Firmware 2.DOH!

Sony-PS4-SharePlay

A year and a half doesn’t sound like a long time, but in video game land, a LOT can happen.  Case in point, my perception of the ‘green’ and ‘blue’ competitors have flip-flopped.  After the initial console reveals in 2013, I golf-clapped towards Sony and rained fire and brimstone at Microsoft.  Flash forward to today, and Microsoft – despite being forced – seems to ‘get it’, while Sony does virtually nothing to maintain the gobs of good will they had acquired prior to the PS4’s launch.  I know my opinion rests amongst the minority, but will that change over the course of this generation?  After scouring countless message boards across the web, I’ve begun to see some sparks of discontent fly, sparks which have the potential to erupt into the fiery flames that fuel an awakening.  Simply put, people are beginning to understand that Sony isn’t the savior they once appeared to be.

Yes, Sony may have been able to resurrect a bed full of roses after Microsoft poisoned the soil with toxic waste, but were they really the ‘good guys’?  Not really.  For starters, Sony have experience selling a console that most consumers noped themselves away from… at least until cheaper iterations became available and the library had expanded.  Making this statement didn’t exactly help, either:

Ken Kutaragi:  “…for consumers to think to themselves ‘I will work more hours to buy one’.  We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else.”

Sony arrogance was at an all-time high… but people like to dismiss the ‘Sony is arrogant’ claim from conversation as if it were hyperbole, especially now that Don Mattrick – previous President of Interactive Entertainment Business for Microsoft – is on record saying:

Don Mattrick:  “We have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity; it’s called the Xbox 360.”

As a result, fan boys tend to partake in the continual volley of ‘my black box is better than your black box,’ or ‘your preferred company sucks, but mine understands what gamers want!’  And you know what?  Each and every person that holds that ‘mine is better than yours’ mentality is missing the point:  BOTH companies are arrogant.  From time to time, Sony AND Microsoft display a lack of common sense.  After all, no one is perfect.  Everyone makes mistakes.  However, when you’re in business and responsible for communicating with millions of potential consumers, mistakes are costly.  Sure, Ken Kutaragi probably meant well enough… maybe he meant the PS3 was so good, people would do whatever it took to get one.  Perhaps Don Mattrick was saying that Microsoft still fully supported the Xbox 360 as a viable option.  Or not.  Who knows?  Point is, loose lips sink ships, and both companies are now painfully aware of that.

But, here’s the difference:  Microsoft have done everything in their power to make the Xbox One an attractive option for consumers.  Has it worked?  Not entirely, but they’ve certainly come a long way and they’re fighting hard with the temporary price reduction this holiday.  Sony, on the other hand, have been watching the money roll in and… well, that’s just it.  That’s ALL they’ve done.  Not only have they sold over 10 million consoles – it’s what, 13 million now? – but they sneakily slipped multiplayer behind the PS+ pay wall.  What have their loyal customers seen in return?  There’s been a host of minor changes over the last year, but the only things of any real significance to come along has been ShareFactory – their video editing suit, which handsomely beats what Xbox has – and more recently, firmware 2.0.

Why was 2.0 going to be such a huge step forward?  Well, at launch, the PS4’s UI was clean, but its ‘home row’ setup left a LOT to be desired.  Imagine everything you ever downloaded or purchased showing up in one long, continuous row… all lined up in order of last app used.  It only took about a day of installing games – both physical and digital – to see how ugly things would get later down the line.

In retrospect, it’s like Sony just made as simple a user interface as they could… not so they could wow us with something clean and sharp, but to ensure their console got out the door on time for launch.  Why do I feel they weren’t ready?  Well, let’s take into consideration that of their two biggest features – SharePlay and Suspend Mode – only one has seen the light of day.  SharePlay – which allows one of your friends to play any game in your library, via streaming technology, for an hour at a time – was finally introduced in 2.0… nearly A YEAR after the console hit retail shelves.  Suspend mode – which allows you to leave your game and come back where you left off – is still floating in the ether with no target date in sight.  But joy, you get to change the PS4 UI’s background now!  Isn’t that great?!

But, oh, what’s this?  SharePlay isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Apparently, there are some restrictions that won’t allow you to share every game in your library.  What’s sure to be one of the biggest releases this holiday is already behind a restriction wall – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.  How can this be?  Sony previously promised SharePlay would work across ALL PS4 games, as there was no opt-out clause for developers/publishers.  Certain scenes were to be blocked, as to not reveal any major spoilers to potential customers, but that was it.

Well, that was a bunch of hocus pocus, because Activision said ‘Hahaha, sorry, but no,’ restricted every bit of Call of Duty, and Sony?  They’re in damage control mode, of course.  Here’s Sony, per Gamesbeat (of Venturebeat):

“Share Play is a system level feature enabled by System Software Update 2.00, making it available for all PS4 titles; however, the option is available to developers to disable the feature according to what they feel will best benefit the consumer experience,”

Sony made a promise they can’t keep?  That sounds awfully familiar… (link to the Driveflub article with that last bit of text) I guess they just hoped every publisher would fall in line?  Poor form, and poor business, at that.

