Tag Archives: PlayStation Network

More Of the PlayStation Experience Is Happening Outside the PlayStation

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So I own a PS4 now. I finally accepted that it had enough exclusives both already on store shelves and upcoming that you can’t get on PC, for me to justify buying one. As soon as I got into the startup process of downloading updates and bringing in my PlayStation Network profile I started to notice something interesting: I immediately began using less and less of PlayStation’s social and connectivity functionality on the console itself. I don’t know if that’s good or bad for the console and PSN. Continue reading

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Was Bundling The Best Way To Distribute Demos?

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In the past few weeks a couple of high-profile demos have appeared for DOOM and the remake of System Shock. This is understandably getting some people nostalgic about game demos and contemplating their almost total disappearance from the big publisher scene.

I believe I’ve gone over the business reasons why demos are a lot less common these days. If I haven’t, just watch this video basically explaining that there are few situations where a demo is actually a net positive for sales. I still don’t 100 percent agree with that but it makes a good excuse for publishers.

Kotaku’s Patrick Klepek recently put up an article decrying how rare demos have become these days and in response someone tweeted a June 16th article about what’s happening to demos. The one from a couple weeks ago brings up a point I’d like to talk about: demo discs, or the old way of distributing demos, which when you think about it may have been more effective at advertising some games. Continue reading

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My Endorsement Of Mega Man Legends

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Mega Man Legends has just received probably the closest thing it will ever get to a second chance — a re-release of the original game on the North American PlayStation Store this week. Even today, with all the outpour from fans, it seems like a relatively underrated game, and I’m here to help make the case for it.

I actually wrote the following back in December 2009 and thought I should freshen this old post up a bit:

The reason Mega Man Legends deserves at least a mention alongside my favorite games of all time is simply because it contains pretty much everything I could ask for in a video game.  If you asked me for a vision of my “perfect game,” it would probably just be a more modern version of this game, which is why the sting of Mega Man Legends 3’s cancellation hurts so bad. Continue reading

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Game Patches Should Be Available As Separate Downloads Again

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CDProjekt RED is doing something pretty interesting for the release of The Witcher 3. Like most high-profile releases today it’ll have a day-one patch, but on PC that day one patch will be available as a separate download for everyone regardless of whether they have the game yet (just like The Witcher 2)*. Everyone should start doing this, on both PC and console in fact. It’s basically a regression to how patches used to be distributed, but why not do both the new and old ways? Continue reading

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Further Observations on AAA Game Download Sizes

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If you haven’t seen it, my new feature article finally went up on PC Gamer. I’ve talked about rising file sizes once here before, but this article seems to have gone up at a good time with some new games coming out to raise the issue again. Continue reading

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Is Retail Holding Back Modern Game Development?

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If you look around gaming websites right about now, a hot topic is the prevalence of big AAA games launching with significant problems. One of the more underlooked websites — Gamesindustry.biz, seems to pin the problem almost entirely on retail. I think at the very least we might be headed for a major conflict between the retail model and how video games are made these days, if we aren’t already in one.

PC games have more or less always been like this, but console games have gone through a transition in terms of how they develop and evolve. Before, most console gamers probably thought of each game as sort of like a movie or a book — it has a release date, comes out, and that’s it. That’s thinking of games as essentially pieces of media. Video games today with launch issues, patches, and long-tail communities, are revealing what they really always were — software. And modern software doesn’t neatly fit into a retail-focused model. Continue reading

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The Likelihood Of PS1/PS2 Disc Emulation On PS4

Eurogamer’s report about the possibility of Sony using emulation to get PS1 and PS2 games playable on the PS4 as opposed to PlayStation Now has got people giddy. Sony selling the games on PSN would be a given if this turns out to be true, but the discussion of Sony allowing old discs on the PS4 has quickly cropped up, and I actually think there’s a good chance of it happening.

All things considered, Sony has little reason not to do it both business-wise and technology-wise. You just have to understand how this kind of emulation works.

