B-Wolf (taketa) wrote,

R.I.P. Playstation?

Sooo, there's this thing going on that is getting little to no media attention.
However, if this goes through, this is gonna make a fairly big impact for gamers and the game industry.
In comic books, this would be the very first death of a major character after a run of 20 years. This is gonna be some busy but fairly interesting read.

A couple years ago, in 2002, there was a lawsuit filed against Sony and Microsoft over their inclusion of rumble functionality in the video game consoles. The company in question filing these lawsuits is Immersion Corp.
Immersion Corp has invented and patented the popular rotating mass rotors that cause vibration and rumble in devices, without causing actual 'shock' to the devices in question, making it possible to employ them in more delicate technology. Since there are several ways to create vibration/rumble in devices, the patent actually has value. In fact, Immersion Corps technology is used in many devices, especially in several Force Feedback capable joysticks for the PC and several cellphone manufacturers; that's what makes your phone vibrate in your pocket. These rotating mass rotors were employed both by Sony and Microsoft in their XBox and the PS2 Dual Shock controllers.
Another patent of Immersion that has been violated is haptic feedback, the employment of vibration in conjunction of video game events. When Mario jumps and it rumbles, there's a patent for that invention and technology too. Immersion Corp and Nintendo actually worked together to design the first Rumble Pak for the Nintendo 64 to be used in games. The patents stem from this collaboration. Immersion got to keep the patents, Nintendo became part-owner of Immersion. Immersion remained largely independent tho and busily supplied several companies all over the world with their technology.
So far so good.

Now, because Nintendo did it and Sony and Microsoft liked to copy Nintendo (can you say Analog Sticks and Shoulder Buttons and Rumble?), they went ahead and copied Rumble functionality, not giving a damn that Immersion actually owned the patents which proved to be a very valuable income for the company.
Hence, in 2002 they got sued.

Microsoft immediately settled out of court, buying 10% of Immersion Corp to steer clear of problems.
Sony however, decided to fight.

And in 2004, Sony lost. The judge found Sony guilty and ordered them to pay 80 Million Dollars to Immersion, as well as stop infringing the copyright, period.
Now, this creates a huge problem for Sony as the technology that makes Rumble work is manifold. It's not just the rotating mass rotors in the controllers, it's also the software and the interfacing.
Hence, to stop infringing on Immersion's patents, Sony needs pull the Dual Shock Controllers, the PS2 system AND every single game that's using rumble off the market. And that's pretty much every damn game, cuz all of them use it some degree and it's in Sony's devkit, in the very software that's running on every PS2 DVD.
This is fact. Sony lost and got ordered by the court to comply. Since then, they've already making payments towards Immersion, haven't pulled the PS2 off the market tho.
The reason is that Sony made an appeal. Pending the appeal, they won't have to pull PS2 off the market.

Fast foward to 2005. Sony's first appeal was brought to court. And they lost, again. In fact, they lost so hard, that the money they have to pay was raised to 92 Million Dollars. And it also made way for another lawsuit, because one testimony given in favour of Sony was given by an Ex-employee of Immersion. Curiously enough, this ex-employee got 150,000 Dollars from Sony before the trial. The judge decided to declare the testimony void, and because of the circumstances, Sony may just get another lawsuit about that from Immersion. It's rumored to be already in the pipeline.

Sony has since filed a second appeal. Once again, Sony got denied by the court. This was in March 2006. Sony has one last chance to file a third appeal, which they're doing. But if they lose that one too, and it looks very likely, considering the history of the 3 previous times in court, that they might just lose it.
Then, they're enforced to take PS2 completely off the market.
Then, an entire console would disappear, only to be found used and on Ebay if you don't already own it. Final Fantasy 12 wouldn't even come out in the US anymore, for example, and that is going to be PS2's last big title (which is expected to sell more PS2s as well).

Sony's only other option would be to buy the license for the patents they used from Immersion. Back then, in 2002, that wouldn't have been to expensive. But considering the vast amount of PS2s and games sold, this amounts to something like 30 million dollars. A year.
30 million for every year since the PS2 has been as far as I know.
By now, that's 150 Million dollars.

