Sony's Social Media Success

(Disclosure: I work at CNW Group, and work with some of our clients on their Social Media Releases. However, I did not do any work at all on this recent release from Sony, and this blog reflects only my own thoughts and opinions, not those of CNW Group.) Last week, Sony did a Social Media Release to launch its new touchscreen computer. ( "Sony Delivers New Touch Screen HD-TV/PC"). I didn't actually see it until it went live, and when it did I was impressed.

Besides the basic text of the release doing a great job of actually explaining the product, it also included a clear shot of the product that can be easily used by the media (ahem, bloggers) and an equally informative and usable video (embedded below, from the release).

I don't know how this factored into any of their other communications plans, aside from the fact that Sony Canada Tweeted about it from their @SonyCanadaNews account.

What I do know is that both Engadget ("Sony's VAIO L 1080p all-in-one PC is perfect for rockin' moms") and Gizmodo ("Sony's VAIO L works as a full PC or simply a TV") wrote posts about this new PC/TV, and both embedded the video from the release in their posts.

That is great visibility for Sony and their new Vaio L, and I don't think anyone can argue that this wasn't a successful Social Media Release. It shows a real possibility for what bloggers can do with the additional content provided to them.


Off the Couch, On the Couch: Consoles' Future

There're two trends in video-gaming I've noticed lately: First, a shift towards more peripherals and consoles taking over more functions of computers—a development confirmed by the latest E3. One of the first companies to successfully introduce accessory-enhanced games into the mainstream was Sony with its Singstar and Buzz franchises.

Then there was the final breakthrough: Guitar Hero, first just being bundled with a plastic guitar, later even with a drum set. This step was a huge risk: Bemani games were pretty much relegated to a niche existence in the West, no one knew if people were willing to spend significantly more on a game with a toy guitar, and the competition for scarce retail space was intense.

The risk, however, paid off: People loved the new interfaces, which allowed them to immerse themselves in the gaming experience deeper than before. Dreams of a rock star career were easier to pursue with a plastic axe than with a joypad.

Apart from appealing to people who never might have played video games before, another advantage is obvious: Games can be pirated, peripherals can't. You want to play your Pirate Bay Rock Band with a controller? Sure, bore yourself to death.

We had also better get used to the thought of these new interfaces. Kids these days often play their first games on the Wii. As this generation grows up, it won't understand why it can't control FPSs in a similar, active way. The couch will be deserted, that's for sure.

But then again, a second trend might keep people right there: Increasingly, consoles take over the functions of computers.

Think about the Xbox, for example; it was basically introduced because Microsoft wanted to carry the dominance it had in the office environment over into your living room, a space which at that stage was mostly in the hands of the PlayStation.

Soon you'll be able to access your Facebook profile with it, update your Twitter status and listen to These are very significant developments. Microsoft might have won, we just haven't realized it yet.

This Offworld piece makes some very good points:

"The announcement that I thought was missed was the opening of the Xbox Live Dashboard interface to the internet," [industry analyst Michael] Pachter told Gamasutra. "Later this year, Microsoft will allow members to access and to select music, to access Netflix and instantly watch films/TV shows, to access Facebook and interact with other friends, and to access Twitter and post/read tweets."

Pachter argues that the gaming media entirely missed the significance of this announcement, which puts the 360 firmly in the same territory as Apple's AppleTV, only with a library of awesome games. With so many 360s already installed around the world, MS have a good chance to become the default choice for web media on your TV.

The author adds:

If the 360 does start to support all these things (there's no confirmation as to whether Last.FM will be able to run in the background as a soundtrack to your games), it'll become the kind of gaming machine that I want to spend my time with for more reasons than just because it has some games that my PC doesn't.

It will become a device that has more of the networked infrastructure, and more of the media tweaks and toys that I take for granted as part of my desktop computer.

The thing is: This development does not only apply to stationary consoles: Just think of the iPhone and its growing success as a gaming device. People play on it because they always take it with them and it combines pretty much everything you can ask for: wifi, email, surfing the net, games, etc. Before my iPod Touch was stolen (donations welcome!), I totally neglected my DS, simply for the fact that the iPod combined all my entertainment needs.

The PSP is taking the same direction; its new incarnation, the PSP Go, will come with an app shop (albeit without a touch screen).

When thinking about these developments, keep in mind the falling price of the 360. As the Offworld piece points out:

Rather than having to release a new console, the 360 just gets cheaper, and makes more sense, to more people, because it does something that it didn't do before: Guitar Hero, Last.FM, Twitter, motion-tracking control... A spiralling feature list, a net that gets bigger and drags in more people.

The Xbox indeed develops back to its PC heritage and becomes increasingly flexible. It fulfils a PC's functions, but with the convenience of a console. Sony does have a lot of competition on their hands, and yet they don't seem to do much about it. In view of the PS3's impressive hardware architecture, it's difficult to say if they are able to lower its price, but that would be a first step in the right direction.

