Game Diary - December 2, 2008: How Not To Design Firmware

Did I promise I'd share my thoughts on "Tomb Raider: Underworld" in today's diary? I did. Sorry. I'll get to that in a post later today.

This morning, I need to vent about a minor aggravation.

Why can't Nintendo and Sony learn from Microsoft? Why can't their firmware and channels and dashboard circuitry and upgrading rules and regulations be as elegant as the Xbox 360's?

Last night I wanted to play "Resistance 2." But my game needed a patch. I learned this by trying to load it from its disc. An alert appeared. I needed to give permission for the PS3 to download a patch to the game. Fair enough. But every patch for a PS3 game -- I downloaded yet another one to "LittleBigPlanet" over the weekend -- requires a wait that's long enough for me to get up and do something else. Like check the mail or wash a few dishes. Xbox 360 title upgrades, on the other hand, happen in an eye blink. I could hold my breath for them.

This is not ideal.

After upgrading "Resistance 2," I then discovered that I couldn't get online. My PS3 firmware was out of date. Again. How slow is this process? Slow enough that Sony gives you the option to have your system automatically shut down after its done. That's a clear acknowledgment that the process takes enough minutes that people will do it when they're leaving for work, school or sleep.

All that would have seemed ridiculous if not for what I had to deal with regarding the Wii. Last night I needed to log in to the Nintendo Channel for my monthly stat-tracking thing that I do. The Channel occupies 122 blocks of space on my Wii. I only had 80-something free. The Nintendo Channel wouldn't let me log in, however, because there was a new version available. A message directed me to go to the Wii Shopping Channel. It didn't automatically take me there, mind you. I had to go there manually. No big deal. I found the Nintendo Channel's listing in the virtual store and my option to upgrade.

Problem: The Wii didn't think I had enough space to upgrade the Nintendo Channel. How could this be? I already had the channel and 80-something blocks free. Wasn't my system just going to upgrade the existing channel? Or swap it out with the new one? Maybe this new channel was a whole lot bigger and needed lots more space?

I had to log out of the Shopping Channel and clear enough room for a new 122-block download. I wasn't sure if I needed to keep the old Nintendo Channel, so I left it in. I went back to the Shopping Channel, activated the Upgrade, and, in seconds, I was good to go. The new Nintendo Channel took the place of the old one, using the same 122 blocks of memory. As far as I could tell, that extra 122 blocks of space I cleared wasn't used in this upgrading process. It just needed to be cleared out because the Shopping Channel wasn't smart enough to know that I was upgrading an existing channel rather than downloading a new one. Really, I shouldn't be made to feel that my $250 console is bad with numbers.

How much value should a company place in user experience? When do little frustrations matter? In fact, do they matter if they occur on consoles that are already in the home and paid for?

Microsoft's Xbox 360 dashboard consistently gives me a pleasing experience, smooth enough that I often don't notice it. It just works. I look forward to the day I can say the same for the dashboards on the PS3 and Wii.

Next: It's a Tuesday. I don't think I'll be playing anything today.