When people like Brian Hastings speak, we tend to listen. The
Chief Creative Officer over at Insomniac Games has been one of
the most important figures for Sony over the last few years. And
so, he issued a lengthy editorial stating 10 reasons why he
believes the PS3 will be the victor of this console
generation. It may be lengthy, but it's a smooth and easy read
that should take no more than 10 minutes to finish. While I
believe that the battle is up in the air between Sony and
Microsoft, I still encourage you to read this.

"Mar 27, 2007 : 10 Reasons Why PS3 Will Win This Console
Generation

Insomniac Games Chief Creative Officer Brian Hastings discusses
why the PS3 is the console to beat

First of all, let me make it clear that Insomniac is a 100%
independent development studio. Sony has neither endorsed nor
authorized what I’m writing here.

When I started this blog post I was planning to write about Home
and Little Big Planet from a developer’s perspective. But as
I read some of the media and message board responses to
Sony’s GDC presentation, I wanted to address an ongoing
industry phenomenon. Specifically, the sheer volume of negative
spin toward Sony from both the mainstream press and the internet
community. Mere minutes after Sony announced a beautiful, ground
breaking, free, community-enhancing online PS3 service, 100
internet posters were trying to argue that this was somehow a bad
thing. Whether you love or hate Sony, if you’re trying to
spin Home as a bad thing I can only conclude that you’re
part of Microsoft’s $3.2 billion viral marketing campaign.

I’ll be the first to say that Sony has had a very rough road
from last E3 up through this year’s GDC. Some of their
wounds have been self-inflicted, but they’ve also had to
face a conspicuously hostile media. Take the New York Times
article “How the PS3 will kill your dog, steal your
girlfriend, and infect you with Ebola.” And Time
magazine’s piece “Global Warming: Is It The PS3?”
And more recently, GameSpot’s “Ten Complaints We
Thought Up While Everyone Else Was Watching Little Big
Planet.”

For the last nine months it has been fashionable to bash the PS3.
At first it was controversial, even titillating, to make
sensational and dire predictions about the PS3’s future. You
could watch it happen again and again – a rumor starts on a
message board (“The PS3s all caught on fire at TGS!”,
“Blu-Ray won’t have any Porn!”), then it gets
picked up by a games industry website, and a few days later USA
Today runs the story with the headline “Experts Say PS3
Doom3d!1!!” But the tide has changed so much now that
it’s downright controversial to suggest that the PS3 may yet
be a success. So, in the spirit of sensationalism and
controversy, let me present to you 10 reasons why the PS3 will be
the console market leader by 2010:

1. Home & Little Big Planet
One of my jobs at Insomniac is to try to come up with “the
next big thing.” This is something everyone at Insomniac
does, but as Chief Creative Officer it’s also part of my job
description. For the last two years there have been two concepts
that I have felt had the strongest potential to be the next big
thing. At GDC, Sony came out of the blue and delivered
fully-realized versions of both concepts.

The first concept is a realization of the ‘Metaverse’
from Neal Stephenson’s groundbreaking novel Snow Crash. For
those who haven’t read it, it’s what inspired Second
Life. Over the last couple years, many of us at Insomniac have
come up with lots of different ideas on how to make such a system
for consoles. So when Home came out, already nearly complete and
looking beautiful, it was both amazing and humbling at the same
time. In short, Home is exactly what the online console community
needs. I’m not saying that because it’s on the PS3.
I’m saying that because Home is a fully realized version of
something I’ve been trying to figure out how to do for two
years.

The other “next big thing” I had been thinking about is
how to make a game that is primarily driven by player-generated
content. So when Little Big Planet was announced I felt like
Orville Wright tinkering on a bicycle-powered balsa wood plane as
a learjet suddenly flew overhead. Not only does Little Big Planet
have stunningly beautiful graphics, gorgeous animation, brilliant
physics and intuitive controls, it’s also a cooperative four
player online game! This alone makes it accessible to a much
greater audience than player vs player games. And most important
of all, it has an absolutely ingenuous system for creating and
sharing your own levels. This is HUGE. This is something
that’s never been done on consoles and now it’s being
introduced not as a half-baked add-on to another game, but as an
absolutely brilliant, fully realized, breathtaking experience.
You can bet that dozens of developers will create their own
Little Big Planet levels as soon as it comes out. Many future
game designers will get their start by designing Little Big
Planet levels. Gamers who previously had no way to get their foot
in the door as a game designer will have developers calling them
in the middle of the night if they make a top-rated LBP level. I
say again, Little Big Planet is HUGE.

