Still Won't Kiss This Pig

sequined lips

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo. -- James Klass

My Playstation 3 console has started twinkling. WTHeck!?

At first I thought it was a problem so I hit the internet to see if anyone knew what I had done to my television's settings. It wasn't me. Apparently Firmware 3.0 causes the wavy thing moving in the background of your system menus to sparkle like Edward in the noonday sun. Why? Well, it's a feature. According to Sony anyways.

A little more Google-fu showed I was even farther behind the times than I thought. Firmware 3.10 came out in November and was part of the download/install that brought our glittery upgrade. It upped the ante with PS3-oriented Facebook functionality. Oooooooh! If I am ever inclined, I can now spam all my Facebook friends with every trophy I've earned, thingy I've downloaded, or as I'm playing certain games various events will be announced to all.

Microsoft isn't exempt here, either. The "new experience" they touted for Xbox Live last year came in with some very mixed reviews. The kids like it better than I do; I give it about a thumb and a half down. Even after all this time trying to get used to it, the organization really annoys me. It reminds me of trying to find something in the phone book. I always have to roll through all the menus trying to guess what category they've decided to call a particular download.

I haven't explored our flashy PSN too far yet, but I'm already not amused. I did find out how to turn off the sparkles, but I can't get rid of their annoying widget that streams marketing headlines at me. And they've plastered what was once a fairly clean menu interface with obtrusive deep links to their store. And I'm not even going to dignify the Wii's number-crunching nightmare excuse for online interaction with a comment.

Game companies are still mostly developing and marketing games and hardware under the assumption that we're all 17-year-old boys, despite years of statistics and real-life data to the contrary. They seem to have no data that they're willing to apply to guide them towards features that actually might be a selling point for any other kind of users, so they've decided to spackle this pig with a heavy coat of lipstick in the hopes that someone will kiss it. It seems we're very far away from seeing games companies understand and address that gaming hardware has to fit into a context of users' and others' lives.

I don't know where the companies are getting the notion, but they keep claiming this kind of stuff is what users want. What kind of users? Aesthetic-only upgrades don't expand your customer base towards non-gamers, and they alienate your current one by ignoring what they really are asking you for.

Most gamers could give a rat's bikini about the color scheme or any of the rest of the aesthetic upgrades because they only see the system dashboard just long enough to load their game. The stuff that would keep them around—friends lists, messaging that doesn't suck and other online ways to interact—don't seem to be part of the plan. The only feature I see listed as coming out of these last two upgrades that was at all interesting to me was the suggestion that 3.10 would shorten load times. I haven't seen a real difference yet, but I'm still optimistic.

The tardiness of my disgruntled reaction highlights the disconnect. The fact that this has been out since September and I didn't see it until the day after Christmas when my son plugged in his newly unwrapped God of War Collection should tell you how much of my PS3's time is spent streaming anime to my daughter rather than roaming their network offerings. I'm not sure I even know what color the screen background on my profile is much less how fancy it is. If I'm on the thing, it's because I just plugged in Final Fantasy X again to help me bear the wait for Final Fantasy XIII and once it's loaded I'm in Spira, not Sony-ville. Same with Xbox Live. I'm on the system nearly every day, and I didn't even know Xbox Live does Facebook as well as Twitter and that's been out for over a month.

Other types of users aren't any more likely to care. They might vaguely notice frills like this, but they already have a PC and a smart phone and are already using these features there in a much fuller fashion. Even if consoles added a way to interact in a way users cared about, they wouldn't have any friends on there. The Facebook functionality is so hobbled it unwittingly turns anyone who uses it into a Sony-driven comment spammer, which is a good way to get blocked in my neck of the woods. If Sony's lucky, they're at the system dashboard long enough to plug in the Blu-Ray disk they're trying to watch because that's how the gamer in the household convinced them to buy the system.

It's a general problem of principle, not just a specific feature or two. It really doesn't matter much what it looks like on the outside or under the hood. You could call it the OrlandoBloom-box and slap a beefcake pic of him on the faceplate you'd still be getting nowhere. Your non-gamer wife or girlfriend doesn't hate your 360 because it's got a dumb name and a pea-green color scheme.

