Welcome to the hundred and eleventh edition of RPGamer's Currents Column!
It has been a short while since the last update, but not to worry, the column is back in fine form. Some interesting things have been happening around the RPGamer offices lately. For example, we have a new editor-in-chief, Micheal Cunningham, and our esteemed President, Mikel Tidwell, has added a new member to his party, oops, I mean family. Congratulations to both of them, and I wish them the best of luck with their new responsibilities.
In terms of news this week, I want to talk about certain problems with PSN. It has been on my mind recently, especially since I just bought the PSP Go. I also want to spend some time going over the recent fan event that Sony hosted over at Insomniac Studios. It may not be an RPG company, but as a fan of video games in general, it was a pleasure to be welcomed with open arms. Oh, and of course, I will have a quickie to round out the news this week.
Much Needed PSN and PlayStation.com Upgrades I just want everyone to have the smoothest experience possible...
There has been a lot of talk about Sony's PlayStation Network (PSN) recently, mainly thanks to the launch of the PSP Go. Even on last week's RPGCast #102, we discussed and recommended several games available to download on the PSN. It's great to see Sony really step up it's game and populate it's store with a wide variety of on-demand content. Unfortunately, this recent explosion of content has brought to light several flaws. I want to explore a few of the problems, concerns, and minor annoyances surrounding the PlayStation Network, and what Sony could to do fix, upgrade, and streamline the service. After all, when a system like the PSP Go is all digital, the service it hinges on is paramount to its success.
Problem 1: Activation/ Deactivation Conundrums
This is one problem that I see a lot of confusion about. It seems like no one really understands what Sony's policy is when it comes to digital rights management (DRM). With the launch of the PSP Go, it has become even more important to understand how you can use your content. First, let me lay out the basics: Sony's standard policy for games purchased through PSN is to allow them to be played on up to five machines associated with the purchasing account. That includes up to five PSPs and five PS3s. For example, if you bought God of War on PSP, you can play it on your PSP Go, your PSP-3000, and three other devices. Before you can actually play your content on your device of choice, you need to sign onto PSN and activate it. This seems simple enough and most other companies, like iTunes, Netflix, and Xbox, use the same process.
The tricky part comes when you have to deactivate your old hardware. This is where some users are running into problems. Recently, The Consumerist, a blog about empowering consumers and letting them know their rights, posted an article about this problem. The article draws attention to a recent PSP Go buyer who could not use his new PSP Go because he has either returned, sold, or bought too many PSPs and has used up all of his activations. You would think that it would be simple enough to deactivate his PSPs, but unfortunately, under Sony's DRM system, you can't deactivate a system unless you have the device in your hands and the device is in working condition. The only other alternative is to call Sony Customer Service and ask them to deactivate a PS3 or PSP no longer in your possession.
The problem is that most people do not look forward to dealing with Sony Customer Service for deactivations. Often times you have to jump through several hoops, practically beg them, and then, after talking to them for 20 minutes on the phone and if your lucky, your system will be deactivated. This is what I had to deal with recently when my PS3 died, and I had to send it in for repairs. Since I couldn't turn on my PS3, I couldn't deactivate it prior to sending it to Sony. In order to get it deactivated, I had to send Sony Customer Service over 10 emails trying to explain the situation, and even then, they would only deactivate my console after I provided a repair order number for them. I think it goes without saying that it is a very involved process.
For the most part, this really isn't a problem for the majority of PS3 owners who may only go through two systems in their life as a Sony customer. On the other hand, I think this is a bigger problem for PSP owners. With constant revisions and new models of the PSP coming out almost every year, it is not unreasonable to think that several people own or have owned multiple PSPs. Perhaps another reason for owning multiple PSPs is that it is by nature a portable machine and more prone to getting stolen, sold, lost, or broken. If any of those things were to happen, you are out of luck and just lost an activation slot. Like I mentioned above, if you don't have the handheld in your possession, there is nothing you can do on your end and have to beg Sony Customer Service for help.
If the future of the PSP is going to be digital, there has to be an easier way to deal with system activations and deactivations. Users could also be well-informed on how to deactivate their systems before selling or giving them away. So what can Sony do?
Well, right off the bat, I have a really simple solution to keep people informed about the devices tied to their accounts. Services like iTunes or Netflix's allows users to see how many devices or computers they have activated to use content from its services and how many activations they have left. Something as simple as that could help a lot of people and even help Sony in the long run. I know quite a few people who would be dissuaded from game sharing with another person if they knew they only had one PSP or PS3 activation left.
