Talking Heads: Social Gaming- Is the PS3 Disconnected?

In what I hope to be the first of many different formats and collaberations on this blog, I talk to fellow gamer Rockers Delight about social gaming and how the PS3 compares against the Xbox 360 in this regard.  In the following transcript Los Havros will be denoted with LH and Rockers Delight with RD.

LH: Thanks for taking time out to have a chat!  We’re going to be talking about the PS3 and its lack of social connectivity.  I have to admit, I’m a bit confused here.  I couldn’t help but notice some of your recent tweets noting that for you the PS3 user experience feels a bit ‘disconnected’, ‘unsociable’… your ‘loner console’.

I find this area of debate fascinating, but could you expand on what you mean.  Is it simply a lack of cross-game chat, or is it more?

RD: Hey, Los Havros! You are indeed right, more than once I’ve referred to the PlayStation 3 as my ‘loner console’, most recently spurred by a 360 gamer switching to PS3 and Tweeting the same thing.

Let me point out, though, that despite my feelings of solitary with my PS3, all my real life friends are in fact PS3 gamers, not 360. So, despite being new to the console, I do actually have a decent-sized friends list.

It’s difficult to know where to start, and to also refrain from sharing all my thoughts on this at once. To sum up how social a console the 360 can be, it feels like you’re missing a leg if not connected to Xbox Live. PS3, on the other hand, wouldn’t make much difference to me if I was playing online or offline.

The fact the PlayStation 3 is sold without any device for communicating is a good starting point. It shows that connectivity between gamers isn’t a priority for Sony, unlike Microsoft who box every console with a basic headset.

My headset is something that’s very rarely unplugged from my controller, so you can imagine how much chatting I’m doing whilst playing (hey, I’m a woman!). You can correct me if I’m wrong, but I do recall private chat whilst playing a game being impossible on PlayStation 3, prompting gamers to quit chat if they wished to play?  That seems an insane move on Sony’s part, and it pretty much says it all; the PlayStation 3 wasn’t designed as a ‘social console’ (for lack of a better term), whereas the 360, from the start, has been all about

LH: Wow, that’s a bit of a mouthful!  Microsoft bundling a headset- that’s something I wasn’t aware about.  With the PS3, you can use any bluetooth headset, but I only got round to acquiring one (the Official Sony one) with a copy of SOCOM.  I believe they’re now sold on their own, but still, the fact it’s taken this long is quite lame.

So, lack of any device bundled with the PS3 to communicate with, could be perhaps regarded as the first nail in the PS3’s coffin then?  Yet I have to disagree with you about it not making a difference whether or not you’re connected to the PSN.  I feel a bit disconnected if I can’t get on: I love to see what’s new on the PlayStation Store: I might download a new demo, check if there’s any add-on packs for LittleBigPlanet that take my fancy, or download game trailers, like for the recently held GamesCom.  I also like comparing my hard-earned Trophies with the people on my friends list.  A bit of friendly rivalry!

The BIG problem as I see it (which you’ve picked up on), is the lack of cross-game chat.  If you’re to believe that Super_Secret is actually Kaz Hirai (President & CEO, SCEI) moonlighting as a forum insider (link: then the PS3 was never built for pervasive social interaction.  But this is plain to see anyway.  So on this point, I really do agree with you!

I’d like to say though, if I can fiddle around with semantics, that rather than being ‘disconnected’, the experience on the PS3 is more ‘fragmented’ if anything.  Perhaps a silver lining might be ‘Universal Game Launching’ coming up in an update to PlayStation Home.  The Official US PlayStation Blog was quite excited about this one, does that take your fancy at all?

RD: Yes, lack of headset is partly accountable. Having said that, even if a headset was bundled with the PlayStation 3, I probably wouldn’t have used it much, if at all. Chatting to friends while sitting on the dashboard isn’t my idea of productive gaming. Again, just correct me if I’m wrong; maybe this issue has since been resolved by Sony.

Coming from the 360, I’m used to idly chatting to friends while playing a game, whether I’m directly playing with that person or not.  Another valuable feature the 360 has, which many gamers had been rooting for for a long time, is Party chat (especially valuable for
clans). Now you can communicate with numerous friends all under one place – it’s fantastic!

I guess you can see, coming from the 360, that a lot of social features that are available there aren’t supported to the same extent on the PlayStation 3.