Now, Sony is already in financial trouble as it is, considering iPod one handedly pushed them out of the music market, last year's Rootkit Scandal hitting their record label, their own iTunes-esque platform not taking off at all, Blu-Ray becoming extremely expensive and falling under more and more criticism, with less and less movie companies deciding to go with it. PSP may be selling, but it's dropping like a stone now and its UMD movie format is getting largely ignored. Long story short, Sony's in trouble.

Now, let's look at the upcoming Next Generation of video game consoles.
XBox 360 has already been successfully established and Microsoft got its act together. They're still after your money, but at least you're getting quite something for it. It's a good solid Next-Gen console. It is what everyone at first guessed to be the 'level of Next Gen' we could expect. Just like XBox, PS2 and Gamecube were each on a certain level with each other.
Wii is at the very least regarded as strange and controversial in the business, largely it attracts a lot of positive criticism and many, including myself, hail it as the second coming of the video game. It does underwhelm the level of Next Gen completely that people expected, in fact, it's pretty much creating its own Level of Next Gen completely.
PS3. PS3 is aiming at something far higher in terms of Next Generation graphical presentation and hardware power. That thing is going to be powerful, full stop. Not easy and absolutely not cheap to develop for, but powerful. If you know how, you can make it do some amazing stuff, at least on the paper. It's expensive as hell and the PS3lite version borders on being useless in many of the areas that PS3 actually wants to excel at.

PS3 doesn't want to be 'just a console'. Even more so than the XBox, which is console with features, PS3 wants to offer multiple capabilities, which are supposedly to be considered equal to its gaming capabilities. No, it doesn't cook your coffee, but for example, it opts to work as a Digital VCR with its harddrive, a media center, an internet-capable computer, a blu ray dvd player (as expected) and the heart of their online service. SOE's line of MMORPGs like Everquest 2 will actually be playable on PS3 in a sort of pc emulation, similar to how you can play FFXI on several systems. PS3 Lite won't let you do a whole bunch of that and won't even let you use memory sticks or wifi for your damn controller.

All in all, the outlook is rather bleak. Some of PS3's developers were very disappointed to see their platform of choice take a turn to become the Maybach of consoles with that steep price. You sell less system (just cuz people can't afford to) and hence the games will sell even less. Whereas PS1 and PS2 attracted not only a mass-market of costumers but also a mass-market of developers, PS3 will largely lose a large amount of developers from their old systems. It's just too expensive to develop for it when the expected payoff is much smaller than before. Playstation used to be 'The RPG console'. Expect it to be that no more, because one thing many of those developers had was a lotta money. Except Square Enix, but they deserve a Rant of their own.

So this is the sort of criticism that PS3 already garners on its own. The thing is not out yet and right now, as it is, I don't see a whole lot that would deserve my money, nor a hype. For once, Sony may be on the wrong track.

Now, however, to connect the lines between PS2 and PS3.
PS3's controller has seen some revamps before E3 in May. 2, in fact, raised many eyebrows.
First one, the PS3 controller now has motion sensors. Not quite the same ones as Wii, but it certainly seems Wii-inspired. Add to it that Sony added this features mere weeks before E3, its inclusion seems to be exactly the sort of bandwaggoning gimmick it seems to be. Adding to the case are statements of PS3 developers, who haven't seen any sign of a feature like this to be included in any of their earlier devkits.
Second change in the PS3 controller is the sudden lack of rumble functionality. Now, if you've followed my post up to this point, you'll understand why it reeks.
PS3 has no more rumble functionality. They said its due to the 'sensitivity of the motion sensors' and that the rumble would adversly affect them. This sounds like a good reason, but when you start looking around, it quickly falls apart. First off, Wii's remote has both motion sensors, lots of other sensors and a rumble pak, which doesn't affect the sensors at all. Secondly, Immersion Corp's very own CEO said that his company finds it strange that Sony didn't get it work, considering that rotating mass motors are non-disruptive to delicate technology, due to not delivering 'shock' but gyroscopic forces. The CEO also went on to offer Sony to take care of the problem for them, since they know of 3 different ways to fix a possible problem like that. Of course, only if they get their license ;)
But, add 2 and 2 together and you can imagine why Sony's PS3 has no more rumble. The case was lost, they don't wanna pay Immersion and now wanna get as far away from rumble as possible.