The idea that you might somehow bring in a non-gamer with a useless feature like an animated theme that changes to reflect time's passing is a sly way of discounting all of their real concerns like:

  • It takes your time away from her and the things that need doing around the house.
  • It costs a fair amount of money both initially and with recurring costs over the long run.
  • It and its ever-breeding paraphernalia take over the entertainment center and half the living room. Or worse, they make you hide in your mancave with all your toys and not talk to anyone.
  • It makes you and the kids act like jonesing addicts when she says you all can't play with it, or act like vegetables when she does give in.
  • Her friends and her mother tell her it's a juvenile thing to pass the time with, or she gets the ever popular "at least he's not doing drugs or cheating on you" line that in your father's time used to cover project cars and basement poker nights.
  • The media and many authorities tell her there's nothing but blood and gore and nudity and sex in all of the games and it's harming her kids by making them violent and fat.

From her perspective the whole thing seems to have nothing she wants to deal with and she doesn't really understand why you even want it. A while ago the satirical website The Onion posted a spoof news announcement about a fictional product release that, swearing aside, gives a pretty good idea of her perspective (warning: lots of blue language).

Making your PS3 scintillating doesn't help any of this, and neither does adding hackneyed cross-platform links to stuff that she's already familiar with and works better on another platform. And both companies adding their own pointless Mii-wannabe avatars and an entourage of virtual dress-up stuff doesn't fix the real reasons she's not fighting you for the controller like it were the TV remote.

If they really want to expand into those areas and truly make the console the center of the living room, maybe game companies could think about what really causes issues for people and spend the time and money to solve them instead of trying to sugar-coat useless things with a new color of paint and a few glitzy words. How about they spend some of the millions they invest in market analysis on something useful, like:

  • Don't slather a large percentage of the stuff that you bring home for it with pictures of overwrought weaponry, guns, explosions, blood-splatter, or cheesecake;
  • Help her understand the parental controls and the other tools at her disposal to help her deal more easily with the jonesing/vegetable cycle and to protect the kids from harmful interactions (or in the case of the PS3 and the Wii, make those controls actually useful);
  • Work with the ESRB on their content rating system to make it express people's actual concerns, report content more accurately and communicate the issues with it to them understandably so she knows what's really in the box;
  • Put save/level designs in games that allow you to get in and out more quickly to avoid the "Just a minute Honey/Mom, I've got to get to a savepoint" discussion (always a sore point);
  • Build something besides a Japanese RPG or an arcade/puzzle game that she has a decent chance of being interested in, and actually market that game in such a way as to bring it to her attention (Ubisoft's Beyond Good and Evil could have been a contender.)

You want to hook up a cross-platform link she can use, why not work with the ESRB and the MPAA's websites to display the game/movie rating and the content descriptors for the game in the selection menus? Instead of hundreds of avatar pics, how about the ability to change the fonts in the system to make it handle both older and new televisions without inducing eyestrain?

Or maybe it's time to realize that all users really aren't of a piece. How about going deeper into the UI to give different types of users the experience they prefer? You can have a sparkly interface for those who are interested in that sort of thing, but when your no-frills type logs in, they could get something stripped down and ready for action. I'm sure your marketing guys can think of ways to ad-spam and monetize it.

If they keep going the way they are, each update that's forced on users just adds more inescapable marketing cruft and bloatware they have no use for. And what have we to look forward in future updates? Are we finally going to get the ability to talk across single-player games in PSN? How about background downloads of patches and firmware? I don't have a lot of hope.


Amoebic wrote:

Ugh, the facebook and twitter options on xbla are totally worthless. I can't believe someone got paid to make those gimpy piles of garbage. I tried them for all of a few minutes before I was irritated and insulted by how bad they were.

Yup, not that I can think of how it might've been implemented better.

You know, the one good thing about the Facebook app is that you can look at photo galleries on the TV. There's a pretty okay slideshow setup built in. Not a huge win if you have no problem with hooking up a camera or something to the TV, but I've noticed a few occasions where my girlfriend was chatting with her friends (read: gossiping) in the living room and she spontaneously fired up the Facebook to show off some pics or image-stalk somebody they were talking about.

So... that's kinda useful. I guess.

Ugh, yeah, that sparkle thing annoys me. There's basically one profile for the family though so every time I try to turn it off to use the Fallout 3 theme someone changes it back.

momgamer wrote:

And BadKen, where did you find that rodent? It's awesome!

Heh, I can't take credit--I used a friend's google-fu. The guy has an uncanny knack for finding a picture of anything, and when I saw the phrase "rat's bikini" I just had to have a picture of one. I was hoping for maybe an actual cloth bikini on an actual rat, but the cartoon works.