It’s humbling to know that other developers had not only
thought of these two concepts, but brought them to fruition in
such stunning fashion. Mostly, though, it’s very encouraging
to see Sony taking more of a lead in online innovation. While
some people were accusing them of merely copying the competition,
Sony has been quietly working on two of the most innovative ideas
of this generation. “Mii too?” Give me a break.

2. Free Online
Among all the talk about the price of Sony’s console, I
almost never see anyone mention the significance of Sony’s
free online service. Xbox Live Gold costs $70 to sign up for 1
year, or $20 for three months. You can renew your membership for
$50 a year. So if the Xbox 360 stays around for five years,
you’ll be paying 70 + 50 + 50 + 50 + 50 = $270 to access
features that Sony gives you for free.

I agree, Xbox Live is overall offering a better online service
right now. But $270 better? And Sony is steadily narrowing the
gap in online features. With improvements to the messaging system
and support for background downloading, Sony is rapidly catching
up with many of the key advantages that Live has enjoyed. Add to
that the fact that Sony is offering virtually lag-free dedicated
servers at no cost, while on Xbox Live you are paying for a more
laggy peer-to-peer service. Furthermore, one of the biggest
advertised features of Xbox Live is matchmaking, yet the
implementation of this feature has been inconsistent since it is
left up to the developer. The matchmaking service on Resistance:
FOM, meanwhile, has been one of its biggest successes, proving
that even at this early stage the PS3’s online capabilities
are very competitive. And free. As the PS3 community continues to
grow with new features and player-generated content from Home and
Little Big Planet, Sony’s online service is looking better
and better. And, again, they’re not charging you $270 for
it.

3. 50 GB games
If you ever hear someone say “Blu-Ray isn’t needed for
this generation,” rest assured they don’t make games
for a living. At Insomniac, we were filling up DVDs on the PS2,
as were most of the developers in the industry. We compressed the
level data, we compressed the mpeg movies, we compressed the
audio, and it was still a struggle to get it to fit in 6 gigs.
Now we’ve got 16 times as much system RAM, so the level data
is 16 times bigger. And the average disc space of games only gets
bigger over a console’s lifespan. As games get bigger, more
advanced and more complex, they necessarily take up more space.
If developers were filling up DVDs last generation, there are
clearly going to be some sacrifices made to fit current
generation games in the same amount of space.

Granted, some really great Xbox 360 games have squeezed onto a
DVD9. Gears of War is a beautiful game and shows off the highest
resolution textures of anything yet released, partly because of
the Unreal Engine’s ability to stream textures. This means
that you can have much higher resolution textures than you could
normally fit in your 512 MB of RAM. It also means that
you’re going to chew up more disc space for each level. With
streamed textures, streamed geometry and streamed audio, even
with compression, you can quickly approach 1 GB of data per
level. That inherently limits you to a maximum of about 7 levels,
and that’s without multiplayer levels or mpeg cutscenes.

Sometimes people ask us, “If Resistance takes 14 gigabytes,
why doesn’t it look better than Gears?” Well, for one,
Resistance didn’t support texture streaming, so we had to
make choices about where we spent our high-res textures.
Resistance also had 30 single-player chapters, six multiplayer
maps, uncompressed audio streaming, and high-definition mpegs.
That all added up to a lot of space on the disc. Starting with
Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction we are supporting
texture streaming, which will make the worlds look even better,
and will also consume even more space on disc.

There’s no question that you can always cut more levels,
compress the audio more, compress the textures more, down-res the
mpeg movies, and eventually get any game to fit on a DVD. But you
paid for a high-def experience, right? You want the highest
resolution, best audio, most cinematic experience a developer can
offer, right? That’s why Blu-Ray is important for games, and
why it will become more important each year of this hardware
cycle.

4. Casino Royale
Casino Royale is the first high definition title to crack the top
10 on Amazon’s DVD charts, rising up to number seven shortly
after being released. This is significant because it dispels the
myth that high definition discs are merely a niche and will never
take off with the mainstream.

A lot of people have been waiting on the fence to see whether
Blu-Ray or HD-DVD would emerge as the winner of the format war.
Well, at this point the war is as good as over. Blu-Ray has won a
TKO. It always had superior technical specs and much wider studio
support, but there was the question of whether HD-DVD’s
earlier release and initially lower price would capture enough of
the market to make it the winner. But Blu-Ray has already
surpassed HD-DVD in overall discs sold, and is currently
outselling HD-DVD discs at about a 3:1 rate. Many neutral
observers in the A/V community have called the war in favor of
Blu-Ray. If you want minute-to-minute updates, you can follow
what’s left of the format war at various locations on the
internet:
http://www.eproductwars.com/dvd/
http://www.hdgamedb.com/amazon/versus.aspx
These sites mainly compare Amazon sales data, but the Nielsen
sales data shows the same thing: Blu-Ray discs are outselling
HD-DVD by a steadily increasing margin.