And Rumble *was* part of the PS3. Several developers have talked excessively about it, have confirmed that the earlier devkits had it, the tentative controllers they got had it. And even the developers of Warhawk, the first game to use Sony's brand-spanking new motion sensor said it had it and that there was absolutely no problem at all between rumble and the sensors. Some developers are furious about the exclusion of rumble. One of them, Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima from Konami, for example, is 'sad and very upset'. That's respective japanese for 'out of his mind'. Quite possibly, after their second appeal getting denied in March, Sony's getting cold feet. They're looking at impending doom.

If PS2 gets pulled off the market, one of their most important sources of income just vanishes and they make millions more in losses, possibly even lawsuits by the developers of games that trusted Sony. Square Enix will lose millions, for they rely on FFXII coming to the US and selling well, just to name one company.

Now, as it seems to have become standard after PS2 and especially the first XBox, Sony and Microsoft develop extremely expensive consoles, sell them for a fairly cheap price all considering, hence making big losses, but eventually racking in the big dough, once the console's games sell, hence making the big money through the games and eventually, with cheaper production costs, the consoles. But, in order to do that, you need a LOT of money to cover you the first years. Microsoft quite obviously has more than enough money to employ that strategy. Sony had its ongoing income from the PS1 (for it continued to sell) buffering their losses with the PS2 until it stopped making losses. Now, XBox 1 has covered for XBox 360 (tho XBox 1 is dying much quicker now) and PS2 is expected to cover for the PS3.
well...yeah, there's the problem.

If PS2 dies, Sony is gonna feel those losses the hard way. As I already said, with Final Fantasy 12 coming out for it and many gamers wanting to get it now that its price is falling, they could've expected a huge amount of income covering for PS3's extremely steep production costs and the losses in selling it 'cheaply'. 600 Dollars is still expensive, but that's a cheap as they could possibly get.
Microsoft's quite obvious strategy is to vastly overtake competitors with vastly more powerful consoles for a vastly cheaper price, due to their overly large pockets. If everyone played the Next Gen game, they would eventually win. Nintendo obviously found the alternative and seem to be actually getting a better deal out of it than Microsoft. Already, they racked in the coveted Best of Show and Best Hardware Awards of E3 which are kinda like the Oscars for the gaming world. PS3 is trying to tackle Microsoft's strategy by presenting an even more powerful console and hoping PS2 would cover for the losses, which is fully expected that it could.
Unless of course, PS2 goes byby. Then they're gonna hit full-force. Not only will there be no money coming in, but PS3's most important feature for the first year, backwards compatibility, will effectively be useless, unless you already own PS2 games. You can fully expect prices for used PS2 games to go up if PS2 dies, too.

And if all that isn't enough trouble, as shown before, PS3 was actually going to have rumble. If Sony doesn't do a perfect clean-up job removing it from everything, the court order to stop infringing on Immersion's patent will be in effect for the PS3 and it might not even come out at ALL. Tho, as already shown, that would just be the tip of the iceberg of the whole house of cards crashing down on poor poor Sony.

