Context Sensitive

Context Sensitive: Who Is the PS3 For?


At GDC this week, Sony unveiled the first trailer for its motion controller, now officially dubbed the Move. Confirming what we suspected when we first saw it demonstrated at E3 last year, the controller itself seems to be little more than Sony’s take on the Wii Remote. And if the similarities were lost on you, one look at the trailer (which is such a blatant copy of Wii ads that I half-expected to see well-dressed Japanese gentlemen pop up and say they’d like to play) should be more than enough to connect those particular dots for you. Whatever identity Sony was building for the PS3 is now in complete freefall.

Don’t believe me? Picture this: Joe Average walks into a store to buy a gaming console. I don’t mean someone like you, who’s really up on gaming and knows the differences between consoles down to the exclusives they each have; I mean just your average consumer who gleans information from commercials, store clerks and perhaps friends. We know why he buys a Wii – for the motion control, for Wii Fit, Wii Sports or because it’s cheap. We know why he buys an Xbox 360 – because his buddies play Call of Duty or Halo over Xbox Live, or because the Wii feels too kiddy for him. But why does he buy a PS3?

The PS3 has had a serious identity crisis for almost its entire lifespan. At first, Sony presented it as an incredible piece of technology that would become the anchor piece of your entertainment center, so amazing in its capabilities that it was more than worth its $600 price tag. The fact that the PS3 played games was an afterthought, not nearly as important, Sony seemed to feel, as its ability to play Blu-ray movies. The public, however, didn’t particularly care that it was a Blu-ray player, and the near-universal love people had for the PlayStation 2 didn’t seem to carry over the way Sony hoped it would. Sony eventually reversed its stance and started treating the PS3 as an incredibly advanced game machine that, oh yeah, also played Blu-ray movies.


This, to me at least, made more sense. The hardcore gaming crowd was well prepared to understand the technical nuances that set the PS3’s apart from other gaming platforms, so wooing them was an intelligent decision that, frankly, Sony should have adopted from day one. Sony can’t be blamed for wanting to expand its user base, of course, but ignoring gamers was a huge mistake. By the time Sony refocused its message, the Wii had captured the hearts and minds of casual gamers while the Xbox 360 had successfully embedded itself in the homes of console lovers in the West. The PS3 was late to the party, but poised for a comeback.

Fast forward a bit, and though there were a few more stumbles along the way – ditching backward compatibility was not a popular choice – price cuts and strong exclusives helped PS3 regain its rightful place on the console playing field. Swapping out high-art, creepy, unintelligible adverts involving baby dolls and eggs for savvy, funny commercials featuring the endearing Kevin Butler was a stroke of genius. Sony finally seemed to have decided on a message: The PS3 was an affordable gaming rig that could go online, offer amazing game experiences and play Blu-ray movies. Got it!

And now…the Move trailer apparently wants you to equate the PS3 with the Wii.

Is this an appeal to the casual audience? It’s hard to see it as anything else, given how closely it mimics Nintendo’s advertising. And while the desire to appeal to a previously untapped market makes sense, it’s at best confusing for the consumer and at worst a huge step backwards for Sony. What are we meant to take from this? That the PS3 is just like the Wii, only with better graphics? Sure, you could play Wii Sports Resort instead, but on the PS3 your avatar has arms and legs!

It’s disheartening to see the PS3 muddle its identity all over again just when it was finding its footing, because the truth is it really is a marvelous machine with loads to offer. Trying to force it into being something it’s not – namely, a user-friendly device that your non-gaming pals and family members will suddenly flock to – makes me feel like Sony is floundering around, insecure about the PS3’s actual value as a console.

I wish Sony would just figure out whom the PS3 is really for, because the answer isn’t “everyone,” as much as they would like it to be. There’s a line from the movie Dead Again that I like to bring up in situations like this, where someone is having a tough time making a decision – “There are two kinds of people in this world: smokers and non-smokers. Figure out which one you are and be that.”

Figure out what the PS3 is, Sony, and let it be that.

Susan Arendt likes to move it, move it. Oh, come on, you know I had to get that in here somewhere.

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