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Why Sony really wants you to buy an Xbox

Owning a PS3 and a 360 can often be a very different experience. One console begs you to play it. Another one tells you "come back in an hour". Read on to find the biggest difference between the ownership experience of the two HD consoles.

One of these is a lot friendlier to own.

Forget the Move/Kinect debate, free vs. paid multiplayer, and system exclusives-- a recent Ars Technica article highlights the single biggest difference in the ownership experience of the two HD consoles: mandatory downtime.

Ben Kuchera describes an experience I've had a lot: "The last time I tried to play a game on the console, I was forced to download a mandatory update, which added a feature I didn't care about. (The update gave Sony the ability to suggest things to me. Gee, thanks.) The process took 30 minutes."

There are three egregious forms the PS3 delays take:

  1. The system OS updates (like the experience Ben highlights above). From my own experience, 30 minutes is average--especially when you factor in the download and install time combined. The worst Xbox update was the one where they rolled out the New Xbox Experience (NXE). NXE was a re-write of the entire OS and I remember it taking maybe 15 minutes.
  2. The incredibly slow downloads of title updates for individual games (average: 10-15 minutes). The same updates for the 360? Usually done in under a minute.
  3. Mandatory installs of many games. I expect to have to install PC games, but consoles--to borrow a Microsoft phrase--should "just work". If I buy a new game (or play one from my huge back catalog) I want to play it now. Nothing's worse than having to wait 30+ min for an install, then--especially if it's an older game--another 15 min for whatever title updates have been released. There have been many times, in fact, that I've given up and turned the 360 on and switched the TV over (periodically checking back on the PS3 to see how the update process was going).

I don't know enough of the technical details behind both consoles to know whether this is purely a network speed difference (which I'm inclined to say it is) or also the difference in the code bases of the 360 and PS3 (the PowerPC structure of the latter being harder to program for).

Having little more than a terribly rudimentary knowledge of game coding, some of you may be able to educate me on this issue, but I can't imagine that such a huge discrepancy is caused by hardware issues. To my knowledge, Sony just desperately needs to upgrade its network speeds.

Pre-emptive response to criticism

Yes, I know one of the selling points of the Playstation Plus is that it automatically pushes updates in the background to minimize downtime when you actually want to play--but the free Xbox Live service is just as fast when it comes to updates as the paid Gold level. I shouldn't have to pay extra for functionality that should already be built in.

Also, many of you could point out that the 360 also offers installs onto the HDD--which was a huge upgrade that came with the NXE OS. There's several key differences, though, the biggest being that the Xbox installs are totally optional. Moreover, whereas some PS3 games require installs, others only run off disc (unless there's an option I'm not aware of)--Xbox titles can all either be installed or run off disc. The games I'm playing most at the time, I install--which makes everything run a bit faster but also (especially with the first-gen 360's) much quieter. Those that I only play somewhat, I save the HDD space. And even though the installs copy the entire disc onto the HDD, they're much faster than most game installs on the PS3.

That said, I'm still a proud owner of both consoles--but Sony makes sure I give most of my time to the 360.

Have your own rant to share? Go to the comments!

For more random observations and sharing, follow on Twitter @MKEGameDesign.

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