If you don’t know, emulation is basically how Sony has sold PS1 and PS2 games on PSN for the PS3 thus far — you download classics that run locally on your console. Those classics are essentially ISOs — the exact same data that’s on your old discs, dropped into emulation. If this happens on PS4 there’s almost no reason to doubt Sony would just let you transfer your previous purchases — they’ve already set that precedent with PSOne games the Vita. As opposed to streaming, downloading and locally emulating old games might also cause less strain on PlayStation Now’s servers. Lastly, getting fully stable PS2 emulation working on PS4 would allow Sony to toss PS2 games onto PSN much more easily and frequently, since they wouldn’t have to tweak the emulation for each game like they do now on PS3.

Logically it’s easy to assume Sony would just lock this down to digital, forcing people to buy the games on PSN, but is there really much to be lost by allowing the emulators to run discs? That’s already exactly how PS1 compatibility works on the PS3. PS3s can even run PS2 discs when hacked to unlock the emulator, though that PS2 emulator is unstable because the PS3 doesn’t quite have the horsepower to flawlessly emulate PS2.

First of all, assuming the emulation is fully stable, it would probably require more effort on Sony’s part to lock out discs than to allow them. Then you’ve got the business factors. Selling the old games on PSN would be in competition with people’s existing collections as well as the market for physical classic games, but is that market really a big deal at all?

GameStop has already begun to phase out the selling of used PS2 games, and nobody else sells them but eBay, Amazon, and your odd retro and import store. Even where these places do exist, Sony has already shown the ability to price its digital classics very competitively. Final Fantasy VII became one of the top-selling games on PSN despite the PS3 being able to run the original PS1 disc, most likely because those discs went for $70 a few years ago and are still around $20 today as opposed to the $10 for the PSN version. For PS2 Classics Sony has focused specifically on rare games that are expensive at retail, releasing digital versions for a quarter of the price or less. And what percentage of PS4 owners still have a PS2 and PS2 games laying around? Not many I imagine. It doesn’t make sense to lock out that minority of players who might actually buy a PS4 if they find out they can run their PS2 discs on it.

Lastly, even Sony probably knows it can never release every PS2 game ever made that’s worth playing on PSN. There are simply too many, and that’s not even taking licensing restrictions into account. For many of those games the original physical copies will probably remain the only available versions for the foreseeable future.

Sony had basically nothing to fear from people being able to run PS1 discs on the PS3, and has little to fear from people running PS1 and PS2 discs on the PS4. At the same time, I think Sony can only really gain from making the PS4 compatible with possibly the most valuable library of any game console ever. The only reason I could see for Sony not allowing PS2 discs (assuming any of Eurogamer’s report is true) is if its PS2 emulation still isn’t tight enough. Really, the only reason Sony is even choosing to stream PS3 games through PlayStation Now is likely because they can’t emulate PS3 (no one can as of yet).

BULLETS:

  • And then there’s the part about this emulation possibly running the classics in native 1080p. That’s certainly possible, but would likely happen on a game-to-game basis. PC emulators for PS1, PS2, Gamecube, and Wii can already do this but with spotty results for many games, so I imagine Sony would only allow this for select titles. What’s attractive about it is that it isn’t like the HD remasters we’re seeing now, where a whole studio ports and old game to a newer console. With HD emulation, Sony could just literally drop the original ISO into the emulator and let it do the work automatically, only perhaps tweaking the emulator to fix errors with specific games. It can even work with the original discs. This is what Dragon Quest VIII looks like on PC emulation: http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5536/11258388293_00d816bb71_o.jpg
  • Alpha 15 of Sky Rogue is out. http://t.co/dV0wTAqtS1
  • Oniken, a game I highlighted previously on this blog, hits Steam on Wednesday. I think it’ll be $5.
  • We have a new champion of screenshot art for Dark Souls. http://t.co/LM275yG3Fx
  • Castle Vidcons: Comic #127- In Every Rumor. http://t.co/UEFHTo4Mem
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What’s The Real Problem of Digital Software Discoverability?