Regarding your mention of the PlayStation 3 not being built for pervasive social interaction, that’s fine, but what Sony have to then understand is that the ‘next generation’ of gaming really seems to be about social gaming. Don’t you think? Look at the Wii, essentially designed as a party console. And look at the 360, with Xbox Live and Microsoft’s efforts to really connect gamers, not to mention the impending arrival of Twitter and Facebook (though I personally am not overly excited about that).

As for Universal Game Launching, your mention of it was the first I’ve heard (I really should start subscribing to PlayStation 3 feeds!). So all I’ve got to go on is what search results Google has returned. Let me get this right, you can launch any game directly from Home?  Purchase items for your Avatar? Feel free to fill me in on the rest, but that doesn’t really get me excited.

Also, I have a question for you, Mr Havros! I mentioned clans earlier, of which we both know communication is a vital aspect of playing in a clan. Are there any features on the PlayStation 3 that really support gaming in a clan? Much like the Party chat I referred to earlier?

LH: Ouch.  This is where Sony really embarrasses me:

  • Nope, you can’t chat to anyone outside of the game you’re playing (but they’re hopefully working on this as we speak)
  • There’s no such thing as party chat, which is a very important feature for clans- each game handles this separately

You’re totally right with ‘next generation’ gaming.  Whilst Sony have packed in plenty of high-tech goodies into the PS3, they’ve not really ‘got’ the idea of truly integrated social gaming.  With PlayStation Home, you’re right, but there’s so much more: talking and interacting with other gamers, playing mini games, exploring game spaces like Uncharted, Far Cry 2 and Resident Evil 5, taking part in ARG (Alternate Reality Gaming) such as Xi. Surely the social features of Home mitigate the PS3’s shortcomings in areas where the 360 provides an arguably superior experience?  Or do you feel that the 360 simply offers the complete, comprehensive package?

RD: Honestly? I have no idea, because not once have I ever been able to connect to Home. Granted I’ve not turned my PS3 on in over a month, but I gave up trying to connect to Home.

I guess you can see why I feel so disconnected from other gamers while playing PS3, and while this may not be a bad thing in some cases (for example, I love losing myself in JRPG’s, shutting off everybody outside the virtual world), in most other cases I see it as a downfall.

It’s not a bad thing that Sony and Microsoft are after different things, but I’m quite surprised that the simplest of features are as yet unsupported on the PS3. I also had a bit of difficulty using the PS3’s interface to message friends – I find the 360 generally does a better job of messaging friends/responding to friend requests etc.

I definitely don’t think the 360 offers the complete, comprehensive package, but it offers the basics, which suits me. A lot of aspects of Home are things that don’t tend to interest me. The talking and interacting with other gamers sounds great, but again, I would much rather be doing these things <i>whilst</i> gaming. Mini games are likely targeted to the more casual gamer, and I tend to find that I even don’t take advantage of Xbox Arcade because I’m more fond of getting stuck into the meaty, retail games.

Funnily enough, this conversation has made me realise there’s a bigger gap between the 360 and PS3 than I realised. I don’t mean that in terms of one is better than the other (that’s of course subjective), but I mean how different they really are to one another.

LH: That’s the key difference I think; the 360 is probably best suited to sociable players and multiplayer gamers.  Whereas the PS3 generally does great single player games, and does them well.  Maybe the PS3 attracts a certain kind of gamer?  When I use my PS3, I just immerse myself in a game and don’t bother with talking to other gamers or sending messages.  Whilst I’d say I’m a fairly sociable person, when on the PS3 I’m more likely to think when receiving any incoming messages *sod off- you’re interrupting my game!*  That sounds awful, right?  But I really do value gaming as a bit of ‘me time’.  So much so that I was a bit disappointed that the previously single player Uncharted gained a multiplayer mode for Uncharted 2.

I’m going to cheat a little here and argue that whilst we’ve been talking in-depth about social gaming, it’s really been magnifying an area where the PS3 is weak, so I’m going to shift topic a bit to look at the bigger picture.  The latest marketing campaign for the PS3 says that the PS3 ‘only does everything’.  Whilst the PS3 is a thoroughbred for games, it is also a cheap Blu-Ray player, you can connect your digital camera, you can stream music onto your PS3 from your PC(s), there’s great PSP connectivity, you can watch digital TV on it (via Play TV); in other words it can act as a complete multimedia hub.  Those are the PS3’s real strengths… but at the expense of social gaming?  Yes.

