Five Features and Improvements for PS3 and PSN
PlayStation Network has come a long way since launch, but it's still missing a few key elements to take the experience to new heights.
Sony's PlayStation Network has improved dramatically since the PlayStation 3 was launched in late 2006. During that time Sony gamers have seen a plethora of excellent features added such as video uploading/editing, in-game XrossMediaBar access, Trophy Support, the launch of PlayStation Home, and the best Netflix integration yet on console. Recently we have witnessed the (surprisingly well received) launch of PS+ as well as that of Hulu's latest Hulu Plus program. To summarize; the formerly bare bones PSN has become a content rich, highly functional, easily understood online entertainment hub.
Despite these vast improvements to which Sony is rightly given much credit, there are still quirks and features that could be improved or added that would significantly heighten the experience of the average PSN user. Read on to see five features/improvements that we feel would help the PSN reach a whole new level of greatness.
5. Trophy "sync" Removal and Faster Trophy Navigation
Checking achievements on Steam, Xbox Live, and even certain iPhone games is a quick, easy affair accomplished with a button press and minor navigation-even in-game. Checking Trophy collections on PS3 is often a chore. Unlike these other platforms, Sony's PS3 needs to "sync" the Trophy collection before they can be viewed. Syncing can take anywhere from a few seconds on a good day to a full minute or more. (It even took so long once that I finally shut off my PS3 in disgust.) Additionally, when checking Trophies in-game the Trophy box, once it finally loads, often requires additional time to load each individual award.
These ridiculous load times devalue Trophies because the user is simply less likely to track them or compare their collection with others', particularly when compared to other online gaming services. Doing so during any type of multi-player game is almost impossible without missing playtime. There is a reason that Achievements on other platforms, particularly Microsoft's Xbox 360, get more attention than Trophies on the PS3; syncing is that reason. Trophies still simply feel tacked on rather than an integral part of the gaming experience.
4. Faster, Full In-Game XMB Presence
Pressing the Home button on your PlayStation 3 controller during a game will bring up the XrossMediaBar and dim the game-screen in the background. Pressing the same again will close the XMB and immediately return you to the title you were playing. Said access is a great feature and no one is complaining about the ability to use the XMB, and therefore many PS3 functions, during game play. The implementation of XMB during a game, however, is what could use some work.
Accessing the XMB while playing a game takes anywhere in the neighborhood of 4 - 8 seconds on average. This is not a huge inconvenience and is not the heart of the problem. The part that needs true improvement is that it takes anywhere from 4 - 8 seconds to access each column of the XMB. Go ahead; try it. Pressing the home button will load the "Game" column within a short time. Pressing left or right to access other columns will then start another 4 - 8 second load. In fact, every time you move columns you will encounter that same gap in time before icons become accessible. In other words, every button press requires additional loading time rendering in game XMB access clunky and slow.
The problem is compounded by the fact that columns can have dozens of still loading icons rendering the user completely lost. Trying to find a certain feature quickly is difficult when every column needs to load and every icon is simply a spinning wheel without a name. When navigating the user often ends up on the wrong icon and therefore resorts to additional slow-loading searches. If Sony would enable the entire XMB to load at once, in game XMB access would be a joy; not a challenge.
3. Bigger System Updates of Lesser Frequency
Sony updates PS3 and PSN functionality on a surprisingly regular basis. Unfortunately, many of these are small updates that don't include any improvements for the typical user, focusing instead on things like minor security problems, stability, etc... When a genuinely useful or fun feature is added we love it. Sadly, most updates don't include such improvements. Many of us have, therefore, grown tired of constantly updating for reasons that are often a mystery.
Much preferred is Microsoft's update approach for Xbox 360. Once or twice a year the Xbox 360 receives a massive update that dramatically changes and improves the user experience. These updates often include entire interface and functionality overhauls, as well as a wide range of security and stability enhancements in the background.
The plus side of the Microsoft approach is that updates are typically anticipated by the typical gamer rather than tolerated as on PS3. Please, Sony, give us less updates by lumping them together into a semi-annual event that also brings much-anticipated features and expansions.