In the midst of Christmas week there are game sales everywhere. Looking all over Steam, Amazon, Good Old Games, the Apple App store, and more for deals has reminded me of recurring discussions on a problem that seems to affect all digital game stores — discoverability. It seems indie developers have complained at one point or another about discoverability on PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, Steam, and particularly iOS.

Games and deals are probably fighting for visibility right now. I feel like Apple is at least trying to fight the problem, one way being the “apps of the year” kind of thing it does during the holidays. I’m glad Ridiculous Fishing got iPhone game of the year so Vlambeer can get some much deserved sales.

The much-lauded Steam isn’t immune to this either. As its Greenlight pipeline has allowed a wider range of indies to show up on the storefront, developers have complained that it has become a popularity contest and so many games are coming out they fight harder for attention. I think more than 50 games have come out on Steam in the last month or something. That’s a pretty short amount of time on the front page for each game.

In the world of traditional games Microsoft might have gotten the worst of it. Discoverability seems to have been highlighted as a problem since the inception of the Xbox Live Marketplace. When Microsoft introduced the new Metro interface on the Xbox 360 indies complained it took too many button presses to reach the indie games section, putting it in danger of being ignored. We’ll see how Microsoft acts when the digital library on Xbox One starts to build itself.

The companies that control these storefronts have tried all kinds of curation solutions, but I’m wondering if it’s even possible for the amounts of content we’re seeing to even be properly curated on one store. Maybe centralization is what the problem is here.

Valve has talked about further and further decentralizing Steam to the point where it’s basically just an API a developer puts into their game to sell wherever they want. I see Steam’s widgets as an early move towards this kind of thing — the ability to put a “buy on Steam” icon for a game anywhere on the web with some code. Valve is probably in the best position to do something like this because Steam isn’t really a platform, it’s a store within the PC gaming platform, but it has become dominant in that platform to the point where people don’t care nearly as much about Origin, UPlay, GamersGate, GameFly Digital, or GameStop’s PC section. PC gaming shouldn’t really be having the centralization problem, but it seems like Steam is going to try to decentralize itself to alleviate the problem.

On closed-box platforms like iOS and consoles though, this would require a re-working of how the companies that run them sell digital software.

I think the problem with discoverability on iOS is that you have, essentially, a single storefront to represent the totality of software for that entire platform. On Mac OS you have the Mac App Store sure, but that came after the open market of Mac software. Android has the Google play store, but also has its own open market. No matter what Apple or developers try to do, one storefront might be too narrow a channel for the amount of content that’s released on iOS.

Look at it from the perspective of media. There was never one store trying to sell all DVDs or Blu-Rays or CDs. Maybe there shouldn’t be one store trying to sell all iOS software or PSN games or XBL games.

Sony has just opened the Amazon PlayStation Store (Amazon also has its own Android store), and I think that could be a step in the right direction. Not only does it offer price variance, but each game has the chance to be discovered not only on the PlayStation Store but also Amazon. Sony should expand from this. There should be a GameStop PlayStation Store, a Wal-Mart PlayStation Store, and so-on. Nintendo mentioned doing something similar with eShop codes too, and I don’t see why Microsoft shouldn’t follow suit.

I think the fact that you see decentralized advertising is kind of an admission of the problem of centralization in digital storefronts. Valve encourages developers who enter Steam Greenlight to advertise that Greenlight campaign all over the place, not just in the Greenlight section of Steam. Most of the time when I discover iOS software it’s from some website with an iOS link. Strangely I see few PSN or XBL links. In the case of PSN it was a long while before you could even buy games outside logging into the store on Sony’s actual hardware.

Centralizing digital storefronts likely came out of a desire for platform holders to keep out middlemen and keep more profits for themselves. Maybe, just maybe, the people who make and sell that software need middlemen to make it visible.

