Four Changes the PSN Needs to Make

There’s no doubt that we here at PSN Fans love our PS3s. With that said all good things have their faults and can do with some refinement. Usually at around this time (four or five years) into a console’s life-cycle, we’d be preparing for a turnover of generations that see new consoles toting much more powerful hardware, new media formats, and in this generation’s case, a whole new platform to distribute and play games: the online realm.

Since the beginning of this generation we’ve seen massive refinements to online services across all consoles, and seeing as how we’re not making that hardware transition any time soon, there’s likely to be more coming. Here are some improvements I’d like to see made before this PS3’s cycle ends.

A more worthwhile social experience
Everyone likes to have fun. And who better to share that fun with than your friends? Gaming has always been a social source for entertainment – whether it was just talking about it or playing. Unfortunately often both of those aspects fall short on the Network since the PS3 wasn’t built around it during development. Over time we’ve received system updates that have helped fix most problems users have had (such as constant game/conversation drop-outs, sign in problems or friends not finding each other in-game) but the system still doesn’t feel like a natural fit – especially with cross-game chat recently being officially killed. Even the revamped PlayStation Home feels arduous and clunky.

For starters, the friends list is pushed all the way to end of the XMB (cross media bar), which almost seems as if it’s just some feature pushed off to the side. Also the friends list can sometimes take a while to load, often becoming an annoyance when you’re just looking to compare some trophies to get on that competitive edge. Xbox LIVE, for example, immediately begins downloading your friends’ information upon system boot to nullify that delay. If we ever see a change to the XMB (whether it would be in this or the next generation) I know I would personally like to see a better display of my friends – people who too have chosen to purchase Sony’s home console – even if the list was just moved closer to the middle to make them seem more integral to the Network experience.

Aesthetically it looks good, but it’s far from the social experience most people want.

A more integrated, fluid online store
The PSN Store has seen a few changes since its inception, and most people agree those changes have been made for the better. We’ve even been given access to a multitude of entertainment media spanning games, music and media. However it still isn’t quite as smooth, integrated or easily managed as Xbox LIVE or Steam.

Browsing for older downloadable games, or even DLC for that matter, can often be a tedious process, especially when trying to wade through various subscreens. It also doesn’t help that the Store often takes its time managing data between downloads/transactions, further increasing the wait for an online purchase – and in this age of increased convenience and demand the “waiting game” is one that most people don’t like playing.

There have been improvements made since launch (the Store used to be browser-based, after all) but it could still do with some fine-tuning and added efficiency. Heck, just to make things easier for the individual, implementing some sort of Genius system a la iTunes may help negate an otherwise intimidating shopping experience.

More trials for downloadable games
With games being one of the more expensive forms of entertainment, and in economies like mine (Australia) where prices are bumped up due to middle man taxes, demos and trials become a very important part of the purchase process. Over the last year or so we’ve been seeing more trials popping up on the Store, but it still isn’t as seamless or user-friendly as Xbox LIVE or the App Store. On the App Store, trials or “lite versions” of apps are completely segregated from their more complete counterparts, cementing their distinction. With Xbox LIVE customers have the option of downloading the trial version of a title, playing it, then deciding to make the purchase in-game to progress further.

The Store has certainly come a long way, but it could still do with some fine-tuning.

On the PSN side of things however, I still hear of people unsure how to purchase some games; I remember being utterly confused and frustrated when trying to buy Scott Pilgrim last year, much later figuring out you must first download the trial then purchase a patch on the Store to unlock the game. It’s a relatively counter-productive process that newcomers are likely to be struck by. A digital service must be intuitive and simple to work with.

It’s also strange that not all releases may receive a trial or demo before/at launch. Again, people want to know if what they’re spending money on is worth it – not all people actively seek review sites.

A better solution to playing PS2 titles again
When Sony made the announcement years ago that they were discontinuing backwards-capable PS3s, we all knew that digital re-releases were inevitable. Well, recently those predictions came true. Re-purchasing past titles is an unfortunate state of affairs for those who already own the games (or can find it cheaper elsewhere) but don’t own a separate PS2 console. Now, this isn’t an unheard of tactic: Xbox LIVE offers last-gen titles through their Xbox Originals service, and Nintendo offers a vast range of classic games spanning a myriad of classic consoles with their Virtual Console system. However customers must rely on their system’s service to release games at the distributor’s discretion, which doesn’t always bode well.

Many classic and heavily influential games haven’t been released on these services various reasons, such as licensing or localisation issues. The only other option is for people to buy another PS2 console to play games they possibly owned already. My suggestion is this: why not release a Sony certified PlayStation 2 emulator through the Store and let people enjoy the games they already own? I know I would much rather pay $20 for a well-developed, official emulator (or something similar). Wouldn’t you?

Sony said they removed hardware-based backwards compatibility from PS3 systems post the 60GB models, but they’re now re-releasing downloadable versions of PS2 games. And despite that removal, the PS3 has always had the option to manage PS2 save files via the virtual memory card system, which always hinted that PS2 playability was inevitable. So it’s not a case of the PS3 not being compatible – the option was just never available to us.

It’s great to see some hard to find games getting a digital re-release, but popular/classic games shouldn’t only be re-distributed at the mercy of Sony too.

So those are just four points Sony could look to refine the PSN with. What’s your say on this? Are there any other points Sony could improve on? Or are you happy with how things are at the moment? Let us know in the comments section!

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About Angelo Valdivia

Angelo's been avidly gaming since age 3, and it's still what he does when he's not playing trumpet in bands and teaching. Or watching Sci-Fi. Or reading comic books. You can follow him on Twitter: @MangieV