It’s no secret that I revel in any news of plight on behalf of the Sony family of corporations. I had a decent respect for the company at one point; they were the benchmark of consumer audio and video equipment. Slowly but surely my impression of their products and eventually their business practices dwindled to the point where not only did I no longer purchase or even value their products but I take pleasure in any news of their further downfall.
I’ve been called a fanboy, though more often then not I’ve been called a fanboy of which ever other product I happen to be making comparisons to at that day. Honestly I don’t think that respecting every product line in a particular market but one makes you a fanboy, it simply means you don’t like that product. Ironically it’s more often the fanboys themselves who dole out that insult; much like a homophobic uncomfortable with their own sexuality.
While I have an extreme distaste for nearly all of Sony’s products I will concentrate here on their Computer Entertainment division making reference elsewhere when appropriate. In the console/video game space it has always baffled me that people draw up battle lines, choosing a console almost blindly then cheering it on as if it was some kind of civil war, nay, this “war” isn’t even civil, I wouldn’t give it that much credit. If anything the “console wars” (for the record I Hate that term) are more analogous to a food fight on a short bus full of children with turrets. It’s downright immature. Most of the people who are fighting have no idea what their talking about, and even the ones that do know what they’re talking about aren’t smart enough to realize that they shouldn’t be fighting for a console at all. It really is quite pointless. Back in the Nintendo vs. Sega days I think the fights were a lot more mild and if anything it was based on justifying your purchase. Most people only owned one console so building up a laundry list of negative attributes associated with the competition gave you a reason, valid or not, why you choose what you did. Though on a whole I think gamers didn’t really fight over which console they thought was better, if anything the battles were fought with the companies themselves through negative ads. I remember negative Sega ads attempting to make the latest Nintendo system seem slow and childish. At least the gamers I know didn’t really care what you owned. Video Gaming was still a common ground that you could kindle friendships over
You own a Sega? Cool! I own a Nintendo, maybe we could get together and play some games sometime
You’d go over a friends house and enjoy the titles unique to his console of choice, and they’d visit your house and enjoy the titles unique to your console of choice. Everyone just enjoyed the games, and the fighting was just corporate marketing noise trying to convince you to pick one console over the other. This all changed when Sony entered the picture and the “casual gamer” was born.
Video Games were somewhat of a niche market, something the nerdy social outcasts did in their spare time. Particularly the console and PC gamers. Any “cool” gamer went to the arcade and even then games were still childish and nerdy and most “normal” people stayed away due to the associated stigmas. Sony had been trying to get into the market for a while, they had wanted to work with Sega and it feel apart, they had wanted to work with Nintendo and that had fallen apart. After this they decided to go it alone.
Sony’s first console was nothing special, nearly every feature on the device was lifted from already available consoles, some more obscure then others but really there wasn’t any creativity in there at all. The controller was lifted almost exactly from the SNES, they used the traditional Nintendo console gray, and while the CD drive and 3D graphics were relatively new they had already been in use in a rudimentary form at that point in other consoles and it was clear that was the direction the market was already heading. In addition to the terribly generic hardware they waltzed right in and stole the 3rd party market almost completely out from under both Nintendo and Sega. While those two were battling it out they beat up the 3rd parties in the process, when Sony stepped into the picture they wanted support so they bent over backward to appeal to the 3rd parties. The result was Nintendo and Sega losing most of their game libraries before the console generation even began. Neither one of them launched their consoles with any 3rd party games to speak of. Seeing that current gamers didn’t fight over their consoles they simply followed the games, the only gamers left with Nintendo or Sega consoles were those who appreciated the 1st party Sega and Nintendo offerings.
At this point Sony had already began collecting black marks in my book, I had some Sony CD players, headphones and other devices, most of which had fallen apart and or stopped working at what I would consider to be prematurely. Particularly when I compared their lifespan to other similar and supposedly lower quality brands that had lasted considerably longer. Needless to say I was skeptical at first when Sony entered the console market, though I kept an open mind. I waited until all 3 major console makers had produced their offerings and then compared each of their benefits and pitfalls and the games they each offered that I was interested in. I eventually decided to buy an N64, the price was right, I thought the analog stick was an amazing invention as was the idea to build in 4 controller ports, and finally the draw of a 3D Mario 64 as well as other future prospects from Rare convinced me to put my money there.
A big part of what made me avoid Sony’s console at this point was the fact that all of my friends who had purchased one were having problems, games would stutter and freeze, audio would skip. I remember quite a few people turning the console upside-down because apparently it cooled better that way. Combined with my previous Sony hardware experiences I decided against buying their console for fear that it would crap out on me. Before that point I never really worried about the reliability of Video game hardware. It was a non-issue. Sure a lot of people could remember blowing in the cartridge slot of the old NESs, but I never recall consoles overheating, and I certainly don’t remember consoles malfunctioning in such a way that it effected the actual gameplay nor that a console would begin malfunctioning after such a short period of time. If anything they’d run great for years and by the time they did anything funny it was attributed to old age. Sony of course attributed these malfunctions as typical to any electronics device early in it’s life. Normally I don’t think gamers would let them get away with such garbage, however this problem didn’t really start rearing it’s ugly head until their marketing campaign to swoon non-gamers into the market was already well underway. At this point many of the people they were explaining this too were new to the market. Sony took on the role as if they’d been doing this for a lifetime already. They played the Jedi mind trick on those who didn’t know any better and now we have an industry standard of low expectations for first run console quality.
This is the first of many things that turned my general dislike of Sony into a flat out Hatred. I didn’t like their low quality products, and I could deal with the fact that they were going to bring that tradition of low quality with them into the console space. You can’t really blame them for trying to cover their own mistakes either. Most companies would, but most companies also aren’t allowed to get away with it, unless their market is as new to video games as Sony at this point, in which case Sony becomes the voice of authority. In the words of their own film “with great power comes great responsibility”. They placed themselves in a position of power and no sooner had they earned it did they abuse it. The fact that they turned their own shortcomings into setting a precedence in the market is unforgivable, and the first in a long line of Sony PR that is more then just corporate cheerleading, truth bending and exaggeration but substantially damaging to the video game market (and thus gamers) on a whole.
…In Part 2 I’ll explain my views on Sony marketing and the damaging effects of the resulting “casual gamer”