The second solution is more of a long shot, but it is an upgrade that I feel is necessary to the service. When you reach your activation limit on PSN, you are simply told you can't activate the device you are using and to deactivate another device to proceed. Like I said above, tough luck if you no longer have that device. While I understand Sony's hesitations to let consumers activate and deactivate devices, there is one solution that could easily appease consumers and still keep PSN's DRM tight. iTunes has a similar system to PSN where users can only activate 5 computers to play videos or use iPhone/iPod Touch apps and games. When users reach their limit and try to activate more, iTunes gives them the option to remotely deauthorize all of their computers at once. This is great for people who have not been keeping up with what machines they have and haven't been using. Then, after deauthorizing all computers, the user can activate only the machines they want to use. The catch is that you can only perform this action once a year. After that, you are out of luck.
This system for activation and deactivations works great for iTunes and would work great for PSN. Sony still gets to keep their DRM, and as soon as a deactivated machine goes back online for whatever reason, it loses its ability to play that content. It's good for users and companies, and I really can't think of very many instances when anyone would need to deactivate another 5 machines more than once a year. Still, I can guarantee that since Sony is going digital, the activation/deactivation confusion will continue, and Sony Customer Service will continue to deal with calls from users who just want to play games on their new $250 devices.
Problem 2: PlayStation.com/ PSN Services and Features
Another problem with PSN is that it lacks services and features for its online homepage, PlayStation.com. In comparison, Xbox Live is a great service and offers a lot of convenient features to its users. For example, it allows users to log into their Live profiles, add friends, buy content, add content to their Xbox 360's download que, check their achievements, compare their gamerscore with friends, and even send messages to other Xbox users. Of course, gamers who pay $50 dollars a year for a Live Gold account expect a lot for their money. While Sony has promoted PSN as a serious rival to Xbox Live, PSN and PlayStation.com still lack a lot of useful features that Xbox.com has. If Sony were to implement these upgrades, then I would feel that not only is PSN and PlayStation.com a serious rival but also a better value.
First, Sony should implement its own market place on PlayStation.com where users can buy content for their PS3s and PSPs from any computer in the world. Then when they log onto PSN on either device, the content they bought can begin downloading immediately, similar to the Xbox 360. Sony could even have a better service than Xbox by allowing users to set up online wish lists, which could be sorted in a variety of ways, such as by platform, price, or file size. It seems like Sony is making a move in this direction based on comments from Sony PR Representatives and by its recent decision to sell PSN games through Amazon.com. Really, any way that Sony makes buying content easier benefits not only Sony, but also its consumers.
Secondly, Sony could allow users to add friends from PlayStation.com as well. To be fair, Sony did recently upgrade PlayStation.com by giving users detailed information on their trophy collections and allowing them to compare trophies with friends. On the other hand, I still hate that I have to turn on my PS3 and log-in to add a new friend.
Another problem is MediaGo, which is the one program that allows users to buy, download, and store PSN content on a computer. This could also use an upgrade. MediaGo is a useful service, and while it doesn't replace the upgrades I mentioned above, it certainly adds to the PSP buying experience. The only real problem I have with MediaGo is that there is no Mac version. PSP owners who own a Mac but not a PS3 are stuck downloading and buying everything directly through a PSP, which is a painfully slow affair. Sony should try to make all of its consumers as comfortable as possible, especially when it is a program included on a CD in every PSP Go package
The reason that buying everything directly through a PSP is a pain is because Sony does not allow PSP users to download games in the background like on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Unless those users are using their PS3 or Media Go download manager, they will have to wait until the whole game is downloaded until they can do something else. Some games can be quite large like Gran Turismo PSP. So once again, if you are a Mac user, tough luck. Whether or not the PSP hardware is capable of background downloading is something Sony should be looking into for either future firmware updates or future revisions of the PSP hardware.
Finally, I'll end with a Mini problem. The Minis service that launched with the PSP Go has largely received negative criticism from the gaming community. Why are so many people dissatisfied with Minis? It's largely because of the prices of Minis. Minis are basically similar to iPhone games in that they are small, easy to pick up and play. They even have a 100MB file size limit. But why is EA's version of Tetris $9.99 on the Minis store? For that matter, why is a sloppy port of Hero of Sparta $6.99 on Minis and only $4.99 on the iPhone? In all honesty, $9.99 is too much to pay for games that are not allowed to have multiplayer or online connectivity. At this point, users are just better off buying a PSOne classic starting at $6.99 or buying a PSN exclusive with full online features and multiplayer for only a few dollars more. At these prices, Minis are just a joke.
