Editorial: Sony's Biggest Mistake Of 2011

by Jeff Marchiafava on Dec 27, 2011 at 08:00 AM

Despite releasing some big name exclusives, 2011 was a rough year for Sony. The company's lackluster security led to one of the worst hacking scandals in recent history, and its solution to motion-controlled gaming fell flat in light of nearly nonexistent support. But these disappointments pale in my mind to the company's failure to capitalize on three little words.

Play, Create, Share. It's a tag line Sony coined alongside the first LittleBigPlanet, one that wasn't just supposed to be a flashy slogan, but a new way to play video games. It was meant to be a feather in Sony's cap – one the company could certainly use.

The LittleBigPlanet series provides virtually unlimited replayability

Sony doesn't have a lot to differentiate itself from the competition nowadays. The allure of free online gaming lost some of its luster when the company's network went down for almost a month and countless users had their personal information stolen. Move, while probably the most accurate form of motion-based gaming on the market, hasn't had any compelling releases to justify the peripheral's existence. Sony has pushed 3D gaming hard in recent months, but you don't need a Sony television or a PS3 to play your games in the third dimension.

For many gamers, the decision of what console to buy largely comes down to system exclusives. Sony has plenty of great exclusive franchises – arguably more than Nintendo, unquestionably more than Microsoft. However, gamers who don't own a PS3 can have similar experiences as most of Sony's biggest franchises from multi-platform games and Nintendo and Microsoft titles.

Except for the handful of games that fall under the Play, Create, Share umbrella. Nintendo's cutesy and entertaining platformers have nothing on LBP 2's 3+ million user-made levels, and being able to create your own race tracks in ModNation Racers is something every kart racer should have. Same goes for the under hyped mission creator in Infamous 2, which is exactly what open-world games need to remain entertaining long after the single-player campaign is over.

ModNation Racers shames other kart racers with its ability to make and share tracks

Sony released two great games this year featuring the Play, Create, Share style of gameplay: the aforementioned LittleBigPlanet 2 and Infamous 2. What's on the horizon for this new subgenre? Nothing but tumbleweeds. The PlayStation Vita will be getting retreads of LBP and ModNation Racers, but Sony hasn't announced anything new for PS3, didn't really advertize the mission creation feature in Infamous 2, and has done nothing in the downloadable space to capitalize on its new form of gaming. Instead, Sony tried to lazily apply the motto to Uncharted 3, based on its multiplayer character customization and Facebook integration. Sorry, Sony: that's not Play, Create, Share. It's Play, Customize, Bug Your Friends.

Sony's failure to capitalize on user content-focused titles is even more disappointing given how wide open the field is. The Wii's barebones approach to online gaming makes it virtually impossible to cultivate the kind of community LittleBigPlanet has, and Microsoft has firmly established its intent to charge gamers for every piece of downloadable content it can. Not only does this indifference give Sony an advantage with consumers, it could attract developers interested in creating user content-oriented games. One only has to look at PC gaming to see how many developers support modding, and the types of communities those tools create, to see what console makers are missing.

Infamous 2's mission creator proves user content isn't just for cartoony titles or PC games

The Play, Create, Share concept isn't right for every game, and as such, I don't want to see Sony shoehorn it into the wrong experiences. However, the company should be actively encouraging developers to incorporate user-created content into their games, creating new Play, Create, Share titles with its first-party studios, and scanning the industry for up-and-coming developers who are working on likeminded projects for potential partnerships. Xbox 360 owners will soon be getting an exclusive version of the wildly popular Minecraft – what's Sony's next move?

If Sony has an answer, it's not sharing it publicly yet. I enjoy many of the PS3-exclusive franchises, and think Sony does many things better than the competition (like the PS3's UI, for one), but I hope the company does more with its Play, Create, Share brand this year than it did in 2011.