Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Digital Distribution Dilemmas

Is digital distribution coming of age or are there barriers preventing customers from embracing the advantages of cloud-based distribution? We look at the recent example of Mass Effect 2 for PS3 and questions who really stands to gain.

Mass Effect 2 posters
(Image: Derringdos, 2010, Flickr, CC)

There has been plenty of hype and excitement within the gaming press over the past few weeks regarding the release of critically lauded Mass Effect 2 for Sony Playstation 3.  This game has been out for quite some time on Xbox 360 and PC as it was released back in January 2010 and the game received high praise at the time, with Metacritic scores in the high 90% area.

I've seen several sites refer to the PS3 version of the game as either the definitive or the most complete version of the game, mainly due to the bundling of the Downloadable Content (DLC) that followed the original releases onto the PS3's Blu-ray disk. You can find a list of what DLC appears where and at what cost from this table.  Not all of the game's DLC is bundled onto the Blu-ray; that would be a missed opportunity for additional revenue.  However, what is genuinely surprising about the PS3 release is the cost of digital distribution.

Purchase options

If you wanted to go out an buy the game today you'd have a number of different options.  You could walk into your local high street game store or supermarket and hand over your cash.  The advantage here is you'd be able to play the game as soon as you got home, although you may be a hostage to price if there are few competitive stores in your locality.  You could hunt the game down online using a service like Gamestracker to find the best UK price and have it delivered to your door.  The advantage here is price (£35.86 delivered via ShopTo), but the disadvantage is the delay in getting the game in your machine.  The other option involves you downloading the game direct from the Sony PSN store direct to your machine.  The game is currently retailing at £47.99 on the network and I'd guess it would take a while to download for many folk.

For the record it's worth noting that the RRP for the game is £49.99, so the PSN store comes in at £2 cheaper.

Price disconnect

The price difference between the direct download and the ShopTo next day delivery is pretty marked at £12.13 in price.  Somehow, I can't see this direct download being a bargain purchase, especially when you could purchase much of the game's DLC with that difference as you can see from the image below:

I haven't been able to confirm this yet, but the Cerberus Pack DLC shown above comes in at £11.99.  What I'm finding a little confusing is whether this DLC is unique content or if it's the material included on the Blu-ray itself, especially as it seems to include material that reviews have hinted at as being included for free (eg the Mass Effect comic, the Zaeed character, etc).  If this is the case, the digital download strategy is one which seeks to make the most money off the PSN purchaser.

Digital Downloads

On this evidence I can't see myself ever opting to pay for the digital download format over the Blu-ray original - there's just too much doubt and not enough clarity from the PSN store regarding what you are getting for the increased price.  This has not gone unnoticed by the gaming press.  What could possibly justify the inflated price?  There's no dick, box, or manual costs. There are no transport costs bumping up the price to the consumer. OK, there may be bandwidth and storage costs incurred but it's not as if the PSN is hosting 50 copies of the game package.  Perhaps there is a licensing deal in place which prevents the PSN version from undercutting the RRP by a certain amount.  If that is the case, how is that money divided up?  We can see from the image below how that cost is divided up in the physical world.

Straight away we can exclude £6 of costs for returns as very few digital downloads will be returned. A game disk may be returned if it was damaged or faulty, thus becoming useless.  This same item will have already incurred marginal distribution costs in order for it to get to the shop shelves, and a return will need to be sent back to the publisher.  The figure of £3.50 per game per distribution seems excessive when there are no confines of physical shelf space.  I'd like to see more info on how digital distribution deals work.

For consumers, there is also no chance of selling on the digital copy if you tire of the game, and there's definitely no benefit to those interested in video game nostalgia - I can't see anyone pulling the game out after a decade and musing on the wonders of digital files.  That file certainly won't make it to eBay...

If Sony and others like them are serious about digital distribution then they really need to sweeten the deal, otherwise people will continue to flock to those environmentally unfriendly shiny disk formats.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Upgrading a PS3 hard drive and avoiding the problems other guides forget about: Firmware 3.55

This is an update on a post I wrote a long time ago, back in April 2009.  I figured that guide could do with a slight overhaul for those people new to upgrading their Playstation hard drives.  My guide uses an original 'fat' PS3 but the processes are largely the same for the 'slim' model.  I've added a video below for  those newer 'slim' models.

This is something I have done three times now and I thought I'd share my experiences. There are lots of other guides to doing this online and they are pretty good - it's how I managed to do it the first time - but they often omit a couple of bits of information which might pose problems if you don't quite know how to handle them.

Upgrading the PS3 hard drive brings with it a number of benefits, especially if you own a lot of games, and also if you use your Playstation as a media centre for photos, movies and music. Don't forget that you can partition the drive and install Linux on the Playstation too. My original 40gb drive was almost full after 6 months and the 80gb replacement I first installed was full within 12 months.  My 250gb upgrade lasted close to 2 years, but I can foresee a day when I'll need much more capacity, so it's time to upgrade.

This process should not invalidate the warranty.

