TVs, VAIO, whatever.

Nintendo’s interesting in my opinion: they definitely don’t have the skills regarding online infrastructure, but they know better than most what makes games fun and engaging, especially multiplayer games. They just haven’t really figured out a way to use that knowhow at a platform OS level (other than the control interface). We’ve seen tiny bits of this in things like the 3DS coin system, streetpass, and Mario Kart 7’s community system. They just haven’t done anything big in that area yet. Club Nintendo is probably a better loyalty system than anything Sony or Microsoft has offered. If you ask me I think Nintendo could do something really cool with achievements if they tried.

If they insist that the service Microsoft offers is a necessary standard, then the competitors should probably hire outside companies to help with their online infrastructures. Nintendo has already hinted at doing this. I’m just saying – playing “follow the leader” in markets like this typically doesn’t work out for anyone but the leader.

BULLETS:

  • 1up makes a pretty good point, asking why people even buy games at launch anymore: http://t.co/vdwGUKQI
  • Here’s an old Miyamoto interview from 1991 talking about A Link to the Past. There are some tidbits in it perfectly exemplifying the genius of Nintendo game design: http://t.co/AWMLPXaL
  • Some more information on the success rate of iOS apps: http://t.co/ubWV8lDO
  • But this iOS game looks really cool – a Korean beat-em-up RPG with some of the most stylish UE3 graphics I’ve seen and no virtual analog stick controls.
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