All this doesn't even take into account the effect of cloud computing. Maybe the 360 will be the last console you ever buy, because the rest will be done in the cloud. Not only would this apply to applications but also to gaming.

This demands the questions: Will one platform be obsolete one day? What will happen to the PC? Surely it won't disappear, but it will suffer. Eventually you might simply end up with another Microsoft product.

What do you think? Are consoles the future of computing?


Game Developers are Just Like Musicians

Right now, everyone's attention is focused mainly on music piracy. That's because people have figured out how to get music for free (or download it easily for a small price) for a long time. This is due to the fact that the average size of a song is only a few MBs, and an album is generally less than 100MB. Downloads are quick, and "piracy" so easy that it has become commonplace. The reason that downloading isn't as widespread for movies and television shows is because the files are so much bigger, and often greater knowledge of which media player to use is needed. Pretty much every audio track you are likely to download will play on your mp3 player, as well as on your computer somehow. It seems that few video files will play on a basic install of Quicktime or Windows Media Player, and that often additional plugins are needed (and yes, I'm sure that if you are reading this blog you know how to download and play movies easily on your computer - you aren't the people I'm talking about).

However, I think that this will rapidly change. People will quickly realize how much media they can get via the computers and lawsuits like those initiated against file sharers by the major music labels might be directed at those sharing movies and television shows.

And that is why it is so refreshing to see the stance that some indie game developers are taking. Like the independent musicians before them that have managed to be successful while giving away their music for free, these developers can do the same.

"We're all here because we love making games first and foremost," said independent games developer Steve Swink, echoing similar statements from independent musicians that just want people to hear their music.

The quote is from an article on Techradar called Is Free Really The Future of Gaming? that looks at these issues from both the perspective of the smaller, independent developers like Wink as well as larger studios like Sony and EA.

The article also raises the question about whether or not advertising is really the solution to creating free medium. This applies to media besides games, and I'm inclined to think that advertising isn't really the solution.

Rather, I think that companies will work more in tandem with game developers. The obvious example is of a car company working with a game company to create the virtual experience of driving the car. To move beyond this will be more difficult, but nobody said that business is easy. Similarly, I've been seeing more and more examples of corporations teaming up with musicians to essentially sponsor a song or album, and offer downloads of it for free as a way of promoting their product.

Games have also been using the add-on content model, in which the initial game experience is free but you can buy upgrades or customization for a price. With this model, they once again have something in common with musicians that have discovered they can give their basic music away for free and charge for scarcer goods like vinyl LPs or t-shirts. The game developers will just have to create demand for in-game goods in a similar way.


Apparently Videogames (and laptops and cell phones) do Kill People: Demand for Raw Materials Incited African "PlayStation War"

A piece on gamepolitics brought my attention to an aspect of videogaming I never really thought about: The mining of the raw materials needed to manufacture consoles. A report on Toward Freedom states that the PlayStation 2's requirement for a rare metal in its manufacturing process helped fuel a bloody, decade-long conflict in Africa's Democratic Republic of Congo. This rare metal is a black metallic ore called coltan which once it is refined becomes a bluish-gray powder called tantalum, a crucial component for cell phones, laptops – and the PlayStation 2 whose launch in 2000 spurred a further increase in demand.

This eventually led to Rwandan troops and Western companies to exploit the people and mineral resources of Congo, with children often forced to work in mines.

Extensive evidence shows that during the war hundreds of millions of dollars worth of coltan was stolen from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The UN and several NGOs claim some of the most active thieves were the Rwandan military, several militias supported by the Rwandan government, and also a number of western-based mining companies, metal brokers, and metal processors that had allegedly partnered with these Rwandan factions.

While comments like "Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms" make for catchy, cliche ridden headlines it has to remembered that during the last eight years not only the demand for consoles but also for other forms of consumer electronics grew disproportionately high. Take for example the saturation with cell phones or the rising popularity of laptops – not that that makes this sad fact any better but one certainly can't reduce the problem to the gaming industry alone (something which a lot of people are probably inclined to do as it's an easy target).

According to gamepolitics, a Sony rep told Toward Freedom that the company now takes steps to ensure that it does not use coltan illegally obtained from Congo in its manufacturing processes.


How To Ruin Your Life By Not Playing Video Games

My friend Jay is fucking amazing at video games. Supernaturally good. For the past six years, I've been telling him that he should quit school or his job and take up video games full time. For a while, I told him that he should move to Korea to do this, but it turns out that North America has a video game league. Players are making hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorships and prize money, and I'm really disappointed when I hear that Jay is focusing more on law school than on games. Even if he doesn't go pro (turning his back on cash and chicks), there are still a ton of other benefits to gaming. I've always been convinced that Jay's gaming ability had something to do with an inherent pattern recognition skill, and that he should at least be playing the stock market. While this hasn't been proven, Techdirt points us to an article showing that other people seem to agree with me on this.

A recent article on a South African technology site seems to say that video game players are destined to be the leaders of tomorrow (found via Slashdot). The article is part of a study that found "that 80 percent of managers in the US under the age of 35 had significant video game experience and that gamers had a more positive outlook on life than non-gamers."