I'm sorry but this article mostly struck me as a bunch of post-holiday grinch-gripe. If you haven't noticed, every business in the world is busy finding useless ways to gum up Facebook with useless marketing garbage. Both my old employers are doing it now, in typical automated, understaffed fashion, with posts that hardly vary and just end up looking like spam just as much as the trophy or PSN purchase updates do, that are created by actual, overworked people, who are probably right now wishing that Facebook would just fold and spare them this additional responsibility.

Yet interesting stuff is going on there too. Mod Nation Racers beta codes are going out over Facebook if you're a fan of the Playstation page, and what you essentially get is a micro-advertisement of upcoming games right in your feed, limited to the number of companies you want to be a fan of. For me, I like seeing my Playstation and Atlus updates in my feed, on my PC, my MacBook, what have you, keeping me informed of the companies I care about, and not much else.

The PSN trophy feed is really better suited to Twitter than Facebook, but the PSN store purchases give you an option to say "no" if you don't want an update on your Facebook with that purchase. Yet the benefit of letting it happen is alerting your friends that you just got on board with X multiplayer experience and would be available for some gaming. Too bad all my Facebook friends do is send me invites to lose all my gaming time with Farmville...

Turning off the marketing stream is pretty easy. I mean, c'mon. Highlight the thing (I forget what it's called) and there's a pop-up to tell you you can hit triangle for some options. Off. It's right there. The twinklies on the background bar can also be avoided by selecting "Classic" as opposed to "Original" in the Theme Settings. Not hard. Not near as hard as it will become dodging the intrusive marketing that Facebook and Twitter are becoming, on their own. At least the links in my XMB to the Playstation Store aren't pretending to be some scholarship for working dad's like me, that will trick me into the "Will OK or Cancel on this pop-up be the close button for this ad window" game.

I see my XMB plenty, as I download game-review vids like Co-Op from right to my PS3, where my son and I watch them together in glorious HD like we can never do on the PC with all the competition for computer time. Maybe my PS3 will never replace what I do with the PC, or the TV, but it can augment it.

And yeah maybe the ratings help could be easier, so we can all distinguish between a rated M game with a little bit of boobies, and the ones where you can slaughter innocent people as a terrorist. But I don't think the responsibility for the failure in that system rests with the guys trying to add a little flash and functionality to the XMB.

Man get some orange juice and sleep off the hangover that 2009 left in its wake. I have a wife and kids and Demon's Souls won't let me pause AT ALL. And I LOVE IT ANYWAY. Try looking on the bright side of the lipstick sparkles once in a while.

Infinity wrote:

PSP wins for this, hands down. One-flick of the power button puts it into sleep mode for any game.

Heh. Too bad it's located right where my palm/finger junction is that's holding the damn thing up, causing me to power-off unexpectedly in the middle of God of War: Chain of Olympus!

Look I mostly agree with the concept of letting a dad-gamer like me save anywhere, as needed. But there are reasons why to add some limits there too. I have spammed many a save system in my time, creating my own choose-your-own-adventure finger-at-the-last-choice system of risk management in games. And I understand why a game maker would want to find ways to vex my game-breaking control-freak tendencies.

Personally I think New Super Mario Bros. Wii has great system: save anywhere at any time (in the map, anyway) but that save is deleted when you load it. It's like the save-state system, but it also let's you power off and come back if you, say, burn through way too many loves on a section doing something stupid, and want to come back to your earlier "beat-the-castle" save and try a section again.

Demon's Souls is just a love/hate relationship game, through and through. It's requirement that I slog through a level without any saving at all was surprising, challenging, intriguing, and really stood out. I take that game seriously. I set some time aside to play it, because I know I'll need it. Different games for different amounts of available attention is an alright tradeoff, in my book.

At least I'm not picking up a finite amount of typewriter ribbons to save in the thing. That early Resident Evil crap turned out to be just aggravating. But then again, it was done for a reason, to create a sense of tension in a time when maybe the graphics just couldn't quite do it on their own.

Convenience isn't the panacea of save-game systems. If it is for you, maybe you should play more Farmville. ;P

I am really concerned. I am wondering if some of these really are dumb features. Or we are just shaking our fist at those damn kids on our lawn?
How many old farts were rallying against e-mail and web browsing on phones?

KingGorilla wrote:

I am really concerned. I am wondering if some of these really are dumb features. Or we are just shaking our fist at those damn kids on our lawn?
How many old farts were rallying against e-mail and web browsing on phones?