Individually, these are all really minor gripes about PSN, PlayStation.com, and Sony's practices, but after a while they start to add up. I'm sure quite a few people have heard or run into a few of these annoyances. Just last week the activation/deactivation issue came up in a casual conversation with some fellow attendees at the Insomniac Community Day. In addition, problems with MediaGo and buying content for PSP Go is something I run into rather often since I am primarily a Mac user. At the end of the day, I'm glad I spent the time writing this feature. I hear about these complaints constantly from friends, and I am fortunate enough to have a public platform to say "hey, fix this" to Sony. After all, if we don't keep Sony honest, so to speak, who will?
Celebrating all things Insomniac Games Now this is how you make fans feel the love...
On October 23rd, I got the chance to celebrate the launch of Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time at Insomniac's 2nd Community Day Full Moon Festival located at the Burbank Marriott hotel, close to the Insomniac HQ. Not only did I get the chance to meet all the developers, but I also got the chance to play the new Ratchet & Clank game and walk away with some swag. My day started pretty early since I live a few miles away from Burbank. I decided to head out as early as possible because only the first 120 people would be allowed to go inside. I ended up arriving maybe three hours earlier than I needed to, but I was lucky enough to find myself sitting in line next to a lot of Insomniac fans. We easily killed those three hours just chatting about our jobs and what we expected from the day. We all hoped for some pizza and free shirts, but Insomniac went above and beyond.
The event started around 11:30 A.M. and kicked off with a Q & A panel. Insomniac CEO Ted Price was on the panel along with gaming journalist Adam Sessler, David Kaye, the voice actor who plays Clank, and several others on the development staff. We were treated to a few exclusive videos, commercials, and blooper reels. It was great to hear first hand how much work went into the game. After the panel, Insomniac treated us all to lunch. It was during lunch that it was revealed that we would all be walking away with a free copy of Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time. It doesn't have to be said that we were all surprised and elated.
After lunch, we went up to Insomniac Studios for an autograph signing session where they handed out copies of the game and some very nice posters. It was funny watching the Ratchet & Clank team of about forty people slowly working their way through signing the posters and games. They looked like an assembly line at a GM plant. At this point, the Insomniac team had given each one of us a Captain Quark T-shirt, an inflatable version of Ratchet's wrench, a copy of Crack In Time, and autographed posters. I would have been happy to call it a day then and there, but Insomniac had a few more surprises in store for us.
Back in the Burbank Marriott Hotel, the Insomniac team held a raffle and a charity auction. A few of the prizes available in the raffle were some PS3 slims, PSP Gos, and autographed books and comics from the Resistance series. Unfortunately, I wasn't lucky enough to win anything, but I can't really complain considering I got an early copy of the game for free among other things. Besides, it's not like I could take a PS3 on the bus ride home with me. In addition to the raffle there was a really nice charity action for the Starlight Foundation. The Insomniac team rasied over $400 by auctioning off vinyl R & C statues that were only made available to Insomniac employees. It was a nice way to end a great day.
The official PlayStation Blog, posted a video of the event and I embedded it below. I show up in the video a few times, so let me know if you spot me.
All in all, it was a cool event, and it was great meeting such a large variety of video game fans, the Insomniac team, Adam Sessler, and several new friends. I just wish that I would have remembered to bring my camera.
QUICKIES: Some Small, But Inherently Cool News Stories. Bite Sized Tidbits of Knowledge
Netflix comes to PS3
Great news for movie fans! Netflix and Sony are teaming up to bring Netflix streaming to the PlayStation 3 next month. Netflix members will be able to stream movies and TV shows instantly from their PS3 to their TV at no extra charge. Initially, users will need a free Netflix instant streaming Blu-ray disc that uses the PS3 Blu-ray Live functionality to use the service on the device. Late next year, Sony and Netflix will replace the streaming disc with an embedded solution, but in the meantime you will have to use the disc every time you want to stream a movie, but at last Netflix is assuring members that there are plenty of discs to go around. Once members are set up on their PS3, they can not only watch unlimited movies and TV shows, but they can also manage their queues, navigate the Netflix website, rate movies, read synopses, and fast-forward or rewind directly from the PS3. I just discovered the wonders of Netflix recently and have become addicted to the service. There are even some rumors floating around that the Wii is next in line to get some instant streaming love. Having one or two more ways to easily get this content on my TV is definitely a good thing.
To stay up-to-date on Netflix's plans for the PS3, be sure to check its PS3 Streaming home page.
It was a long column this week, and it took me a while to write it and get the articles together, but I feel like Currents deserved a big update this time around. As always I had fun writing it and I hope you had fun reading it.
Oh and this column should be going up the same day that Dragon Age Origins launches. If any of you are playing it let me or the RPGCast podcast know all about your experiences, as we'd love to know about them. Oh, and don't forget to tell us what version you are playing.