The new PlayStation Store rolled out in select regions yesterday across PlayStation 3, with a clear focus on giving other entertainment outlets such as film and TV as much attention as video game downloads.
It hasn't been the cleanest of launches, with users promptly complaining online that the store was running incredibly slowly, and their PS Plus subscriptions weren't being recognized. For now, Sony has resurrected the original store in some territories (including some parts of Europe) to clear out some of the bugs in the new build, while it is due to launch in the U.S. on October 23.
There are two big obvious points to note about the new store as soon as you enter. First, there's no denying that it all looks incredibly slick, with menus shifting left and right, block panels dotted around in a sort of Microsoft Metro style, and background images offset against the foreground, such that moving left and right sees the center image concealed slightly, giving a lovely 3D effect.
Then there's the initial main menu, which gives equal precedence to Games, Film and TV. Indeed, I actually found myself as drawn to the store's cinematic offerings as I did to the video games. Sony has clearly been watching the Xbox 360 rapidly bump up its non-video game entertainment, and is looking to follow suit.
Looking past the PS Store's new threads, Sony has also injected a new organizational system, in a bid to make finding the games that you're looking for a tad easier. There are plenty of nice new additions that PSN users have been yearning for, but I'd question exactly how much a number of these new elements will actually help discoverability in the long run.
The PlayStation Plus content is an example of rearranging done right. Your subscription features are now far easier to access, and the way in which it is all tiled makes viewing your free and discounted content better on the eyes.
New methods for arranging content have been added, and are relatively easy to utilize. Hitting the top-rated and most popular charts is simply a case of hitting a drop down menu, and the large tiled boxes make for easier viewing too. The search functionality has also been revamped, and works wonders - enter just three or four letters of a game's name, and all the possible search results will appear on the right.
The Collections tab is a strange one, bringing together multiple games under one banner, such as Uncharted, LittleBigPlanet, and FIFA. While it seems useful at first, it does make you wonder how Sony chose which third-party franchises will receive collections. Did EA pay for the FIFA Collection, for example? Plus, many of the featured games simply tell you they are only available at retail, which isn't exactly the most useful information in a digital store.
Another long-asked after feature is a split between PS3, PS Vita and PSP content, and Sony has delivered on this front. Vita and PSP lists can be selected separately, making browsing the handheld offerings far easier, while also filtering the PS3 games for those users who are yet to pick up any of Sony's handhelds.
In terms of actually discovering games, however, I find myself questioning whether this new store is actually going to change anything at all. Scrolling through the "What's New" tab, checking out the top rated games, or looking at more specific genres, I didn't notice anything particularly different about the content that I'm being offered.
As with the original store, all the big hitters of the moment, like Dishonored, Resident Evil 6 et al take up the entirety of the front page. To discover the store's selection of best kept secrets and underdogs, you still have to fight your way through a series of menus and keep hitting down to scroll through them, or simply already know the names of them.
It would have been neat, for example, if there was an option to tailor the store to each user's tastes. I personally download a ton of indie titles, while I have never purchased a full-price retail game for download (due, mainly, to the typically ridiculous asking prices in the online store).
Surely it would be better for Sony to take this knowledge and display more indie titles on the front page for me, therefore making it more likely that I'll purchase games from the store? As it stands, the front page is now mostly useless to me, as was the front page of the previous store.
So yes, the new store looks "the business" -- but functionality-wise, it remains relatively the same as it ever was. Whether PSN actually sees a rise in the number of people using the store, and games being bought, as a result of this revamp remains to be seen.