Is there any kind of conclusion we can reach from this discussion, or have we already reached it, in a round-about way?

RD: Personally, I think coming from the 360 to PS3 is a different ball game. Someone who’s solely purchased a PS3  isn’t going to feel hard done by that it’s missing some of the features the 360 possesses. It’s only because I’ve been gaming on a 360 for 4+ years now that I feel disconnected when using the PS3.

I don’t for one minute think it’s a bad console though – far from it.  And you’re absolutely right about it being a multimedia hub. Of course, you could argue the 360 does a lot of that stuff too, just without the fancy Blu-Ray as Microsoft sadly supported the now defunct HD DVD.

Hmm, Los Havros, I’m not sure what conclusion we’ll reach, but I think there’s one thing we can agree on; if you’re more of a sociable/multiplayer gamer, the 360 should be your first port of call. If not, the PlayStation 3 really is an outstanding piece of equipment. But so is the Xbox 360 :p  No argument there.

LH: Well, that’s a wrap.  Once again, thank you very much for your time!  It’s been a truly enlightening and informative chat.


18 thoughts on “Talking Heads: Social Gaming- Is the PS3 Disconnected?”

  1. If you think about it, social gaming has never been Sony's forte. While during the PS1's generation it was standard to only have two controller ports, the PS2 was the only system in its generation that STILL limited you to two controller ports. I'm a PS2 owner and I love the system, but I have always found it to be a much more solitary system than say, Gamecube, N64, Xbox…even Dreamcast. I've never minded this as I usually play games as a way to escape and prefer my social interaction to not involve staring at a screen. I do own a 360 and never chat online because I just don't enjoy that type of interaction. So I think 360 and PS3 certainly are different beasts with a different market that will support them.

    1. You're absolutely right! Most other consoles had at least 4 controller ports, whereas BOTH the PSone and PS2 only had 2 ports. It really frustrated me, and I didn't buy a first party multitap out of principle!

      Yea, I guess it really does depend what you're after from your gaming experience.

  2. Hmmm, could it be me that RD is referring to? We did have a short twitter conversation about my first experiences with the PS3 a few weeks back. Regardless, I want to emphasize her last statement, if you've never used an Xbox 360 before you will have a hard time telling how disconnect the PS3 'feels'.

    When an Xbox is offline, right off the bat, a majority of the dashboard UI goes away. About the only way I can accurately describe it is: think about the cross-media bar in the PS3. Now imagine that, anytime you're offline, every channel goes away except for games. That's kind of what happens on Xbox but those aren't those missing channels aren't media and options… they're online features. Not only that, with a full friends list you're constantly getting notifications about other people coming online, they're sending you group invites, game invites, messages and you can get to all of these things regardless of what you're doing.

    What about those single-player experiences? Those games where you don't want to be disturbed because you're trying to immerse yourself? Well, change your status to "private" and no one will be able to bother you!

    In addition, the point was brought up about the "social media hub" aspect of the PS3. Everything mentioned, with the obvious exception of playing Blu Ray, can be done on an Xbox 360 and those features have been there since day one. Being a Microsoft product, it acts as a Windows Media Center extender and it can also tie into the standard media sharing abilities of Windows and Media Player 10. Streaming music, photos, videos (in tons of formats) is all par for the course on Xbox 360. In addition, we can stream music into our games (automatically replacing the in-game music) in *every* game.

    Sorry for the epic length comment, just want to say my piece! GREAT interview. 😀

    Microsoft Xbox MVP

    1. Haha, great points. I think I overlooked the streaming abilities of the Xbox 360! I think the way forward in this regard for the PS3 has been that Windows Media Player 10 onwards has supported DLNA, enabling most of the features you mention.

      I suppose because I don't really care that much about all the social goings on, the PS3 is a really good fit. I feel that sometimes multiplayer features and always-on messaging has become too much in some repsects. Sometimes I just want to be left alone! I don't have to pay for the PlayStation Network features, and I can dip in and out as much or as little as I want.

  3. Microsoft won this battle with the Xbox, never mind the 360. I used to play loads of Xbox games and chat away to my mates online. With the PS3 it’s a nightmare of people either not having headsets or having dodgy ones that don’t work very well or forgetting that you have to press R3 to speak about 30 seconds into you well crafted joke.