BULLETS:

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Can You Call Crytek Indie? Probably

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Microsoft finally released some information on where Xbox One is going with indie games — a list of developers who will be self-publishing Xbox One games starting early next year. Some people are a bit miffed at the list’s inclusion of Crytek — a company with hundreds of employees responsible for several AAA games. GameSpot even just had a whole roundtable on what you can really call the company. I think Crytek defies this whole “indie” description because the kind of studio it is has become a lot less common on consoles since a time before Crytek was prominent.

Before the current console generation, a company like Crytek probably would have been called “independent,” because it isn’t owned by any larger publisher but must seek those companies to publish its games. Crytek may be capable of building full-scale $60 games, but it still lacks the ability to publish those games at retail, having to sign with EA to release the Crysis games and Ubisoft to release the original Far Cry. This is what developers like BioWare and Pandemic were before publishers like EA bought them out. Large independent developers used to be fairly common before so many either died, got bought out, or both. Similar developers today include Insomniac, Platinum Games, and CDProjekt.

What’s important to note here is what “indie” actually entails. I’ve started to think it doesn’t actually make a lot of sense to call an entire company in and of itself “indie,” but rather to refer to games as having been released independently. That is, without going through a publisher. That doesn’t really set any rules regarding how big the game’s budget is or how many employees the developer has.

I think that also brings up a peculiarity of how many digital games were handled on Xbox 360 and PS3. A lot of Xbox Live Arcade games had to go through Microsoft as a publisher which, in a way, defeated the point of being indie. Even if some those games were from two-man teams they still had to go through a publisher to actually get released — hoops similar to what larger developers go through. Many of the PSN games that Sony published are the same.

This is what’s so different about the advent of self-publishing on consoles. Essentially, you’ll start to see more games, especially on Xbox One compared to its predecessor, that are truly independently released with no publisher affecting the content. The guy behind that Oddworld remake chastised Microsoft’s original decision to not allow self publishing on Xbox One by basically saying developers didn’t need publishers on digital marketplaces. The whole purpose of a publisher is to print the discs and get them on store shelves (and arguably advertise the game), which you don’t need to do in a digital environment, but Microsoft and often Sony on current-gen consoles were acting like you still do. What we’re about to see on PS4 and Xbox One is quite a bit closer to how developers have been independently releasing games on PC for a long time, even developers with 100-plus employees.

Crytek’s example is Warface (which could very well be the game it’s self publishing on Xbox One). If a developer like Platinum or Insomniac wanted to release a digital-only game on PC or next-gen consoles they would be independently releasing that game because they wouldn’t need to go through publishers, effectively making those games “indie.” Just compare the different dynamics behind how CDProjekt releases the Witcher games.

CDP needed Atari to print the disc versions of the first two games (in North America), but released the digital PC versions independently. CDP has already said it’s going through Warner Bros. for the retail versions of The Witcher 3 but will independently release that game on Steam. Now under GOG CDP of course isn’t indie because that’s its own distribution channel on which other publishers release games, but GOG doesn’t extend everywhere. Let’s just say for instance CDP didn’t care about retail discs for TW3 and went digital-only with the game. It could then self-publish that game everywhere and it would essentially be an indie release, despite having a multi-million dollar budget.

BULLETS:

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What The Amazon PlayStation Store Could Mean

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In case you haven’t heard, one of Sony’s more interesting PlayStation announcements this week is the establishment of the “Amazon PlayStation Network,” which is essentially just you buying digital PlayStation content through Amazon. This could be the start of a game changer for digital distribution of console games.

At face value, the more immediate implication of this is that you’ll be able to buy all PSN content with the convenience of Amazon, which would include Amazon credit.  Most important though is the potential to get Amazon-style sales, and maybe in the future, sales from other online storefronts for PSN content.

