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The Bigger Picture: PlayStation 3

  • Console Gaming
  • Playstation
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  • Sony
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Last response: in Video Games
August 8, 2005 12:38:03 AM

Archived from groups:,,,, (More info?) Bigger Picture: PlayStation 3by Owain BennallackIn a series of three must-read articles, Develop editor Owain Bennallack(pictured) offers his views on the forthcoming hardware platforms. Today;how PlayStation 3 is a move towards 'HouseStation'.Bad companies do what they do badly, and flounder as they chasealternatives. Good companies stick to what they do well. But really greatcompanies can transform themselves whenever they spot bigger opportunitieselsewhere. It's a transition few make successfully. Sony is one suchcompany.Having only entered the console selling business in 1994, by 2004 Sony hadsold 100 million of its first PlayStation (and its second was already wellon its way to repeating the achievement). Sony got involved in games when itdesigned a CD-ROM device for Nintendo. Instead of delivering that, Sonyultimately pursued a greater prize - owning a hardware format, anddeveloping, publishing and licensing others to publish games for itsmachine. The answer to: "Would Sony have made more money constructing CDdevices for others or launching PlayStation?" is clearly obvious. Thatdoesn't mean it was easy, or that success looked certain at the time.Sony's most recent financial results - revealing a second quarterly loss ina row - are a reminder of how important this transformation is. Sony blamesfalling profits on its struggling consumer electronics business. Apple'ssuccess with the iPod has highlighted Sony Electronics' failure to innovatein this area recently. More problematic in the long-term is that high-endtelevisions and similar consumer appliances are becoming a commodity. Withnumerous manufacturers now making capable devices, shoppers find a Sonybadge ever more luxury, as opposed to necessity.While it restructures its electronics business and continues to buildinteractive entertainment hardware - even co-designing the Cell processor inPlayStation 3 - Sony looks ever more intent on becoming a content company.The process has been underway for years: over two decades, it has built upSony Pictures, Sony BMG Music, and most recently Sony ComputerEntertainment. Together they create the movies, sounds and games Sony hopeswe'll buy its electronics hardware for.Content companyOf course, the anomalous entry is Sony Computer Entertainment. While Sonycan still be relied upon to produce gorgeous destinations for content, SonyPictures' movies can be viewed on any TV screen, Sony BMG Music's albumsheard on any hi-fi. Sony Computer Entertainment's games can naturally onlybe played on PlayStation.Would Sony's transformation into a content company see it similarlytranscending the PlayStation to publish on all formats? That is unlikely inthe extreme, at least in the medium term. Far more probable is that Sony hasacquired from PlayStation a taste for controlling access and distribution.Sony Computer Entertainment, in fact, shows how Sony may continue totransform its business.The PlayStation 3 launch at E3 heavily pitched the idea of networkedcontent, with multiple media streams arriving from all directions. Localnodes would be devices that help consumers direct, capture, manipulate, andpass on the data. Movies? Music? This year or the next, all digital contentis going online: most of us will not buy DVDs in a decade, let alone CDs.What will be the local node - the home entertainment content deliveryplatform? A PVR? A souped-up TV? A PC? A PlayStation? Perhaps all of theabove, or none. Naturally, the inference at E3 was that it would bePlayStation 3 (or 4 or 5). Whoever provides the platform for consumersnavigating this wired world will 'own the living room', in the industryjargon.

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August 8, 2005 12:39:33 AM

Archived from groups:,,,, (More info?)


The specific platform may not be a hardware device at all. Interestingly, a
very senior Sony person told me last year that in the very long-term, he
imagined PlayStation potentially being a gatekeeper, a brand - or even a
channel - rather than a particular games console that followed 5-10 year
console cycles. Obviously, hardware would be involved to host the games (and
movies and music), but it might be something automatically upgraded each
year, like the service you get from a cable company. Or it could run on any
box: analogous to the operator versus handset manufacturer split we see in
wireless phones today.

In this light, it's very clear why both Microsoft and Sony are fighting to
own the platform, be it a device, a channel, or 'the server under the
stairs'. Sony won't willingly be reduced to a provider of, effectively, dumb
terminals hooked up to a Microsoft box. Equally, Microsoft can't let the PC
be supplanted by a TV/DVD/console hybrid that does everything you'd have
wanted a PC to do.

This contest began with PlayStation 2 and Xbox, but only the more mundane
elements of the 'big vision' were satisfied. People used their games
machines as DVD players, but that aside there was little that took
PlayStation 2 as an entertainment hub beyond games. Equally, Microsoft has
struggled to get past Xbox's PC-for-gamers image, although Xbox Live has
achieved more progress towards creating that vital channel for the
downloading of content (an area where Xbox 360 still seems to have the

More opponents

PlayStation 3 must be foremost a games machine with sufficiently excellent
titles to see of its rivals. But beyond that, Sony will want to extend its
reach. All those audio-visual multimedia capabilities in the PS3 spec sheet
aren't there just for gamers - they're for home cinema buffs too. And the
Ethernet port isn't just for head-to-head Burnout 4, it's for downloading at
the least more cars, probably new music to drive to, possibly Burnout 5 -
and just maybe Spider-Man 3, the movie.

Assuming it pulls it off, Sony's latest transition will still take at least
another decade to fully achieve; PlayStation 4 will likely arrive before a
'HouseStation' that does it all. And Sony's opponents number more than
Microsoft. Push the vision above hard enough, and what you get is a media
company, where competitors would be the likes of Time Warner and News
International. How Sony and Microsoft use their proprietary platform
advantages - and when and if they break with the established models - will
be critical to their ultimate success. New partnerships and alliances will
be as important as escaping the past.

Regardless, enjoy the games on PlayStation 3. Rarely does mega-corporate
strategy result in this much fun.