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Posts Tagged ‘XMB’

I don’t have the time (or reflexes – zing!) to post every time Sony release a firmware update.  The latest update for the PlayStation 3, version 2.40, is actually a fairly big deal for Sony and the entire industry.

They might as well have called this update “the Xbox Live patch.”  It finally adds game-specific Trophies (mechanically the same as Live’s Achievements) so borderline OCD cases competitive gamers can scour their retail games and PSN downloads to truly complete every game, and compare Trophy collections.  The real innovation, however, is the ability to access the Sony Cross-Media Bar in-game.

In-game XMB means PS3 players can finally message their friends across the entire network, regardless of what game they’re playing.  So, a player who wants some live competition in MLB 08: The Show could pause the game and drop a line to challenge anyone on his friends list.  One of his friends playing Metal Gear Solid 4 could see the message, pop in MLB, and get a game of baseball going.  It seems arbitrary, but simple functionality like this made Xbox Live the gold standard in online console gaming. 

The PlayStation 3 has supported PSN friends list since launch day, but they’ve never really mattered until now.  Under the old method, you were more likely to find a randomly matched opponent on a particular game than you were to sign on and find one of your friends waiting for you.

In-game XMB also allows you to listen to your own music library while playing, but it’s tough for me to get too excited about it.  After all, haven’t we been doing this since the first time someone turned up the stereo while playing Tecmo Bowl in a dorm room in 1989?

The fact that the PlayStation Network is now a cohesive online community that operates across the entire PS3 games library significantly levels the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 playing field.  The question is, can Sony capitalize on it and bring hardware sales up to a more respectable level?

It would seem that Sony has two significant advantages over Microsoft.  First, PSN is completely free to use, while Xbox Live Gold accounts cost $50/year.  This could be a crucial point for Sony, provided they market it well (easier said than done) AND don’t screw it up with tiered service and pricing.  Qore, their online magazine with “subscriber benefits” like access to private beta tests, is off to a rocky start.   And who knows what Sony has planned with the introduction of their Home virtual world…

Second, Sony can leverage the PSP to expand the PlayStation Network and finally deliver the portability to PSN that Microsoft has been endlessly planning for Xbox Live.  It’s a big opportunity, as Microsoft has shown zero interest in producing a handheld of their own, and even allowing the Viva Pinata characters to appear in Nintendo DS games.  Also, the PSP looks to be on an upswing, with outstanding hardware sales in the fickle Japanese market, some critically successful games on the market and in the pipeline, and a winning hardware/software bundling strategy.

The all-but-confirmed Xbox 360 price drop can’t be far off, and Sony’s unlikely to follow suit.  They already are selling the cheapest Blu-Ray player out there, and have made no secret of just how much they need to recoup as much as possible from the PS3 development costs.  It should be interesting to see how they proceed, once the momentum of Metal Gear Solid 4 wears off.

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