Examining The Bourne Conspiracy's lead game designers complaints about the 360's design choice and Sony's vision of the future.
This was originally going to be a general post about what the Bourne Conspiracy's lead game designer had to say about the lack of a HD in the Arcade and Core 360 and it became so long that I decided to post it as a blog. In it, I also outline my continued decision to support Sony and my perceived reasons for some of MS's blunders this gen and the difference in mentality that MS has compared to Sony.
Looking at the inherent design of the 360, (using DVD9 and making the HD a premium option) it is clear that MS severely underestimated the importance of high definition on gaming and the technical demands that would come with the implementation of more advanced techniques in development. Examining the market at the time the 360 was released we find that HDTVs were not that popular and the format war was still in its infancy, as a result, MS determined that there was no reason to include these things as standard at the time because they couldn't see the market for them. Furthermore, by not including an HD standard and a high capacity storage media like HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, MS could make the console a lot cheaper and price it at a point that they saw as competitive at the time.
On further examination at the time of the 360's release, HD media was still trying to find its footing and MS would have had to take a significant loss on each console had they chose to included HD-DVD or BD, by going with DVD9 MS could use a technology that was already established to price the 360 competitively. This strategy worked in the short term, but in the end would become MS's greatest mistake. Fast forward to today, 1080p HDTV's are no longer $5000 but $1000 for a 47 inch, Blu-Ray has emerged victorious and more advances in video game technology brings more demands on memory as well as other system resources. We are witnessing increased concern over the split base of the 360 from developers and the early lead that MS had is becoming more of a hinderance than an advantage. I think MS as a software company and Sony as an electronics company have two fundamentally different understandings of the way technology and entertainment work. MS seems to have believed that by releasing their system early, they could set the tone for what "next-gen" meant. They believed that by being on the market early they could dictate to the consumer and the developers "Hard Drives aren't needed at this time and neither is a large storage capacity media such as BD", just like the PS2 dictated last gen where we saw developers catering to the PS2 even though the XBOX for all intents and purposes was the more advance piece of hardware.
Sony on the other hand understands that people who buy consoles want stability and quality. They aren't looking to upgrade anytime soon so they want a system that when they buy it they know that things that will affect their ability to play something on that console in the future will not be present. Sony chose to use off the 3rd party peripherals such as HD and keyboards to work with the PS3, making the PS3 attractive not only to traditional console developers but to PC devs as well. Sony understood the link between games and movies as being ENTERTAINMENT and positioned the PS3 as an all in one next gen entertainment product.
One huge mistake MS made was not to examine the environment that was present at the time of the PS2s dominance and how it is fundamentally different than the environment today. Sony had the larger user base (MS has that now), Sony had more time to be established as the go to platform "lead" (MS has this now), Sony had the name recognition and reputation as an industry leader (MS DOES NOT HAVE THIS). MS has yet to establish itself as a significant player in the gaming industry in the long term. Their first console was short lived and was abruptly abandoned leaving many consumers wondering what happened. Sony has had a long history of success and has shown a propensity to predict/set the trends that become the norm within the entertainment industry.
It is no secret that Sony has the largest stable of first and second party developers of all three consoles. Sony understands that developers are just like anyone else, they get accustom to something they grow to prefer it because its familiar. With this large stable of developers at it's disposal, Sony can show developers first hand the benefits of Blu-Ray, standard HD and all the other advantages that come from Sony's console. This is Sony's greatest strength and one that I think MS will find very hard to overcome anytime soon. From examining the design choices of the 360 and the performance of the first XBOX, MS seems to have a 5 year plan for it's consoles, this is the model they would love the industry to adopt, a model where incremental bare minimum advances are the order of the day, and the "choices" provided end up costing the consumers more in the long run. In my opinion that is not why people choose consoles vs. PC's, if I wanted to upgrade every 5 years I would have a high end PC. I think console gamers like quality and look to the long term performance of their investment, this is something I don't believe the 360 offers. This reason among others that have been mentioned and discussed to death have made me a Sony supporter over the years. Sony has the console business down and understand that a console is something that should perform as advertised every time all the time.
MS is pushing a business model that I cannot support, they cater to the lowest common denominator of what technology has to offer and seek to nickel and dime their users at every turn. They already had a HD in the XBOX, why remove it, was it just to save some money or so they could push their own brand of HD? Whatever the reason the fact remains that in the end the 360 is looking less and less prepared for the tasks of delivering what developers need for the games they want to make.
As gaming evolves and users get older I believe that value and reliability will become just as important as the number of titles offered, and the PS3 is poised to deliver on both of those fronts. The drum beat of innovation by developers and users that the 360 does not provide will only become louder as the years pass, and the consumers that MS is constantly taking for granted will eventually defect in an attempt to make the most of their consumer dollars.
MS has attempted to skip ahead this generation without paying it's dues to gaming or it's consumers, but they have in the end failed. MS has done many things well such as Live and their user interface but I don't believe these things make up for the abomination they released to the public in an attempt to be the first to market. By being first MS basically shot themselves in the foot because of what it's costing them in the long run in their reputation as a console manufacturer and the reliability of their product.
Sony might have some catching up to do, but if we use a horse race analogy MS is riding on the back of a Pony that is severely undernourished and ready for the glue factory. Sony on the other hand is riding on a thoroughbred in the infancy of it's career that still has conditioning before it's full potential is attained. Now I am not a betting man, but if I had to put my money on one I would say that Sony is in a very good position. (I hope some of you have a sense of humor).