January is traditionally a low-key month for gaming, but that doesn't preclude it from having its own rich traditions. We, as a community, tend to dutifully sit back and work through our back-logs from the previous fall, dickering over industry awards and looking forward to when the release schedule heats up again around March. Recently, there's been another tradition that's snuck its way into the proceedings, and though it's not especially harmful or ill-conceived, it is unwelcome and unnecessary.
You'll see it everywhere, in magazines and about the various blogs and websites, certain outlets just can't help themselves from conjecturing why this year above all years previous will finally be the so-called "Year of the Playstation." The idea, and the compulsion to spread it around as profoundly as possible, is hogwash. The "Year of the Playstation" is a myth and an unnecessary flexing of insecure fandom.
Now, those who know me or follow my writing are well aware that I'm about one draft of Elena Fisher fan-fiction away from being a Sony fanboy. I carry a lot of affection for Sony these days, for many reasons, but I don't bristle nor shy away from criticism of them when it's fair. So rest assured that while I think the "Year of the Playstation" trend is nonsense, I'm not in any way deriding Sony or looking to imbalance them by building up other platforms.
The primary problem with trying to validate the Playstation 3 in this fashion is that it automatically assumes Sony is falling behind in any and every quantifiable way amidst its competition. By talking about why this will be the PS3's time to shine, you're assenting to one of two things; 1) that Sony somehow hasn't done enough to legitimize the PS3's place as a strong and viable console, or (and this is directly supported by point one) 2) that the PS3's critics are utterly correct in their denigration of the system. There's a tinge of the "not good enough" about these articles, which feels both condescending and disingenuously supportive of Sony's practices. Chase their tails as they might, citing upcoming projects, NPD stats and Pachter, these sentiments are trying to define a standard for Sony's console that doesn't exist and isn't worth attaining.
A lot of this is hinged upon market dominance. In the American market, Sony has trailed behind the Xbox 360 for some time, whereas brand loyalty in Europe and Japan has kept it above Microsoft's waters. I honestly don't have a head for that sort of thing, and indeed, for any of this, because the biggest reason that the "Year of the Playstation" is such a phantasm is that it's already happened. It happened in 2009, and no one seems content to leave it there.
Why 2009? Because that was the year the PS3 finally grew out of the shadow of its turbulent launch, and proved why it was unique and worthy of gamers' patronage. Sony flexed its first-party muscles in a way that Microsoft and Nintendo have never really countered. It stoked the fire with Little Big Planet DLC, and unleashed a barrage of exclusives that all managed to be at least technically jaw-dropping if not industry shaking, and showed that no matter how outlandish your idea is, you can find a place for it on the PSN. Pair that with a much needed price-drop, slick redesign, mandated implementation of the Trophy system, and Sony started to prove what it did best: support games that couldn't be found anywhere else- on the most powerful home console to date.
2009 was also when Sony's Kevin Butler ad-campaign launched and let audiences know about these strides in a way that perfectly satirized their previously aloof sense of arrogance about the PS3. Gone: was the painfully un-self-aware conceit and double-speak of Phil Harrison and Kaz Hirai. In: was a platform that put games above everything else, even if it somewhat undercut the marketing line of "It Only Does Everything." I'm willing to accept the goofs that happened in this period of transition, because it felt like a time of real progress and marked my switch from the 360 to the PS3 as my primary console.
I didn't need Sony to be the most financially successful brand to do that. I didn't need them to outsell Microsoft and Nintendo and Steam and iOS to consider them the arbiters of a great year in gaming for me. If the "Year of the Playstation" is or was something that needed to happen for Sony to be taken seriously, then all I would ever have asked is that it be one in which they proved their worth as a publisher and a hardware manufacturer. 2009 was the first year in which they did both for me, and I've been perfectly content with it since.
Now, we're on the verge of the Playstation Vita (PSV). It's launching 5 years into the PS3's life-cycle, just as the PSP launched 5 years into the PS2's, but of course stakes are bigger this time. Sony has to go against the 3DS and the iOS/Droid markets. No one can mention the damn thing without talking about what an uphill battle it's facing as a dedicated handheld platform, or how it's Japan launch hasn't lived up to expectations. The only certain thing is that it represents a lot of risk for Sony. In that, or any case, there's no use pronouncing the PSV a failure before the end of 2012's Christmas season, over a year from now. No matter how bad these early numbers look (seriously, it's been 3 weeks, and we all know Japan doesn't buy anything bereft of a Monster Hunter title), that doesn't change the fact that the Vita is coming stateside, and I'm getting mine on day one because it's launch lineup looks freakingterrific.
Again, I'm not worried by how this all might affect Sony's prospects as a game publisher, because that's the one thing no one has mentioned in these "Year of the Plablahblah" pieces: for as often as Sony trips up in its online design (which I quite appreciate, actually), proprietary format pushing, security, or general out-of-touchness, they NEVER stop supporting their games. That's what's important here.
Critics and industry pundits who try to play Kingmaker with Sony every year just need to relax. They don't have to be the most commercially successful factor in the games industry; they're not on some path of destiny that will lead them back to the dominance they enjoyed with the PS2; and they don't have to prove anything to people who prefer to get their kicks on another platform. They've been at the top of their game for going on 3 years now, and if a wider install-base comes, it'll happen in due time. Fans of their work right now, myself especially, have a lot to be thankful for at this point. The PS3 might not have more units sold in America, it might not have "Party Chat", or an ESPN channel (...), but you know what it does have? Free online, a clean and un-intrusive UI, and a first-party philosophy that supports and trusts its developers with a vengeance.
The "Year of the Playstation," such as it is, has come and gone- and it's been a pretty grand time ever since. Let it be.