Many of Disney, Fox and Sony’s biggest box office movies
will release exclusively on Blu-Ray in the next three months,
likely pushing the sales separation between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD to
a margin where many retailers will begin phasing out HD-DVD.
Retailers hate a format war even more than consumers, and I
suspect they’ll take the initiative to end it as quickly as
possible.

5. HDMI
A lot has been said about Sony’s choice to ship with
composite cables. I won’t say I agree with that decision,
but I think too little has been said of the fact that even the
cheaper PS3 SKU supports HDMI 1.3. The PS3 was the first consumer
device to support it, and this is a very important
future-proofing step. When you go to buy higher-end TVs, the PS3
will support the highest possible audio and video input the TV
and receiver can accept. If and when high-def movies start
requiring an Image Constraint Token, the PS3 will still be able
play them in high definition.

Right now, HDMI seems primarily to be a selling point to the
hardcore audio and videophiles of the world. But HDTVs are
getting cheaper and more popular all the time, and consumer
sophistication and knowledge of high definition audio and video
is growing. In a couple years, HDMI devices will be the standard.
Graphics and audio in games will also continue to improve, and
more and more consumers will want HDMI in order to get the best
results on their home theater setups. As this happens, Microsoft
has a difficult choice – do they stick with “last
gen” video output, or do they release a premium version of
the Xbox 360 that includes HDMI but effectively forces early
adopters to re-buy the system to get the best results? Sony
ultimately made their console more expensive by including HDMI,
but over the next couple years it’s likely to play out as
the right choice.

6. Standard HDD
When we were developing for PS2, I was jealous of Xbox’s
standard hard drive. There are so many things this allowed you to
consider as a developer – virtually unlimited save data,
improved load times, custom music, downloadable content and
user-created content just to name a few. But since hard drives,
no matter what the size, never get cheaper than about $50,
Microsoft lost money trying to compete with the PS2’s price.
That may be the reason they left it out of the cheaper Xbox 360
SKU, thinking that Sony would again leave out the hard drive on
the PS3. Instead, Sony made the hard drive standard for both
SKUs. This added to the cost of the PS3, but it also let
developers use the HDD in games.

The problem with including a hard drive in one version of the 360
and not in the other is that developers can’t use it for the
games. Or, at least, they can’t use it for any required
features. When you are guaranteed to have at least a 20 GB hard
drive in the console, you can write your load caching routines
around it, or use it for your application’s storage needs.
To a developer, an optional hard drive is roughly equivalent to
no hard drive at all.

Another advantage of the PS3 is that it will let you put in any
third party hard drive you want. From a developer’s
standpoint, this is good news because the market will gradually
be able to support larger downloadable games over the course of
the PS3’s life. As downloadable content gets larger and more
sophisticated, PS3 owners can choose to buy larger hard drives at
the best market price. The more this happens, the more developers
will be encouraged to create better and better downloadable
games.

7. The Wii Fad Will Fade
OK, this one’s going to be controversial, but I have to say
it. I like Nintendo a lot. I think Nintendo has innovated far
more than any other company in the industry. And I think the Wii
is really, really fun. But… let me relate to you a story
that may sound familiar:

Your friend Reggie invites you over for a Wii Party. It’s
awesome. You and your friends partake in whatever beverages are
legally appropriate for your age group. The next day everyone who
went to the party rushes out and buys a Wii.

A week later Reggie hosts another Wii Party. This time only half
the group comes. It’s still fun, but there isn’t quite
as much shoving to get at the Wiimote.

The next week Reggie hosts another Wii Party. You tell him you
have bird flu.

Obviously I’m exaggerating, but the Wii does have many
characteristics of popular mainstream fads. It’s
instantaneously accessible, it’s unlike anything you’ve
tried before, and it’s great fun to share with friends. In
short, it’s everything Nintendo said it would be and it has
captured the world’s imagination. The only downside is that
the world is easily distracted. Tickle Me Elmo captured the
world’s attention at one point, as did Furbies. They were
both instantly accessible, were unlike anything people had seen
before, and were fun to share with friends. But a year later,
after everyone had seen them and tried them out, their popularity
waned.

The Wii is currently riding on a massive wave of mainstream
attention and has been purchased by lots of people who don’t
normally play games. But how many of those people who are hooked
on Wii Sports will also buy Wii Need For Speed? Mainstream fads
usually run their course within a year. As the honeymoon period
fades, the Wii will be going up against more and more graphically
impressive games on the PS3 and Xbox 360. More people will be
buying HD televisions and looking for the most immersive and
stunning experiences available. For these reasons, I think the
Wii will be more successful than the GameCube or N64 but in the
long run will still be outsold by the PS3.

