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Sony Euro PS3 debacle risks a major fire storm

Comment Violated fundamental tenet
Sun Feb 25 2007, 10:04
SONY JUST KEEPS digging a hole for itself deeper and deeper with the latest slap in the face to all of itscustomers.

Not satisfied with simply rootkitting its customers, Sony has now changed the specs of the Euro PS3 after customers put their money down. Worse yet, it violated the one fundamental tenet of console development.

What is that? Thou shalt not change the hardware functionality, ever, for any reason. If you are not working in consoles, this might seem like an easy one to trivialise, but it is the single fundamental reason that the console economics work and the one thing software writers base everything on.

One of the main draws of writing a game for a console is that you don't have to test it against 53 different GPUs, seven OSes, each with 11 patches, Microsoft holes and quirks aplenty, and enough combinations to break any sane person. There is one platform, it has one set of features, it comes from one source, there is one neck to strangle, and any bugs that are there on day one will be there on the last day of year five.

If you use a feature to speed up your code, it will not be 'fixed' in rev 17 of the console, anything that works on rev 1 will work on hardware rev 3.2, this is an assurance, and the basic promise behind console work. If anything changes, and software breaks, who gets the tech support calls at $10 per or so to handle? The software companies. This is the same reason Microsoft pawns off support calls to the OEMs, because they are expensive.

It all boils down to this, you write to a spec, that spec will be there to the end. If you write Mario Killers 19 and it hits on console release day, you can be assured that the software will run on the last console that rolls off the line a decade later. You also bank your economics on this.

If a console maker so much as fixes a bug, it can and usually does break software compatibility and that makes users mad. It is also very expensive for the software companies to deal with, and on top of it, gives them a bad name. You also can't effectively patch a DVD, and economically speaking, replacing a million copies of a game in the field is not financially tenable.

So, to change the tiniest thing, a console maker risks the wrath of the entire ecosystem, which is why it is the fundamental tenet of consoles, you simply don't do it. This is not to say it hasn't been done, but there is usually a damn good reason why it happens. On the Atari Jaguar, the bugs that were there on day one were there in the revs of the console it did later.

So, that brings us back to Sony and the removal of the hardware PS2 compatibility in the Euro PS3s. This is very problematic. The first reason is that if anyone wrote software that takes advantage of these features, the software will break on Euro PS3s. The state of games on the PS3 is pretty pitiful now, but this could still affect millions of disks.

Why did Sony decide on this callous disregard for its customers? Simple, money. Sony is taking a bath on the PS3, losing by many accounts, hundreds of dollars per unit. It is losing dev support, sales are a fraction of where it wants them to be, and it is on the verge of slipping into the console death spiral (part 2 here).

The problem is that Sony management is short sighted to the point of being dangerous. It is 'fixing' one part of the triangle at the cost of the other two. This cheeses off software makers more than you can imagine, and it also cheeses off customers. The net effect of this is short term gain at long term expense. How do many calls do you think EA will get when its games don't work? Think people will call Sony or the software maker?

The number I hear is $27 or so. For this pittance, it is screwing all of its European customers, and it knows it. People placed pre-orders a year ago, usually putting down a fair deposit. They were told the console would have certain features, one of the big selling points is backwards compatibility to cover up the dearth of launch titles. This is not a minor checkbox item like the availability of accessories in a certain color, this is a key feature. And Sony broke it for money. It violated the fundamental tenet of consoles for short term bucks worth $27.

Sony is wrong and it knows it. Worse yet, it is covering it up in order to screw consumers and hopefully lessen the pre-order drop outs and people demanding refunds. How do I know this? According to Game Industry Biz, it is not going to release the list of what works until after the console goes on sale. You have no way of knowing what features you will get on your preorder other than they are less than promised.

Sony will obviously counter that it is busily adding to the list, and anything it put up now would be incomplete. Amazingly, some people are actually dumb enough to believe this. This is the web, you can update a list like this in about 30 seconds by uploading a text file. There is no excuse for Sony not to publish the list now with a disclaimer saying "....More coming soon" if it is indeed working on it.

The way it is desperately attempting to hide the missing functionality, hide the effects, and dodge questions about it indicates it knows there is an impending storm, and it is trying to not have it blow up in its face until after the initial sales surge.

In the end, it is more classic Sony behavior, screw the customer for short term money. it violated the fundamental tenet of consoles to make a quick buck, this is the most un-Japanese business practice I have ever seen from the company. Rather than helping the company, it is simply accelerating down the console death spiral. It is also doing it on the back of European consumers. µ


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