Racing Against Yourself

Perfectionism is, in the shrewd eyes of the business world, the enemy of a successful product. Simply put, for those who wait until ever facet of a product is perfectly honed and shaped — be it software or hardware — they run the risk of being outpaced, outperformed, and altogether outdone.

For most founders, however, there is an organic tension between passionate perfectionism and pragmatism in business. That is, on one hand, you want to build the product you sought to create in all of its idealistic perfection. Whilst, on the other, you're racing against a vast spectrum of variables, competitors, and circumstantial barriers.

Obviously, the ideal point of entry is a happy compromise between the two.

The realization that your product can and will exist as a evolving organism — one supported by an ecosystem of knowledge and developmental assets — lends you the confidence required to strip away the cruft and come out with the core product you wish to see. One that's fertile and well-equipped for a long life cycle. With this, you're able to launch at a reasonable pace with a product through which your vision can be attained, success achieved, and pride sustained.

Realistically, however, people most often skew too radically in one direction or another. They usher a premature product onto the market for the sake of winning a race — one they're now invariably predestined to lose — or they wait too long revising, querying, and lacking the confidence to boldly get out the door in the first place.

For whatever reason, this past week has been riddled with examples of this behavior in the marketplace. Most obviously, Sony held their baffling PlayStation 4 event based upon aspirations, but utterly bereft of tangible value. (Incidentally, HTC's One and Google's Chromebook Pixel are both close contenders.)

In other words, Sony fell prey to urgency. And the response has been overwhelmingly negative.

Burned by their late arrival into the fight against Microsoft in the previous generation, Sony sought to beat their competitor to the punch with a redefinition and re-thinking of the venerable PlayStation line. And yet, as we all witnessed, Sony offered little more than aspirations and hopes. It was a press event of blustery language, ill-prepared speakers, and, most importantly, an utter dearth of relevant information.

I suspect the PlayStation 4 will be an impressive piece of hardware in its final form. Based upon the company's dedication to Gaikai technology and ecosystem-agnostic experiences, Sony certainly has some wonderful ideas. But, the fact is, Sony raced against itself and lost. Regardless of whatever specifications and vague features the company announced, the taste-making sector of the technology industry has now been well-trained to deride Sony's impending product.

The fact is the PlayStation 4 is not even remotely ready. As such, Sony should've never drummed up such hype and expectation for a product that has yet to even take marketable shape. For all of the sellable positives on paper, question marks loom over the viability and reality of each of Sony's — often lofty — promises.

There were literally no elements of the Sony event that held any tangible bearing on the product we'll see in "Holiday 2013." The gameplay? Perhaps. But we've been collectively led astray more times than I can count by blustery game demonstrations. I'll remain skeptical until we have a PlayStation 4 inside a svelte enclosure under a consumer's television.

In business and in life, the most threatening enemy to success is a feeling of anxiety and urgency. In the quest to build a phenomenal product or business, if you feel debilitative urgency, it's more than likely you're in an over-saturated or dying marketplace. One that is increasingly a poor investment for you to be a part. Equally, if you feel you have all the time in the world to incessantly hone and develop your product, it's likely someone is well on their way to eating your product alive.

As with anything, rational balance is the fundamental key to success. Without it, you place yourself upon a precipice of vulnerability and instability.

For Sony, despite its best intentions, the company has simply not yet developed all that it sought to foretell, regardless of its "beyond the box" misdirection. And now, with the eyes of the world upon the company, the sense of urgency, optimism, and potential will be utterly drained from the minds within. Morale will dip, product quality will slip, and features will continue to creep.

Perhaps the discussion of this tension and balance is trite. I can certainly recognize that. Readers will know that I'm not typically one to subscribe to such overused and overstated business practices. I simply believe in doing what's best for you, the company, and your consumer. But looking at the likes of HTC's One, Google's Pixel, and Sony's PlayStation 4, I cannot help but feel that fundamental business knowledge should've dictated some strategic revisions before announcing each product. Instead, we're greeted by three idealistically exciting products that will each be smothered by confusion and negativity in the press and the marketplace.

At the end of the day, both premature and over-thought products are invariably destined to baffle consumers. They cast windows onto the nature of a company, regardless of how secretive they might choose to be. And, for even the most mainstream of consumer, the last thing you want is for the curtain to be withdrawn upon the mechanisms behind the construction of highly-costly consumer products.

This week, Sony proudly pulled the curtain back itself. And the market responded in kind.

Racing against yourself in business is simply a recipe for resounding embarrassment. Focus not on yourself, but on the people for whom you create. From there you'll derive the knowledge, questions, and thoughtfulness through which you might find yourself outside of the race watching as all others pathetically fight, whilst you rationally build something with a future. Something outside the bounds of market politics and anxieties. A product for which you can feel pride and excitement.

Realistically, that's why we're all in this industry. And if you cannot recognize that simple fact, you're more than likely doomed to irrelevance.

WSJ: Sony Rejected Download-Only Next-Generation Console


Ian Sherr and Daisuke Wakabayashi:

Sony Corp. considered but ultimately rejected a download-only scheme for its next videogame console, people familiar with the matter said, opting to include optical disk drives rather than break with a decades-old model in the industry.

[…] Sony is targeting a 2013 release for the successor of its PlayStation 3 console, people familiar with the matter said.

As much as I’d love for the future wave of consoles to be online-only, such a decision would utterly undercut the presence of any forthcoming PlayStation in enormous marketplaces across the world.

Although many urban centers are gaining increasingly fast connections, such locales are far outnumbered by debilitatingly slow connection counterparts. Given Sony’s already established relationship with Blu-Ray for game distribution, developers would likely come up against a regression in terms of compression and breadth of content.

