Quite the hubbub sprang up earlier this week, following the posting of an article titled ‘The Playstation Brand Needs To Die’ on N4G. I was reluctant to read into it, but my curiosity got the better of me. I clicked the link, perused the article and walked away with a distinctly bad taste in my mouth. It is the opinion of one person, completely subjective and reasonable, within his logic and seemingly limited view. May I make the interjection here that I, and many of the people I know that play games, prefer the Playstation 3 to the Xbox 360 for a variety of reasons, but we’re all willing to admit that both have their merits. The writer of the article professes also to play primarily on the Playstation 3, but says that he is singular in the crowd of his workplace and uses this as the basis for his argument.

Interestingly enough, he brings up sales figures, admitting that those of Sony’s device is fewer than four million units behind those of Microsoft’s, despite being on the market for a full year less. From this, he breaks the figures down by region, coming to the not-so-startling fact that the 360 has a 14 million unit lead in North America, and thusly to the conclusion drummed into us all that America, as the only remaining superpower in the world, is also the only country that matters. There is so much that I could say in response to this idea, but I will leave it at ‘no’. Gaming is a global industry and, as such, the tallies from everywhere must be granted the same weight. The writer displays an incredible folly here.

A gleam of possible redemption shines through a moment later when he highlights the importance of public perception. Of course, the Playstation 3 has garnered the unfair assumption of being an inferior product to the Xbox 360, due to the difficult two years that followed its launch. That much can’t be denied. Things, however, have turned around since then. While it remains true that there is a schism between those who own only one of the current generation consoles, Sony’s use of Kevin Butler and more direct advertising have seen the company appealing to a wide demographic of late.

Besides that, Playstation retains the incredible legacy of the first two iterations. The Playstation 2 is still the most successful home console to ever release, and I’m willing to bet that there is a considerable contingent of people that aren’t averse to gravitating back to the brand, if the next step drops with all the desirable features at the right price. The author argues that it would be better for Sony to drop the Playstation name altogether and come up with something new and fresh. The idea has merit, but I think that it would be taken the wrong way by Playstation purists.

Playstation should definitely stay, which brings me to the rumour mill. It seemed almost in direct opposition to the aforementioned article that a bombshell was dropped, via Kotaku, about the next Sony console codenamed Orbis. Let us, for a while, forget that the information has been supplied by an unverified and unnamed, though ‘reliable’ source and believe in the specifications set out. So, the report follows in the vein from one of several months ago that the mechanics of the next Playstation would be outsourced entirely to AMD. It’s more clear this time around with what to expect with an x64 CPU and a Southern Islands GPU. I don’t follow specific hardware near as closely as some, but these components are among the most powerful available on the market today.

This, it is postulated, will allow the new console to display games at 4K resolution, as well as allowing it to easily render 3D games in full 1080p HD. It’s wonderful to hear, but if this generation has been any indication, it won’t be used to any exceptional extent, as it is far easier to cater to the lowest common denominator that will satisfy players. Besides this, what does it really add in terms of functionality? Nothing. I’m not much one to harp on about graphics, unless they truly are bad enough to make one want to gouge their eyes out, so I’ll move on to more interesting fields.

The first of these is that it will not feature any backwards compatibility with the current console. At first, I was somewhat confused by this morsel of information, as Sony received quite the backlash for the removal of the ability to play PS2 games outside of the first hardware revision of the PS3, but after some contemplation it makes sense. It is easier to not include something from the outset than it is to backpedal and remove it later on, and Sony has already been burnt on several occasions for this very tactic. Besides this, the shift in architecture would make software emulation difficult, if not entirely impossible and it simply would not be cost effective to include the CellBE/RSX combination. If true, this decision will certainly dog them for the first few years, while there is relatively little coming out, but it’ll be no great hardship later on.

The next piece of news indicates a release for the holiday season 2013, roughly seven years since the Playstation 3 first hit store shelves. An immense period of time, but this puts it well in keeping with Sony’s ten year plan for the PS3, as well as giving the Vita time to spread its wings. Also mentioned is the fact that early development kits have been sent since the beginning of this year, with revisions being sent out more recently and something closer to the final build to be shipped towards the end of this year. This will allow for a full two years of development, which is quite in keeping with many modern games, and should grant a decent level of quality. I would love to see an extra year before any new system launches, as we are still seeing developers push the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, but they are losing their lustre as they grow long in the tooth and even the advent of Move and Kinect have done little to stimulate excitement in them. I’ve already explained my ideas for this though, so I’ll offer the link and move on.

Another major point is that all games will be available via Blu-Ray and usual retail methods, but also through digital distribution, embracing what is widely perceived to be the future of the industry. I have no problem with this turn of events whatsoever, so long as the retail sector still exists. This isn’t because I’m afraid of the digital shift, but because where I live at the moment, I do not have access to broadband internet. I use a combination of dial-up and 3G data connections for all online interactions. It’s a pain in the keister, but one that is necessitated by my circumstances. It is what follows on from this piece of news that is getting up my nose.

It’s designed to combat used game sales, which is reasonable, but it forces an immense inconvenience for people like myself. Basically, any game that you purchase must first be authenticated via the PSN before it can be played, making it impossible to play without an internet connection. Those playing it used, in addition to this, will also have to pay a nominal fee in order to unlock all of the content on disc, as they will otherwise be limited to a trial version. It isn’t dissimilar to the idea of DRM (which Simon was advocating earlier this week). If Sony and Microsoft were to do this, it would alienate their user base in a major way, going way beyond the tyranny of PC developers. But needing to authenticate before playing on a console? That’s utter madness. It cannot work, and I’m afraid that I would have to step away from gaming if that were to happen. A sad thought, but one that I would be more than willing to act on. There are always other avenues for entertainment, and I would simply have to seek them out.

But that’s enough of that. This past week has also seen some news emerge about the future of the Xbox. First is that a new model of the Xbox 360 will become available in the near future, being stripped back to focus on Kinect and XBLA features. It is rumoured to sit at a price point somewhere in the vicinity of $100USD. I’m confused about what could be removed to create such a system, especially at such a competitive price. A smaller included hard drive would be a reasonable assumption, as would be the removal (once again) of the wireless adaptor, but I can think of nothing else that is not necessary to the core design of the device, unless Microsoft are going to trial a disc-free version of the console to gauge how such a tactic would be received in the next generation. As much as I doubt this latter thought, it remains entirely possible.

The other morsel of information is that Microsoft has registered the .com and .net domains for XboxFL. So, XboxFL? What could it be? The designation for the aforementioned stripped-back edition the 360? Perhaps a new feature to be implemented in the near future? Or maybe it is the final name for the next console. As usual, we’re left in the dark, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Damien Lawardorn
Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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