The free games offered as part of the deal are a nice gesture, but the selections seem overly limited and smell of short-term opportunism. While all the games seem like high-quality titles, they fail to show off the newest and most innovative things the PSN has to offer. Dead Nation came out in the U.S. last November. Wipeout and Super Stardust HD are both years old and similar to other games that can be found on the PC, Xbox, and Wii. LittleBigPlanet's sequel effectively renders the first game obsolete. Sony knows it won't sell any copies of Infamous once the sequel comes out in a few weeks, so giving the game away seems more like a marketing ploy than a show of good will.
If Sony is going to offer free games, why not focus on experiences unique to the PSN? Why aren't any of the PixelJunk games featured? Where is Fat Princess? Why not drum up anticipation for That Game Company's forthcoming Journey by giving away Flower? Why not show off the potential for massively-multiplayer games with MAG? If Sony truly wanted to mount a compelling "welcome back" campaign, they should have made it a point to show people that coming back is worth it.
Though the past month has been a disaster, Sony could have used it as an opportunity to get a jump on the rapidly-approaching digital future. While there are undoubtedly retail agreements to consider, Sony had the opportunity to make a bold statement by making games like LittleBigPlanet 2 or SOCOM 4 free for a month. They would have most likely taken a short term loss, but attracting people to the system and demonstrating that first-run games are conveniently accessible on the PSN would have eventually paid off.
On last week's podcast, I said that the way Sony treated developers in the aftermath of the outage would influence my feelings towards the company. As of now, Sony's actions are less than inspiring. I can only assume that third-party developers are even more irritated at Sony than players, as the outage has literally cost them money. Apparently, Sony couldn't be bothered to strike any deals with multi-platform developers as part of this "welcome back" campaign. Small, yet brilliant games like Stacking that released DLC shortly before the outage missed out on an entire section of the gaming market. Development companies counting on a specific launch window have had their plans destroyed. Larger developers like NetherRealms have had to kludge together workarounds so that players who bought Mortal Kombat can play on-line. I'm sure Gabe Newell, a well-known PlayStation critic, was none too pleased that Valve's grand PS3-Steam-Portal 2 campaign was crippled by Sony's network.
Through it all, Sony has been very quiet about what it is doing to win back developers' trust and compensate them for their losses. Disappointing as it may be, it is totally understandable why a small developer like Supergiant Games would agree to a platform-exclusive publishing deal with Warner and Microsoft. Not only does Microsoft do a better job of promoting games, their network actually works. Who could blame a small company for going with a sure thing?
As a company, it seems that Sony is suffering from a severe case of nearsightedness. The video game world is going digital and players will increasingly be able to personalize their on-line experience and purchasing decisions to fit their specific tastes. Offering people a meagre selection of curated games, most of which do little to show off the PSN's benefits, is not the best way to compensate people for their inconvenience or convince them to spend time on the network.
But that's enough complaining; let me offer Sony some unsolicited advice:
- Make this more than a "welcome back" to the PSN, make it a "welcome back" to the PlayStation brand. Give away some classics like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid to remind people why they first fell in love with Sony consoles in the first place.
- Augment these classic memories with some recent examples of innovative PlayStation exclusives like PixelJunk Eden, Flower, and M.A.G.
- Recognize that people enjoy being able to make their own choices. Bite the bullet and simply credit people's Sony e-wallets with enough money to buy a game or two. This serves the dual purpose of providing people with the means to buy games that interest them in and allows Sony to demonstrate their confidence in their network's security.
- Work harder to showcase new and innovative games from both independent studios and large publishers. This probably necessitates a UI change, but players need to be able to see what is new and exciting the minute they connect to the network. Moving the scrolling news bar from the upper right to the bottom of the screen and expanding it enough to show pictures would accomplish this. Players deserve to be able to make the decision as to when and how to buy a game, and developers deserve Sony's support for choosing to use their network to conduct business.
- Learn from Microsoft's example and start promoting the benefits of PlayStation Plus. Give away free weekends, integrate Sony's on-line movie store with the service, or make more free games available with a membership. I didn't need or want a PlayStation Plus subscription before the PSN went down, and Sony hasn't made the case for why I should be excited now that I'm getting 30 days of it for free.