I think we just have to look at it in terms of the benefits. Does being able to have your Facebook status auto-updated with messages about what games you're playing or bought/trophies you've won make Facebook a more useful communications tool for you? Will your friends appreciate receiving that info, or will they just block your spammy updates?

My feeling is for a younger audience they might enjoy this--it could be competitive in a way. If we elders don't appreciate it's not because we're luddites who hate all things new and gimmicky, it's just that we get no benefit from using these new tools. But we're probably not the market for them, are we.

KingGorilla wrote:

I am really concerned. I am wondering if some of these really are dumb features. Or we are just shaking our fist at those damn kids on our lawn?
How many old farts were rallying against e-mail and web browsing on phones?

It also might depend on your definition of "feature". I'm a software developer when I'm at my Daily Planet job, so a feature has a specific meaning.

Does it actually advance the technology in some way? (bolded for effect) If it doesn't, it's not a feature, it's content. That doesn't make it bad, understand. Just don't lie to me and try to tell me how cool and new and advanced you are if you're not.

The ability to have a layer of animated images behind the UI widgets in a console has been around since before the animated system menus on the PSOne and the Dreamcast (I can't remember if my Genesis had animated OS images or not). Or heck, see the menu of the Little Big Planet game itself. Already here, folks.

The ability to adjust things based on the time of day has been around for a very long time and using several sorts of technology. A cool way that this sort of thing has been used was in a GBA game called Boktai: The Sun Is In Your Hand where you're hunting vampires and the game adjusts the monsters and your attacks and everything based whether or not the light sensor on the machine shows that you're in sunlight. In that case, it's a feature.

Does it whiff of "monetization"? This isn't necessarily a bad thing, if the value is there. If it's just cruft stapled on as a tax on people who can't do budget math or a desperate plea like strewing links into the PSN Store as if they're trying to sow pennies and reap nickels then it's not a feature.

General context is also important. When you're looking at one the whole picture like an entire firmware release, is there one thing that shines in all these areas, and several others that you don't need but maybe others would? If, for example, they had actually shipped all this dreck along with voice chat, or even a full Facebook interface. Then these things just become something cool or hip or whatever the kids are calling good stuff these days.

But when all of this is used to try to dazzle people into thinking they're improving the product when all they're doing is improving their ability to pick your pocket, then that's when I get all "grumpy", as someone called me above.

(I can't remember if my Genesis had animated OS images or not).

If you turned on the Genesis with nothing in it, you got a black screen. The fun animations came when you yanked the cartridge out mid-game.

momgamer wrote:

The ability to have a layer of animated images behind the UI widgets in a console has been around since before the animated system menus on the PSOne and the Dreamcast (I can't remember if my Genesis had animated OS images or not).

I'm going to venture SegaCD as the start of this. Can't remember an OS layer to even view on the Genny. If you turned it on with no cartridge, you got black screen.

momgamer wrote:

But when all of this is used to try to dazzle people into thinking they're improving the product when all they're doing is improving their ability to pick your pocket, then that's when I get all "grumpy", as someone called me above.

That was me, and I'm sticking by my guns. As a developer yourself, would you like to be grilled over the failure of a ratings board and it's arcane classifications being indecipherable to moms in the world?

I still contend that a link to the PSN store from within the XMB 'Games' and 'Video' category is not that brutal of a marketing tactic compared to some of the shady data associations going on over on Facebook. Did the free "sparkly," or even worse, the "Dynamic Themes" that you can pay for, add what we had been asking for? No, probably not. But then again who am I or who are you to say they shouldn't be done until the ratings are made clearer? That's the vitriol that made me level the "grinch" accusation.

But if they're really smart, they are populating those Game and Video PSN store links with icons chosen by a data process informed by the purchases you've already made, in essence, showing you ads that you already likely have interest in, and nothing else. This is what Facebook is doing, as we speak, with data we're less aware is being fed into a database. Some cash grabs are a bit shadier than others.

What about a little recognition for firmware updates that add convenience, like the 3.15 optional that let's you transfer your data from one PS3 to another if you want? With all the love you gave to Nintendo, do you know that all your VC or WiiWare purchases are tied to codes on that specific console, and so, to my understanding, will be a real pain-in-the-ass to transfer?

Hey I'm no Sony fanboy but I do feel like their team has been doing a lot to catch up and reach parity with XBox Live which, last time I looked over my nephew's shoulder, had a big splash-screen ad for Dr. Pepper all over it's OS background. Ecch. I also feel the internet opinion writing does often, for some reason, just sort of default to vitriol and tear-down. I guess I felt the article was well-written but undeniably grumpy.