Another post from Techdirt points us to similar information, saying that video game players are better strategic business thinkers.

Once when I asked a friend how Jay managed to drive 12 hours straight through heavy rain and darkness in the southern United States, my friend said "he just turns it into a video game."

And to confirm my belief that in any given driving conditions, I'd rather have Jay behind the wheel than anyone else I know, this article from the BBC news website says that video gamers have better visual skills than most of the population.

So Jay, if you're reading this: Drop out of law school and start playing more games. To anyone else: Send Jay a message on Facebook and tell him to pick up a controller. Then go out and play some games of your own. It'll be worth your time.

-Parker PS: Although it probably doesn't surprise anyone, one of the hottest television shows in Japan right now is a reality show about a guy playing some of the hardest video games ever made. It is already in its 8th season.

It's Not About Manhunt it's About Video Games

Manhunt 2, the latest brainchild of scandal-ridden developer Rockstar, got a hard time all over the world: the English BBFC rejected the title, Ireland and Australia followed suit, while the American ESRB issued a preliminary rating of AO (Adults only) which basically amounts to a ban since most US retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Target, refuse to carry software rated AO. Accordingly Rockstar decided to temporarily shelve the title.I played the first Manhunt and found its snuff aesthetic sickening. Games like this definitely deserve a high rating and shouldn't get into the hands of minors. Also the whole principle of the title, "its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing" (to quote the BBFC), seems indeed questionable in a more and more "economised" environment with its out of control individualism. But: do these elitist worries justify a ban? Shouldn't every (grown up) individual be able to decide for himself what he wants to consume? Despite having to play the game the censors apparently are still alive and well… What worries me most though is the fact that the distribution of AO games, thanks to the conservative attitudes of corporate America respectively the elitist protection instincts of classification boards is pretty much impossible. Add to this the fact that the console manufacturers (in this case Sony and Nintendo) won't allow AO rated games on their machines. The thing is: through this form of censorship the full development of the medium of digital games in hindered since they are denied the rights of expression traditional media have. Art must contend boundaries, it must resist its industrialisation, and games as a form of art must do so in order to cover the whole range of human emotions – not only when it comes to violence but also to sexuality, one of the most neglected subjects of digital games. The works of the Marquis de Sade are considered classics these days, games on the other hand don't even get the chance to explore similar territories under current circumstances. Sex in movies isn't an issue, also this medium has its erotic classics – a game equivalent of something like The Last Tango in Paris however is unthinkable (though the question remains of how to design a game that conveys these intense emotions). The problem of digital games is that they are trying to strive for respect and artistic expression in an industry with a questionable political economy that is surrounded by moral panics due to the game-illiterate public/ media/ politicians. History tells us that with time this resistance wanes. Let's hope that this is also the case in the sensationalist 21st century.


Casual Gaming vs Innovation

If you had a look at the Japanese sales charts lately you could get the impression that hardcore gaming is coming to an end in the land of the rising sun. Nintendo rules with an iron fist and it seems that it can only be a matter of months until the whole country owns a DS and/ or a Wii. Meanwhile, Xbox 360 sales are still a total disaster which when you think of the games for it, combined with some Americanised corporate ignorance, isn't really much of a surprise. Also Europe doesn't seem too impressed with Microsoft's game culture. Actually the only market the 360 really appeals to is the action-obsessed US with its competitive culture. And even though Sony would like you to believe that if Jesus was a console he would be a Playstation 3, the great unwashed masses don't seem to have gotten the message yet – sales just pretty much suck everywhere.So what can be made of this? It's great to see that Nintendo is tapping a new audience with its approach and finally brings videogames to the mainstream. Which was about damn time considering that the industry had about 30 years for that. Male fantasies of bikini girls with machine guns are complimented with content (ed. note: What's wrong with bikini girls and machine guns?). Also your girlfriend can enjoy the system, as the innovative Wii control scheme allows for intuitive and interesting concepts that don't force you too learn the layout of a 16 button joypad by heart; cheaper development costs (potentially) mean more innovative and daring games. Sounds good, doesn't it? There are issues though. Will people stay interested in the casual games Nintendo offers? Is the five, ten minute distraction compelling enough to keep players coming back for more? Also: Can these games really innovate the medium? Maybe in being different when it comes to certain forms of content and in their control scheme. But it takes more to create something completely epic and new. Innovation is also always linked to new, more powerful technologies. More powerful graphics can make for a better narrative architecture, i.e. a powerful narrative with the help of an immersive environment. Superior calculating power can help to create a better A.I., an area that definitely needs improvement, holds huge promises and could potentially compel games to a new level. Casual gaming is a step in the right direction and a necessary completion. It would a shame though if hardcore gaming completely disappeared or just played a minor rule because this would severely diminish chances of future epic masterpieces. So let's hope Sony and Microsoft get their act together – you might not always like them (for very good reasons I might add!) but without them the future would be bleak.