Thus, for the immediate future — particularly if the console is slated for a 2013 release — Sony’s decision is framed well within the bounds of reason. On the other hand, as is evidenced by the current crop of home consoles, such devices are designed to remain present on the market for years longer than their predecessors. Accordingly, for the sake of future-proofing the console, I’d suggest that Sony should not entirely abandon such an online-centric plan, nor cut it out of their forthcoming console. Rather, optical discs should be kept as a means for sustaining the relevance of such a console in non-broadband equipped locations, and an Internet-centric model should be used for the optional transportation of games and media.

Sony need not build toward an all-Internet solution, but should certainly not abandon such a strategy altogether. The key to the video gaming market will lie somewhere in the middleground — preying upon the tenets of ubiquitous access, media versatility, and robust capabilities for entertainment consumption in both the digital and physical realms.

Matt Gemmell Reviews the PlayStation Vita

Aside from a dashing cameo by me, Matt Gemmell has done a fantastic job with his PlayStation Vita review. Frequent readers will know that I have thus far been on the fence about purchasing the device and, while I have yet to take the plunge, Mr. Gemmell has certainly made the proposition that much more intriguing. Matt concludes:

The Vita is a compelling device, with exceptionally impressive performance, reasonable battery life, and a usable, responsive user interface. There aren’t any major down-sides or problems that I’ve noticed.

Further endorsement of the device arrived this weekend in a review by Kevin Sintumuang for The Wall Street Journal.

If anyone needs me, I'll be back on the PlayStation Vita's Amazon product page for the rest of the day.

Aimlessly Thinking About the PlayStation Vita

The Vita has suffered a rapid decline in sales in Japan, it has missed the lucrative holiday shopping window, and there is an evident dearth of content on the horizon. The digital distribution of games is clunky and the cost of storage is laughably enormous. Meanwhile, Sony is undercutting the device's relevance by evidently broadening its PlayStation certification reach in the Android device marketplace.

And yet, despite its failings, the Vita represents an impressive flourish from Sony.

Rather than building a device that perpetuates handheld gaming as we increasingly perceive it in App Stores and Nintendo devices, the Vita exudes maturity, immersive detail, and impressive implementation. Perhaps handheld gaming as we know it is dying, but the Vita is certainly a brilliant piece of concluding punctuation. With a beautiful screen, robust hardware, and virtually every handheld gaming device design and control paradigm incorporated, the Vita seeks to provide blockbuster entertainment akin to its console brethren, but in an attractive portable medium. To build a "third screen" device capable of phenomenal, versatile entertainment that allows you to keep your television open, and your games with you at all times.

But for every emphatic positive, there is a looming and ever-strengthening negative: the modern smartphone. A negative Sony is complicit in.

The Vita is probably the last of its kind, the portable PlayStation brand primed for convergence with the smartphone world. But, for everything Sony has done with the Vita, I am impressed.

Every hour or so, despite the obvious pointlessness of the purchase, I find myself on the Vita's Amazon Store page. There are no games on the horizon and only one or two compelling games for the present, but Sony has done something admirable here, and it makes the idealistic gadget lover in me swoon for such a device, regardless of its flaws.

In all likelihood, I will not buy a Vita - I have no reason to - but just as it was with the Dreamcast, I will feel like I missed out on an important piece of entertainment technology in doing so.

If you need me, I'll be sitting on the Vita's Amazon product page aimlessly weighing my options further.

Sony Sells 321,407 PlayStation Vitas In First Two Days

Sony has reportedly sold 321,407 units of its new handheld gaming system, the PlayStation Vita, in Japan within 48 hours of availability. That roughly constitutes half of Sony's initial shipment of the console, and falls short of the Nintendo 3DS's Japanese launch figures by about 50,000 units.

Having perused Ars Technica's list of 2011 gaming joys and disappointments yesterday, I found it interesting that iOS games have become such accepted members of such lists. Apple has, of course, famously pivoted its iPod Touch marketing to emphasize gaming, but it is interesting that they have been able to penetrate gaming's highest honors in a relatively short period.

With mobile devices -- and tablets for that matter -- gaming has been redefined. Just as Nintendo tapped into a new audience of casual gamers with the Wii, iOS and Android devices have fostered a community of casual, commuting gamers. Rarely do you get on a train, a bus, or a plane, and not see people playing Angry Birds or catching up with Words With Friends (just ask Alec Baldwin). Games are cheaper, accessible, upgradeable, and expandable. Development is even much more straightforward.

As such, dedicated handheld gaming devices like the Vita face an uphill battle.

Although the Vita's graphic prowess may be impressive, are other devices so far away from such capability? Perhaps, with chips like the A5 we're already at a level of parity. I am unsure.

The form factor of handheld gaming devices like the Vita and 3DS have a leg up over touch-only interfaces, but I doubt that's enough to encourage any casual gamers into a purchase. Sony must offer a truly compelling library, and some forward-thinking features to remain relevant. While I think they are working hard to do that, I am unconvinced that they'll have much long-term luck.

Dedicated handheld gaming devices are a dying breed.

The Vita is a compelling, attractive piece of hardware, but I cannot help but feel it might be the last of its kind. With Sony actively pursuing the PlayStation licensing on Android, and with rumors of the company building a larger, seamless, Apple-rivaling media experience, I see the portable PlayStation brand being folded into its mobile offerings, not existing as a standalone piece of hardware.

At the end of the day, people don't want to carry multiple devices around unless they have to, and the luxury of carrying a dedicated gaming device is likely set to die out sooner rather than later.