How Sony can regain dominance next generation
By: Jeff Rivera
Sony was the clear winner the past two generations with the PS1 and PS2. Both machines were absolute juggernauts, never breaking a sweat against the competition in regards to sales, 3rd party support, and public perception. Coming into the current generation, Sony had enormous momentum, but a string of poor decisions and rampant overconfidence saw Sony's PlayStation 3 get a very slow start to the generation. Nintendo's Wii took off like a wildfire and the Xbox 360 dominated the HD realm while Sony played catch up for years.
Recently, however, Sony has been making better decisions, and a more humble attitude has served them well as they fight to win back gamers who jumped to Microsoft's platform for their superior 3rd party offerings. A lot of damage was done, but recent months have been more positive for the PS3 and Sony and it feels like with a few right moves going into the launch of the PlayStatoin 4 that Sony could rally gamers back to their side once more. Here are five things I think Sony can do to put themselves in the best position to win back the majority next generation.
Keep providing value through PlayStation Plus
PlayStation Plus was a brilliant move by Sony. When it first launched, it wasn't much to write home about, but over time more and more value kept being built into the service. The free games for subscribers has been a big hit, and PS3 and Vita owners have benefited greatly by subscribing. If Sony can keep improving the service, it's going to make Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold pricing look more and more like a gouging.
In addition to building value to the service, Sony needs to make sure that everybody that picks up a PS4 gets exposed to it from day one. Don't include any silly voucher that can easily be missed. Make sure that when a new owner sets up their PS4 that it automatically gives them a free trial of PS Plus for a month and tells them what that means.
Get the online experience up to par with Xbox Live Gold
This is obviously much easier said than done, but few people will argue against the idea that idea that online play is smoother, easier, and just flat out better via Xbox Live than it is through PSN. Yes, PSN is free, but it lacks many of the features that Xbox Live Gold provides.
From day one, every PS4 should have a headset in the box, there should be cross-game chat/invites, party chat, and improved interactivity between the gamer and people on their friends list. Not having these services implemented as well as Microsoft did caused most people to choose to play games online on the 360 over the PS3. As multiplayer modes became more popular during the generation, the difference in online play features became more and more important.
Don't settle for imitating the competition
Sixaxis was obviously a reactionary move to Nintendo's Wii Remote, but it didn't quite catch on all that well. In order to continue trying to capture a bit of the motion control fever, Sony developed the Move. While the Move worked well, it was rejected by the Sony fanbase and it became more of a distraction to the PS3 than it was a help. This happens whenever ideas are shoehorned into a product rather than playing to planned strengths.
Sony needs to find something to innovate and bring to the table with the PlayStation 4, but it can't be a "me too" situation. Rumors abound that Sony may include an LCD screen on their controller, and I view this as a mistake. Nintendo build the Wii U around the idea of a second screen in the player's hands, it's too late for Sony to go that direction. Sony won the PS1 and PS2 generations because they were a leader, not a follower. Sony needs to show that confidence once again.
Keep up the strong first party support
If you compare Sony's efforts against Microsoft's efforts for first party development, Sony crushes Microsoft. Over the generation Microsoft has pared back their efforts while Sony has remained committed to continued internal development. With the PS4 and next Xbox being more similar architecturally, 3rd parties will provide versions of games that will be more similar, so first party games will be one of the main ways to separate the two consoles. Microsoft has done well securing better third party support this generation, but everything resets with the new consoles, and that may not be such a lopsided race next go around.
Ditch the Xross Media Bar and improve the update process
Sony's firmware updates have been the butt of many jokes this generation, and it's for good reason. There are far too many updates, they take too long, and they don't seem to evolve the operating system much at all. The Xross Media Bar is good for some settings, but for a gaming console with broad media capabilities, it's like a pair of handcuffs. Sony needs to redesign the interface and bring a more intuitive and attractive dashboard to the PS4.
If Sony sticks with the XMB, it's not the end of the world, but it does need to evolve greatly. I feel that this is most likely what Sony will do, seeing how they dropped XMB for the Vita and the result is very appealing.
Sony had a bad start to the generation, but they have a lot to be optimistic about going into the next. If they can achieve parity on 3rd party offerings and clean up some of their more glaring mistakes, I don't see any reason why Sony can't make a strong case for the most attractive and well rounded offering. Those who weren't around for the PS1 and PS2 generations can easily forget how strong of a hold Sony once had on the industry, and with a few course corrections, they can get there once again.