Let's see, did I miss anything? It's quite a complex story, but hopefully not too confusing.
So what's Sony doing now? They're quiet. Very quiet. And, trying their best to uphold their image. Some so-called Top Game Designer of Sony, Phil Harrison, is upholding a smiling poker face. He cites motion-sensors in PS3 to have been a planned feature from the get-go and accusations that they're just copying Nintendo to be mere envy. He goes on to say that nobody complained about Nintendo 64 copying Playstation 1's, and I quote, 'Real-Time 3D Graphics'. Now, that's a full-blown lie, you don't 'copy' what is a blatantly obvious mathematical visualization process on computers. Sony didn't create the Polygon, Phil, and for the record, even disregarding that computers where first to use real-time 3D, the first video game console to display true real-time 3D graphics was Starfox on the Super Nintendo, and that came out earlier than PS1. Next, he goes on to declare the Playstation Dual Analog controller to be the industry standard on game controllers, trying to throw a good light on Sony's innovations. Well, buzz again. Nintendo pretty much invented the game controller. They were first to use d-pads, the select/pause combo, 4 buttons in the four-corner shape, shoulder buttons (which Sony multiplied by two), Analog Sticks (which Sony multiplied by two), Rumble Paks (again, which Sony multiplied by two) and analog-sensitive buttons (and once again, Sony bandwagons). Other than multiplying things by Two, Sony hasn't innovated anything at all. Quite obviously, their copying of rumble comes to bite them in the ass. And now, true-believers, there's one little detail in Phil Harrison's interview from May 31st. He spoke about the 'Dual Analog Controller'. What's this? Dual-Analog Controllers were the first batch of PS1 controllers to include analog sticks. They were quickly phased out by Dual Shock Controllers shortly afterwards. For PS2, they used Dual Shock 2 Controllers. If it's black, it's Dual Shock 2. Dual Shock is the rumbling line and has been sold by Sony since before the turn of the century under that name. Every single Sony PR spokesman has been throwing the 'Dual Shock 2' brand name at us for YEARS. And suddenly, Sony's Top Game Designer and PR Spokesman (they send this guy to E3 to gloat about Sony) slips his mind and calls it Dual Analog? Awhuh? How do you slip your mind after all these years, bub? How do you not know what the product you're condoning is called? Unless...yep. He ain't allowed to call it that anymore. Sony is going hushhush about rumble. No sony representative talks about it anymore. They're already even saying that it just doesn't deliver to the gaming experience anymore (this from the guys who gave us not one, but TWO rumble motors).
Yah, well, I'm calling the bluff. Behind the scenes, there must be hellfires burning already at Sony. To prove their desperation: Phil Harrison was talking about innovation in terms of online game play with the PS3. They want new ventures other than what has already been shown. As examples of what he likes to see, he mentioned Myspace and Second Life. In one sentence. Ew.

Really. Sony's situation is dire. On many fronts, in many ways. And if there isn't a miracle, PS2 may be gone before long, the first gaming console to die a painful death. Heck, even Dreamcast didn't die and is still sold on Sega's website.
This may cause some major repercussions in the gaming industry. Nintendo and Microsoft will be left to pick up the pieces. All that'll be left of Sony is the PSP, rumble-free of course. At least then it can't be criticised for simply getting PS2 ports anymore.
But some developers will suffer. Some will maybe die altogether, or jump ships.
Nintendo's DS seems to be quickly becoming the RPG platform of choice, due to its innovations. Wii, with its low price and production costs, might garner to a lot of the smaller developers as well. You can fully expect the Wii to grow a massive library of games not seen since the Super Nintendo days on a Nintendo system.
And the crown of the Next Gen market will fall to Microsoft's XBox. Not really a triumph tho. Sony would've died prematurely and Nintendo will have gone to conquer a different kingdom. They'll own Next Gen. Or whatever it is that they call Next Gen. They'll get plenty of games on it, or so they hope. They won't be getting much of a chance to tap into Wii's market, since they don't have the technology as a main feature like Wii. Plus, ever since Gunpei Yokoi invented the first gameboy in true inventor style and patented it, Nintendo has been keeping up on its patents for every single system. A whole bunch in Wii alone, which Microsoft can't easily go and copy. But XBox might just become the powerconsole of choice for traditional games while Wii hammers out its own market. Already, with Wii's price definitely below 250 and expected to be at 200, those gamers who do have money are just gonna buy it on impulse. And its array of games you can't experience on any other system is definitely gonna spark the curiousity of many a gamer. And already my parents, my 50+ parents that only play Solitaire and Tetris are curious about it. Nintendo might just get those people who have traditionally been non-gamers to reconsider. It's a whole new world.

Disclaimer: All this is conjecture of course, based on what I've researched. It is to be taken as a rumor and a personal opinion. It is quite possible that it contains several factual errors and that some sources may have been wrong to begin with. Ultimately, this is MY opinion based on the best research I could do and is to be taken as such. I am not responsible for people deciding to read my opinions and forming their own opinions and/or linking to it from various other places.

PS: Since this article is getting linked around a lot now, I'm gonna add some links so people can look at this situation for themselves. Wikipedia will be extremely useful in this too, look for the Immersion, Playstation 2 and Playstation 3 entries there, as well as Dual Shock.

Immersion CEO speaks out about PS3 Controller:

Phil Harrison Interview:

Appeal from March 2006:

Penny Arcade's wise words on PS3:

Previous Nintendo/Sony troubles:

Immersion Corp's Press Release of the March 2005 appeal:

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