What you will need before you start
  • New internal hard drive - this will be the drive that you are going to put in the PS3
  • External hard drive - this will be the drive that you use to backup the original hard drive (game data, saves, media files, etc)
  • USB flash drive or a blank CD - this will be used to install the Playstation firmware (currently v3.55 as I write this guide which comes in at about 179mb)
  • Phillips head screwdriver - for removing the drive
  • PS3 controller and USB cable
  • Plenty of time and patience 
[EDIT] This just in - it refers to the updated PS3 firmware (3.56), which Sony has messed up.  It applies if you have had problems updating to firmware 3.56 via the automated download service on the PS3. You should read this and act before you do anything:
Before you pull out your old hard drive, go here and download the 3.56 firmware to your computer. Copy it to a USB drive as explained on Sony's site, and update the PS3 via the USB driver on the original hard drive (still in the PS3).  (At this point, refer to Step 4 below) Once updated, pull out your old hard drive, replace with new hard drive, and update again with same USB drive 3.56 firmware. If you don't do this way, it will not work. Sony screwed up the firmware update making hard to upgrade you hard drive. This is the way I had to do it to make it work.
Sourcing a replacement drive

This is quite important but shouldn't pose too many problems. Not every drive will fit in the PS3 so make sure you check the following:
  • SATA - the drive must have a Serial ATA interface, not the older IDE or ATA formats. You should be able to pick-up a good quality 500gb+ Western Digital, Seagate or Samsung drive for around £40 from ebuyer. Larger capacity drives are a little more expensive but still affordable. I bought this 650bg drive from Dabs dues it's very fast speeds (WRITE 83M/s READ 105M/s). -this cost the same price as a 250gb drive I bought 2 years back!
  • 2.5" - the drive should be 2.5" in width, typical for laptops. If you have an old laptop drive then you could use this.
  • 9.5mm - this is the correct height for the PS3 and also is typical. However, there are some thinner and larger drives on the market so watch out. Anything with the following dimensions will be fine:  (WxDxH) 7 cm x 10 cm x 9.5 mm
  • 5400 RPM - there are drives that spin slightly faster at 7200 RPM but they are more expensive and I've seen rumours online that they may overheat for the tiny speed advantage you may get. I can't vouch for that rumour as I've never installed a 7200 RPM drive.
Step 1

Now that you have sourced a new drive and have all the material listed above, the first thing you need to do is synch your trophies (just browse to Friends on the XMB and select your profile) and backup the content on the PS3 to a removable/external USB hard drive. I've found that it helps if you the drive you are using as backup is already formatted in the FAT32 file format and that it has enough free space to take the contents of the internal PS3 drive. You can convert your drive using Disk Utility (Mac) or Disk Management (Windows), or even just create a partition on the external drive large enough to accommodate the PS3 content.

Once you are sure you have you FAT32 formatted drive ready, connect the USB hard drive to the PS3 and the system software will automatically recognize the external USB hard drive, allowing you to copy the contents.

Step 2(a)

Unlike Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony have made it very easy for PS3 owners to upgrade their drives cheaply without having to buy official products. You can get twice the space for about half the cost. They've also included some useful software to accommodate the migration process. Your system settings and your PSN info are stored in the PS3's internal flash memory so all we need to consider are the games, games saves, photos, trailers, music, movies, etc.

You have two options here: a full backup or a partial manual backup. I'm going to lead you through the former.  It tends to take longer, but it backs up everything - which is important for most people.

On the XMB (Cross Media Bar) select System Settings, then Backup Utility. Choose the Backup option when asked and finally select your external drive. If you already have a large internal drive of, say 80gb, then this might take a while - my PS3 told me it would take 1 hour 39 minutes.  When I backed up my 250gb drive it took the PS3 just over 5 hours!  Be prepared to do this overnight if needs be.

Step 2(b)

OPTIONAL: at this point it may be worth deactivating the content on your account so that you don't have any problems playing your downloaded games or files on the new hard drive.  Go to Playstation Network on the XMB, select Account Management then System Activation and then PS3 System.  You will be given an option to disable either or both of the Game and Video content you have purchased on your system.  This content is sometimes bundled with DRM that limits the amount of systems it can be played on.  I've had problems with PSN games needing reactivation in the past, so if you want to save yourself a headache and you don't plan on using your old PS3 hard drive, its worth doing this now.

Step 3

Now that the data is backed up we are going to need to open the PS3 to take the hard drive out. First of all you will need to completely power down the PS3 and disconnect all connections (HDMI, power cable, USB, etc) so that no charge remains. It is advisable to wait about 10 minutes to let the machine cool down too. Take the machine to a flat clean work surface and stand it on the side with the cooling vent (with the stand by switch) so that you can see the hard drive access panel (it should have a sticker on it). Pop this panel off with your fingernails or a screwdriver. The Playstation owners manual even contains details about this process.

Unscrew the blue screw. Pull the metal handle and the drive tray will pop out. Now, there are four small screws keeping the hard drive in the tray. Now these are cheap and will strip if you force them with an inappropriate screwdriver so use the right tool. Sony will send you a new tray and screws if you do this but your old drive will be stuck (ideally you want to be able to get the old drive and make a portable drive out of it).

