A big part of the presentation was spent on the discussion of virtual maps - like Google Earth. Yes, it's interesting... but what does this have to do with PS3? Kutaragi explained that a fully 3D, high detail map of the world (which doesn't really exist yet) could be incorporated directly into a game.
According to Kutaragi, "If the global map system is open to everyone... then users can upload their own data. PlayStation offers such a proposal... their living room, their favorite restaurant, their school." A global mapping system is "almost available", he thinks. His vision for the PlayStation 3 is to take user-created content and blend it with game creators' vision to create a new style of gaming. This theme kept returning throughout the talk. Who needs friends when their living rooms are on your PS3?
Kutaragi brought up the idea of a virtual Disneyland - but an actual virtual Disneyland would suck. We're gamers, and we want games. According to Kutaragi, PS3 users will be able to upload content to the internet - which the industry might use as new ideas for games. Live material that could never appear before will soon be available, and "we will very soon see the start of that era," he suggests. Is the PS3 to be the YouTube of gaming? According to Kutaragi, game creators are "indispensable" but the combination of professional content and user-based content will be necessary in the future. PC gamers already know that user-created content can rule. Despite the fact that we're not optimistic that this will truly be embraced quickly by the game industry, this is an interesting window to open.
Above: Sony showed another trailer for wildlife simulation Afrika, which is the closest thing to proof-of-concept for this virtual map stuff Kutaragi spent the presentation talking about
Kutaragi didn't compare the PS3 to the 360 at any point during the presentation, but he did talk about how how some products get buried in the "package era" - meaning when games must be pressed to discs and physically sold - contrasted with how on the internet, people can find something interesting and be excited by it. (Think YouTube.) The game industry, Kutaragi says, is suffering from bipolarization - a big, big gap between games that sell and games that don't. Gamers are only buying what they know; what looks safe. "When we consider the... original purpose of contents creation, it's to create diversity and express creativity. The current game industry tends to rely on easily sellable sequels." Given that the four movies Sony showed to get us pumped for PS3 were Ridge Racer 7, Virtua Fighter 5, Final Fantnasy XIII and a Gundam game (based on a story from 1979) we're not entirely clear how the PS3 is supposed to be stopping this.
The funny thing is, though Kutaragi clearly thinks the internet is the solution to revitalizing games and creating interesting new content, he spent a lot of time complaining about how unreliable and slow it is - without any solution. He kept talking about five or 10 years down the road. Vision is essential, but the PS3 is coming out in November. He didn't really try to convince us that it's ready now; we left the speech with the feeling that the games we're so excited to play, right here, right now, are the least important facet of the PS3 in Sony's eyes.
Again, Sony has asked us to take it on faith that the PS3 is worth it. Again, Sony has pointed us toward the future - instead of delivering in the present. We want so badly for the PS3 to be what it can be, but we have come away from this talk convinced that 2006 is not its year.
September 22, 2006