8. PS3 Has a Major CPU Advantage
The GPUs on the Xbox 360 and PS3 are roughly equivalent, with the
Xbox 360 arguably having a slight edge. The difference in CPU
power, however, is far greater with the PS3 enjoying the
advantage. The PS3’s eight parallel CPUs (one primary
“PPU” and seven Cell processors) give it potentially
far more computing power than the three parallel CPUs in the Xbox
360. Just about any tech programmer will tell you that the
PS3’s CPUs are significantly more powerful. The problem is
that it has been challenging thus far to take advantage of the
Cell’s parallel architecture.

With the PS2, Sony got away with making a fairly
developer-unfriendly system, and its success allowed their
hardware designers to ignore developer’s complaints as they
made the PS3. People high up at Sony have realized that approach
simply won’t work anymore and are trying to fix the problem.
Sony is actively improving their libraries, tools and developer
support in order to make PS3 development easier. They are giving
first party developed techniques and code to third-party
developers so that multi-platform games should start looking
better on PS3.

Games developed from the ground up on PS3 are the ones that will
really show off the PS3’s CPU advantage. The complexity of
the distributed processing architecture means that PS3 engines
won’t fully blossom until a little later in the lifecycle
than the PS2. This has put the PS3 at a disadvantage early in its
lifecycle, but within two years you will see games that surpass
what is possible on the Xbox 360.

9. PS2 still outselling 360
I know, it’s outselling the PS3 by an even larger margin.
But the continued strong PS2 sales really are a good thing for
Sony. Anyone buying a PS2 at this point is probably not going to
buy a PS3 or Xbox 360 in the next year. And when they do choose
to buy the current generation of hardware, the PS3 will be in a
lot better position. The price will have come down, the game
library will be broad, and the top PS3 titles will probably have
the edge in both graphics and sound. Just as important, the
people buying into the PS2 now will be getting into many of
Sony’s exclusive franchises that they will then later want
to play on the PS3.

10. Something For Everyone
One of Sony’s biggest advantages is that it has strong
franchises in every genre. Whereas Microsoft’s successful
titles are mostly M-rated, and Nintendo’s are mostly
E-rated, Sony has a big list of hit titles across the spectrum.
When a 30-something gamer (like me) goes to buy a game console,
it’s a lot easier to justify the purchase when there are
games he can play with his kids as well as more mature stuff.

To Microsoft’s credit, they are doing a good job of catching
up. The acquisition of Rare and the development of Viva Pinata
have helped to broaden their spectrum. But it takes time to build
a franchise, and Sony has been building their suite of titles for
over a decade. Consider the breadth, success and critical acclaim
of some of their exclusive properties: The Getaway, God of War,
Gran Turismo, Hot Shots Golf, Jak and Daxter, Killzone, Ratchet
& Clank, Shadow of the Colossus, Singstar, Sly Cooper, SOCOM,
and Twisted Metal. These are all million-plus sellers worldwide
that are either already announced or likely to appear on PS3. Add
to this Sony’s new line up of first-party titles, including
Heavenly Sword, Lair, Motorstorm, Resistance: Fall of Man,
Uncharted and White Knight Story, and they have an even deeper
and stronger line-up than what they had on PS2.

A lot of industry watchers and even a handful of publishers have
been quick to write Sony off this generation, and I think
that’s near-sighted. Sony has made a lot of decisions with
the PS3 that may have slowed them down in the short run, but
should give them a big advantage in the long run. The high price,
hardware complexity, and the uncertainty of the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD
format war have contributed to the PS3’s slow start out of
the gate. But as the price drops, developers master the hardware,
and Blu-Ray becomes the new DVD standard, Sony’s early
disadvantages turn to advantages. As downloadable games become
more common, the 60 GB hard-drive will be a big advantage to
developers and consumers. As games get bigger and more
sophisticated, Blu-Ray storage will increasingly become a major
advantage. And as more and more of Sony’s exclusive
first-party titles get released, the PS3 will begin to outsell
the competition on a monthly basis. Those publishers who have
shifted resources away from PS3 development will find themselves
behind the curve and losing money as the market center gradually
shifts toward the PS3 over the next two years.

I’m sure many of you may have comments about my point of
view. If you do, please email [email protected] and
I’ll do my best to respond. Also, I’ll be visiting the
various forums to see what people think, including our own at
www.insomniacgames.com (click on the community tab). Hope to see
you there.”

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