That aside, the real problem with 2.0 isn’t what it did or didn’t include, but what it failed to do:  Keep the PS4 stable.  Basically, the console’s Standby Mode – which allows you to keep your PS4 in a low powered state so you can Remote Play or download updates when you’re not around – was renamed to Rest Mode… although some aggravated customers would probably dub it ‘Rest In Peace Mode’.

Basically, a bunch of people complained that after putting their PS4 to sleep, it refused to awaken.  Some were able to temporarily resolve the issue by holding their power button down for a while, rebooting in safe mode and rebuilding the database.  Others found that ensuring the disc drive was empty could work.  Various tweaks to system and color settings seemed to work for others, but none of these resolutions worked for everyone, and in some cases, some PS4’s were bricked.  And what really stunned me, was that there were STILL people apologizing for Sony’s goof.  Here’s a brief conversation I had on Reddit to show what I mean(name of the reciprocate kept private):

Some Guy: In the land of the entitled, everything is amazing yet…no one is happy.

Me: I don’t think there’s anything ‘entitled’ about expecting a machine people pay for, to work properly. Some people are getting stuck in an endless reboot loop, some can’t even use the power button to boot out of ‘rest mode’ and into ‘safe mode’. You spend $400 on a machine, it should work. Some on the internet can say, “Well, firmware can have some bugs to work out.” Why should that be something ‘we just deal with’? Why should that be acceptable?

Some Guy:  You paid that money to play games predominantly. Perhaps find a new, less stressful waste-of-money-type hobby? Or do what the rest of us are doing…waiting for it to be fixed. You seem to live in a perfect world where nothing goes awry and the cost of something immediately indicates it’s level of flawlessness. TL;DR Shit happens. Deal or kick rocks.

Me:  And when firmware comes along that’s preventing some from playing their games? I guess that’s to be expected with a $400 price tag, too?

Some Guy:  Expected? No. Reasonable considering it’s a relatively new system? Yes. Also, I own a launch-date console and it hasn’t given me one problem. Best 400 I ever spent.

Me:  So a firmware that can corrupt your $400 machine is reasonable? Okay. You must love licking the bottom of Sony’s boots when they want them shined.

I own a Wii-U, Xbox One and PS4. The PS4 is my console of choice this generation because it’s the one that performs the best with the multiplats, but that doesn’t mean I can’t call ‘bullshit’ when Sony are off their game. Ever since the launch of the PS4, it’s been clear that they launched this thing in a state that was ONLY able to play games. Microsoft did the same, but look how far they’ve come in the last year. Sony? Eh… In an effort to make sure nobody had a yearlong head start like last generation, they both released their machines in a state that wasn’t quite ready. Just ‘good enough to play games’.

Playing games is ultimately what counts, but Microsoft haven’t really busted anyone’s console with a nasty firmware update. They even have a program that allows certain users to test firmware at their own risk if they want to, which allows MS to gather feedback and release a good product to the general product when it can finally go live.

And that last bit highlights another difference between Sony and Microsoft.  A lot of people like to say, “Well this should be expected from Sony.  They’re not a software company like Microsoft…”  That’s not really an excuse though, is it?  If you buy an expensive product, you expect it to work.  Not only that, but you hope the company that sold you the damn thing doesn’t break it somewhere down the line.  How can they rectify this?  Easy:  Take a page from the book of Microsoft.  Allow people to enter some sort of testing program so they can report the kinks.  Then, Sony can use that feedback to correct issues before they become a problem for PS4 owners worldwide.

Sony are already catching lots of crap for how PSN has been an up-and-down roller coaster the past few months (or more), not to mention the botched Driveclub release… why risk bricking a bunch of consoles JUST before the busiest gaming season of the year?  Before the busiest SALES season of the year?  I don’t care if it’s arrogance or just poor planning; something isn’t right.  Their business model seems to be similar to that of South Park’s Underpants Gnomes:

1 – Release Hardware

2 – ??????

3 – PROFIT!!!!

That could work if your console was a ‘one and done’ sort of deal, like the NES, SNES, and so on… but this is 2014.  There’s plenty of competition out there, and make no mistake about it, it’s fierce.  I’m not sure how much longer Sony expects to ride the coat tails of the ‘Xbox One DNR Express’, but being ahead isn’t good enough.  Who cares who wins this month’s NPD’s, the year overall, or even this generation?  What does it matter if by the time the next machine comes around, people are saying, “This company makes good hardware, but man their support and service sucks”?  Hopefully they step up their game sooner, rather than later, because the honeymoon phase is coming to a close.

At least they’ve been quick to resolve the Firmware 2.0 debacle with patch 2.01… even if it doesn’t slap a band-aid over their broken SharePlay promise.  Unfortunately, I just can’t bring myself to feel all warm and fuzzy inside over it.  As I said before, the longer this issue lingered, the more units Sony would be replacing through the mail, and THAT would have been HORRIBLE press just before the holidays, especially with the Xbox One selling for $349.

Sony, I’ve got my eye on you.

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