Over the past few years there have been a ton of differences between digital distribution on consoles and the way it’s done on PC. The most prevalent remains the price of software which occurs as a byproduct of the openness of the PC market. Since you have many retailers selling digital PC content as opposed to a console manufacturer controlling the only digital store on a console, price competition ensues in the form of sales. Amazon has been particularly aggressive on this front, so much so that I’ve heard people say it beats Steam during the holidays in terms of sales these days. Now imagine if Amazon had the freedom to market its newly acquired PSN codes as aggressively. PSN games could be sold at sale prices never before seen.

It only gets better if Sony allows more and more online storefronts to sell PSN codes. They need to let there be a GameStop PlayStation Store, a Greenman Gaming PlayStation Store, a Humble PlayStation Store, a Wal-Mart PlayStation Store, a BestBuy.com PlayStation Store, and so-on. The more stores do this, the more price competition ensues. Technically, Steam is already doing the same thing by letting other stores sell Steam keys for games.

A lot of the people buying PC games on Amazon or GMG confess they wouldn’t even be doing it if they couldn’t buy Steam keys. Valve doesn’t even get any money when you buy those keys from Amazon (I imagine Valve sells the keys “wholesale” to other retailers and I imagine Sony is doing the same with Amazon), but recognizes more people will be exposed to Steam if they can encounter and buy Steam content at more places. I imagine Sony is starting to realize this.

In an earlier post I said it’s in Sony’s and Microsoft’s best interest to encourage console gamers to buy digital. One way to do this is to let them buy digital at more places than just PSN and Xbox Live, which would likely expose more people to those services. PSN and XBL would no longer be a thing you have to actively look for on a console in order to be aware of.  I think Nintendo stated its intention to do this some time ago with eShop codes, though I haven’t seen evidence of it yet.

To go even further, Sony should allow indies to directly sell PSN keys for their games. It’s becoming increasingly common for an indie developer to include a Steam key when you buy their game from their official website (you can even pay for that through Amazon). Now imagine if they threw a PSN key into the mix.

Lastly, I think it would be neat if Sony allowed the Amazon PlayStation Store to be accessed directly on the PS4 (and Vita) through a native app. The same goes for other retailers that get PSN keys. You’d think Sony would be worried about that competition cutting in on PSN Sales, but Sony already makes that kind of competition available for buying movies and TV shows. On your PS3 you already have the choice of buying video content either through PSN or through Amazon Instant, VUDU, CinemaNow, and other services. The aforementioned proposal would simply be the same thing but for games.

By the way, everything I’m talking about here should apply to Microsoft and Nintendo too. All console manufacturers should be doing this in order to make their closed boxes feel as open as possible.

Now I don’t think this will lead to Steam-style sales immediately or even long-term, but it could certainly increase the variance in price for digital console games. As of the launch of next-gen PSN and XBL, I think Sony and Microsoft have actually gotten their digital services about as close to Steam as a closed hardware platform can get. They just need to realize that a big reason people might buy digital is more sensible pricing. That’s something sorely needed before console digital distribution is ever taken seriously.

BULLETS:

  • To people with their PS4s pre-ordered, you can download that 1.5 update right now on a USB stick and not worry about having to do it on launch day: http://t.co/5Uf2cuQafK
  • What’s really interesting about the PS4 is that as soon as you get one, you’ll pretty much be able to immediately start playing some free games, whether they be from the PlayStation + trial or free-to-play games. For a while you could conceivably buy a PS4 and enjoy it without actually buying games.
  • Rock Paper Shotgun reviews the PC. http://t.co/Cgn0vYCpu2
  • Smooth McGroove finally gets down to one of the most iconic 16-bit themes. flip.it/MW08C
  • The Wolf Among Us rap. http://t.co/iCTFQBwuYl
  • Apparently, Akira is available on iTunes in HD now for $3, but it’s categorized under TV shows. https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/akira/id727850145
  • Man, Mirror’s Edge came out five years ago.
  • We finally know the origins of the Ice Cap Zone theme. http://t.co/2ZxfkHfOfY
  • AMD’s version of The Witcher 3’s next-gen wolf? http://t.co/ZRXTZeBSMZ
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