Sony Hands You A Business Card
Every now and then, I have thoughts about things, but I’m not entirely sure how to explain them. These thoughts seem to be gut reactions, feelings, or “hunches” (if you’re a fan of Scooby Doo-style explanations). This post falls into that category, but I’ll do my best to explain what I think of when I think about how Sony handles it’s PlayStation division in regards to their players.
Apples And Oxen
Although it’ll rattle some corner of the Internet, I must use the PS3’s arch-nemesis, the Xbox 360, as a foil to what Sony does wrong. Mind you, I’m not partisan: I own both systems, and I use both systems. But I don’t think both systems are equal from an ecosystem perspective. I’m not talking hardware; I’m talking about philosophical differences in how the devices and the people behind them treat you, the gamer. This is not an “Xbox is awesome! PS3 sucks!” post. So un-bunch if you have already bunched, please.
Farmers Market Versus Inconvenience Stores
Microsoft wants you to buy their stuff. They’re a business; it’s what businesses do. In fact, the whole business plan for pretty much any business should be summed up by your neighborhood “convenience store”, so named because they make buying the things you need easy. If you hear about a demo or a new XBLA release, you can log into Xbox.com and read about it, view video and see images, and maybe add the item to your download queue so when you get home, you can power up the Xbox and it will automatically download for you.
Sony, on the other hand, has no way to view their marketplace unless you’re on a Sony device (PS3 or Vita). Normally you’d go to http://www.us.playstation.com and click on the PlayStation Network item on the sidebar, and then choose PlayStation Store and expect to be taken to…the PlayStation Store, right? Sadly, this only takes you to a PR page which explains what the PSS offers, and although it does offer you a tutorial video on how to access the PSS, it shows you how to do that on the PS3 only.
Show, Don’t Tell
A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Sony apparently has more literature majors on it’s marketplace staff than it does artists, because once you do get into the marketplace, it’s rather difficult to visualize the product they’re asking you to buy. Not every item on the market has screen shots, and even fewer have video. Instead, there’s a wall of text that they politely ask you to read, followed by a landslide of legal disclaimers that would make King John sigh with fatigue. If you don’t know what you’re looking at before you go into the description, or don’t have a way to look up the information on the item through a third party solution (tablet, PC, smartphone, etc), you’re spitting into the wind. Considering the raft of “WTF?” that the PlayStation platform has always enjoyed here in the West, which includes Western games plus a whole lot of imports from the Homeland of Japan, only the dedicated PS fans are going to recognize the majority of these items without a little visual assistance.
Click OK If You Want To Click OK
I’ve complained about the PS3’s XMB (Cross Media Bar) UI in the past, and I still stick by my distaste for it. I’ve come to accept it as my PS3 usage has increased over time, but I still think that it’s far from being an optimal experience.
The thing that I find the most bothersome most of the time is how often I’m confirming things. On a PC, or even the Xbox, I’m asked to click on something to initiate the download. On the PC, if I say OK, it downloads. On the Xbox, I have to confirm the cost of the item against the amount of points I have (or not, if it’s free) and click Purchase (or whatever the button is), and then it downloads. Silently.
On the PS3, I have to click Download on the market page (sans images or video), then I need to view my cart. Then I have the option to download individual items, or the entire cart. Then I have to confirm that I confirmed the download. Then it queues. Then I have to click Go Back to confirm that I’ve seen the download progress indicator. Now I’m back at the cart. Now what? Where am I? How did I get here and where do I go now? It feels like an awkward conversation where both parties have run out of things to say, and end up standing there, staring at each other, both unsure if it’s OK to break away for a more comfortable venue.
The same goes for saving games, most of which require you to acknowledge the acknowledgement that your game has been saved. The PS3 has a Cell Processor, supposedly a very powerful bit of computing hardware. I trust that when I tell it to save, it’s saving. I’m not your mommy, PS3; I know you can do it on your own.
Sony Is Seen, But Not Heard
There is probably something that a lot of people don’t even think about, but which I think is pretty important, especially if we’re talking about PR or customer interaction, and that’s spokespeople.
If you know anything about Xbox, you know (of) Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb. He’s got his own Xbox-centric website. The dude is everywhere Xbox is. He’s like (pardon the sacrilege, and loaded comparison) John the Baptist to the Xbox’s Jesus, going ahead of the main event to spread the word. If you see Major Nelson, you know that there’s some kind of Xbox deluge to follow. And he seems to be a nice guy, too. We went to the Xbox presentation in Cambridge during PAX East a few years ago, and he was very personable. He was also out and about on the PAX East floor, doing “his thing”, which is to be the Face Of Xbox and interacting with the fans.
Sony has The Kevin Butler. Man, I love The Kevin Butler. I don’t think there’s anything that he’s been in that hasn’t caused me to laugh out loud – the real kind, not the Internet shorthand kind. He’s a great pitchman, and I think Sony really scored in the The Kevin Butler presentation. But…The Kevin Butler doesn’t really tell me anything about the PS brand on a day to day basis. I check his Twitter stream next to Major Nelson’s, and it’s clear that Major Nelson is far more informative then The Kevin Butler. I appreciate The Kevin Butler’s humor, which is always on, but I don’t see him as really a “face” of PlayStation. He’s more like a “mask”, which is fine for ads and branding purposes, but not for connecting with the community.
The Neighbor And The Businessman
These are just some examples off the top of my head that I’ve been collecting over time when I encounter something that makes me think that Sony really dropped the ball in connecting with people. Their market is only friendly if you obsess over every single game release anywhere in the world and know it on the weight of the title alone. They try to drive people to use their hardware and only their hardware on their terms, which makes it far less-than-easy for people to actually use their market. Sony doesn’t even have a real, feet-on-the-ground community person in The Kevin Butler, who they use as the brand’s spokesperson and elected cheerleader.
Whether you like the people you play with or against on either the Xbox or the PS3, I think that Microsoft has a much more advanced customer interaction apparatus in place than Sony does, by miles. To me, walking into the Xbox ecosystem is like chatting with a neighbor, having a beer, talking about lawn care or football or other neighbors. Sony, by contrast, is like walking into a business meeting. There may be a little small talk, but the most exciting thing you can hope to get out of it is a long contract, a handshake, and a business card.
I think that anything Sony does at this point to move towards a better link with their community would be head and shoulders above what they have in place right now. I’d even jump for joy if they wholesale-stole Microsoft’s playbook. They need to move away from being the stereotypical cold Japanese “all business, all the time” design and realize that their PlayStation division is selling video games, not cancer treatments.