Holidays are stressful, and stress must be blown off. I guess you were my target for that, as I accused you of making these UI developers your target. I'm aware of the irony. Sorry.

I face being grilled for other people's work and how they do it every day. I work for an online legal research library, and my customers hold me accountable for the vagaries of Google's indexes, the American legal system, the various federal and state rules and regulations governing it's publishing, and other publishing company's legacy publishing contracts some of which have been in place since the early 1900's.

None of which, by the way, do I have any control over whatsoever. What I do control is how my tools look and work, and how a case gets indexed (but not where it's indexed) and how we get the right cases from the Federal District of Idaho's website.

This is how everyone else has to do business - why are the game hardware companies somehow exempt? If I splattered our subscribed search application with banner ads and changed the color from beige to tan and tried to call that our quarterly update, our customers would rightly be upset.

As far as me calling for Sony/MS/Nintendo to work on the ESRB, do you not know what the ESRB is? It's an industry self-regulation organization created by game companies called the Entertainment Software Association. It's funded by game companies, and the gaming companies are a huge part of it's initial charter, the structure of the system, and it's current operations. I'm holding them responsible for their own work and it's ongoing problems.

I used the ESRB in place of Facebook example to show a case where that same technology - partnering with an outside service - could be used in a way that would make it much more robust and not come off as a smarmy marketing ploy. It would probably come off as pandering to the mainstream but hey, that's something they have to do too. Especially considering how bad their parental controls implementation is.

What "love" did I give Nintendo? Calling The Wii's online a "number crunching nightmare" is not usually considered lovely. Their online solution is so bad I didn't even try to hold them up to the same place as MS and Sony.

At this point, Imbarkus, the only thing I'm grumpy at is you. What really hurt me was the Farmville line. I have an aunt and three cousins on there and in the cafe-thing and they're driving me straight up the wall.

And I'll check out Firmware 3.15. Thanks for the heads up on that. If my daughter gets a PS3 to go with her Xbox like she's threatening she's going to want to come get her saves.

momgamer wrote:

This is how everyone else has to do business - why are the game hardware companies somehow exempt? If I splattered our subscribed search application with banner ads and changed the color from beige to tan and tried to call that our quarterly update, our customers would rightly be upset.

While that may be true, I think you're overlooking the fact that your business as a legal research library is far different from the PS3's (or 360's) business as an entertainment platform.

Even though the advertisements and other various bells & whistles have no value to you in how you use those consoles, they still hold value to others; and even if that value (or maybe the number of users positively impacted) by those things are small, the effort taken in creating these things is so small that I imagine it makes for an easy cost-benefit analysis.

Truce! Honestly I didn't mean anything by the Farmville line. It was after I posted my initial reply that I noted your username I swear! And looking back, I can see the Wii love I perceived came from responses (about the quick saving) more than the original article. Mostly I wanted to point out that the few marketing things Sony have added (the ticker, the new store links) are way less intrusive than they typical stuff currently being set loose on Facebook.

Look I agree that more could be done to address your concerns with ratings and the ESRB, which I am indeed familiar with, along with the MPAA, the ESA, Australia's OFLC, and Great Britain's BBFC.

I just don't begrudge Sony the updates sometimes being about some sparkle and a few marketing links. It's all gotta be represented, the functionality and the marketing, each enabling the other. Otherwise we wouldn't be hearing the rumblings about Sony needing to establish some sort of subscription service to finance these things. At least they are marketing their own stuff, and not placing a brand-new sparkle effect around a big background can of Dr. Pepper.

Frankly I think if Sony made initial Beta participation and maybe even "early release" download-only access to a game part of a subscription to PSN, and then released games to retail after the subscribed folks enjoyed their exclusivity, gaming companies could enjoy the multiple windows of revenue opportunity that movie companies enjoy with the theatre release/home release double-dip. Something's gotta be done to fight Gamestop's pre-owned cannibalization of sales, something better than cramming multiplayer into a game that should be able to live without it, i.e. Brutal Legend and Bioshock 2.

Anyway let there be peace between momgamer and this dad gamer, because nobody likes it when mom and dad fight. Refutation of stated points may have been intended, but offense was not.

Imbarkus wrote:

At least they are marketing their own stuff, and not placing a brand-new sparkle effect around a big background can of Dr. Pepper.

Nice swipe at Microsoft. I'm noticing more and more ads for soda and fast food popping up since NXE launched.