    On Xbox social chat is the norm, whereas on the PS3 is a badly implemented bolt on that not every one takes part in.

    I last played online via XBL on the old Xbox. And that experience is still better than anything the PS3 has offered.

    1. That's an interesting perspective. I never found Xbox Live to be that compelling on the original Xbox, but I do feel they upped their game for the 360. I felt though, that right then with the original Xbox, Microsoft 'got' social gaming. Sony are only 'just' beginning to have a vague inkling of what it is.

  4. Great little discussion that really brings up a valid point that Sony and Microsoft don't really talk about, which from MS point of view, they really should!

    Have any of the shortcomings of social gaming been addressed in the recent PS3 3.0 firmware update or is it still not possible to voice chat between games? I've never noticed this in the 2 months I have had a PS3 but that, I think, is mainly down to having no friends IRL that have a PS3 and play online.

    I hardly ever play SP games, even something like Uncharted that I bought recently and have yet to play it, even though it is said to be a great game from all reviewers. I really am a social gamer but the lack of console playing friends means I don't play the 360 as I don't want to be paying a monthly sub to use the console once a fortnight. This is where (don't shout) PC's are leading the way from my POV. If I had the same level of friends that played online PC games that played PS3 it would be perfect, but they're yet to make the step-over!

    Hopefully with the lowering of the PS3/360 prices, fixing/adding the necessary social gaming functionality a lot more people will take the leap and purchase a PS3 to get connected.

    1. Firmware 3.0 has added plenty of things, but not anything like cross-game chat.

      Edit: And you absolutely, positively need to at least give Uncharted a try! It's pure gaming gold.

      Speaking of which… how's your playthrough of Uncharted going, Ash?

      1. Just started Uncharted this evening. Crashed 10 minutes in, crashed again at exact same point. Off to google I went, and it turns out 3.0 + Uncharted is not working for quite a few people.

        Looks like I'll be forced to crack open Demon's Souls which I got on Saturday!

        1. It's funny you should mention that. I've had no problems with Uncharted… until now. You're right, Uncharted and Firmware 3.00 do not like each other at all. I find it very annoying, and I hope either Sony or Naughty Dog get it fixed ASAP.

  5. One of the things that keeps dragging me back to the 360 and leaving my PS3 gathering dust is achievements. Everyone knows your gamerscore is just an arbitrary number but it's still a very good representation of your investment of time in games. Coming in late to the PS3 party makes me feel like "ugh, I have to start again", and I pretty much dismissed Sony's trophy system immediately as a waste of time. I guess it's the same problem as a World of Warcraft player picking up a new MMORPG. Chances are all his guild buddies are still back in Azeroth and suddenly his uber-epic character is a level 1 n00b, the change might be nice but at the same time it feels like a lot of your previous work has been undone. Being a 360 developer, everyone I know has a 360, but very few have a PS3, and my friends list is pretty sparse on PS3. I think to appreciate the social aspect of a platform you first need to reach a kind of "critical mass" where success fuels itself.

  6. Speaking about investment, I'm practically the exact opposite! Now, I don't really have any incentive to get an Xbox 360 as I'll be starting at 0 when everyone else has 1000s of gamerscore points.

    Funnily enough, the Trophy system is amazingly deep. You level up like you would in an RPG, and different levels of Trohpies have different values. So, do you scoop up a load of bronze Trophies, or do you go for 100% completion to scoop the Platinum?

    As for sucess, it's the chicken and the egg really, isn't it? A platform will be sucessful if lots of people join it, but people don't want to join a platform if there's not many people on it and its unsucessful. Any platform needs early adopters to make it a sucess, but I believe we're past that stage and heading towards widespread adoption.

    1. That was my point actually, that's it's hard for anyone to say with a totally unbiased opinion which one is "better" without having been a heavy user of both for some time. That and I work for MS so I'm bound to side with the Xbox 360 :). Still, I judge both on their individual merits and I have to say I still think PSN is still playing catch up. I was actually quite shocked to hear that the PS3 does't allow voice chat across differet games, it's a feature you take for granted on Xbox Live, and can't imagine it not being there. The other things that Rockers Delight mentioned too make a difference, that Microsoft thought sticking a cheap and cheerful headset in there as part of the console and people will use it and it gets people talking without a barrier. It's nice that the PSN is free, but it makes me think that the lack of revenue means that Sony neglects it.

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