Owners of the slim Playstation model will need to remove a panel on the bottom of their machine, at the front, in order to get to their blue screw and drive caddy.  See the video below for details:

Swap the old drive for your new hard drive (label side up) and screw everything back in and plug the PS3 back in.

Step 4

When you turn the power on you will be asked to connect a controller using a USB cable and press the PS button. At this point you will get a message saying the following:
The system software cannot be run correctly. Press the PS button to try to restart the system.

If the system cannot be restarted, the system partition of the hard disk must be reformatted and you must reinstall the system software.
Connect storage media that contains update date of version 3.55 or later, and then press the START and SELECT buttons as the same time.
For information on how to obtain update data, refer to the SCE Web site for your region.
NOTE: Most sites offering upgrade advise skip this section, hence my post so pay heed to the following section

If you do press the PS button you will end up in a feedback look unless you connect a USB drive with the v3.55 firmware to the PS3 (refer to the updated EDIT note at the top of this guide). You can't just copy the file over to the USB drive by dragging that file to your drive. That would be too easy. No, you must create a folder on the USB stick called PS3 and then another folder in that called UPDATE and place the firmware file in there in order for the PS3 to read it.


Do this now and press START and SELECT.

If you don't create the USB directory exactly like that, you will get the following message:
No applicable update data was found.
Insert storage media that contains update data of version 2.70 or later, and then press the START and SELECT buttons at the same time.
Note: the photo above is quite old now, but you should get something similar referring to firmware 3.55.   Now that you've done that, and followed the onscreen instructions (photo below) to format the new drive (we want to do this - it'll take 2-3 mins) we can start the next long part of the process.

Step 5

Most likely your PS3 asked you to agree to installing the new firmware, and then it automatically restarted itself when you agreed to the terms and conditions. You will likely be asked to hit the PS button  on the controller once again:

Select your language of choice. If you have an HDMI connection the PS3 will detect it automatically and ask you to switch to the optimal settings - agree to this.

Select a time zone; set the date and time; add your preferred user name before entering the Internet Connection Settings. Work your way through the configuration screens. None of these inputs really matter as you are going to restore your data from the backup we made earlier (including all your settings).

Eventually you will be able to get to the XMB. Plug-in your external drive with the back-up data, then head over to System Settings, then Backup Utility. Choose Restore when asked and finally select the device you backed everything up to:

This is the second major time killer moment as the data gets restored. Restoring my 80gb drive worth of data took 1 hour 39 minutes.

Restoring my 250gb drive to the replacement 650gb drive took 5 hours 30 mins!  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Step 6

After all that, your PS3 should be ready for business. You can even go on to install Linux if you want but I'm not going to cover that in this post. I might do that later, but it requires another reformat and a bit of time. If you want to do this then make sure you backup your new install first or keep that drive you copied somewhere safe. Sony removed this functionality around the time they introduced the slim PS3 model. The only way this can happen now is if you hack your PS3 but Sony aren't very happy about this and may respond punitively in future.

In some cases you may have to reactivate your downloaded PSN games and video as I mentioned in Step 2b.  If your PSN games are not working, you will get a system message telling you to reactivate them.  Head over to Playstation Network on the XMB, select Account Management then System Activation and then PS3 System.  In some instances I've had this message even though the system says my games are activated.  Simply deactivating them and then reactivating them fixed the issue for me.

Now you should have a spare internal hard drive left over.  You could even use the old drive as a backup resource. However, you will need to ensure all game saves or new data are copied manually.

All should be well. Most guides advise you to keep your old drive somewhere safe in case you have any problems in the future. You can do that but if you are out of the warranty you could always buy a hard drive caddy and turn your old drive into a portable drive. Caddies are cheap at about the £6 mark from most computer shops.

The original 40gb drive I took out of my PS3 was a Seagate drive and it stated on the sticker that you shouldn't put the drive in another laptop. It doesn't say anything about caddies...

Let me know if you have any trouble following the guide.

One last thing...

One thing that might strike you when you complete your upgrade is that you won't ever get the total hard drive capacity offered on the label.  I found this post over on eBuyer which might help explain why a chunk of your capacity is missing:
I bought this drive for my sons PS3 going from a 60Gb drive up to 500Gb.
 With his 60Gb drive he had used around 40Gb so after I had backed it up and restored it on to the 500Gb drive, I was expecting around 420Gb free however the PS3 reported 373 / 465Gb.
I know all about the way drives are worked out with the capacity so was expecting from the 500Gb drive:

  • 465Gb available space
40Gb from the previous back up
425Gb free
However the PS3 was saying I now had:
  • 465Gb after formatting

  • 373Gb left after restoring from previous back up
So in effect it was now using 92Gb from my previous back up yet my previous drive was only 60Gb!!!

I couldn't get my head around it at all and formatted it again and reloaded but it was exactly the same.
So I searched the net and have found that out of a 500Gb drive, 465Gb is available (which is correct and would be the same on Windows) but the PS3 also makes a % available for its operating system and other things which on a 500Gb drive is around 52Gb
I found this reply from a user who contacted Sony direct asking about the issue: 
"The percentage of space that is allocated for system administration varies from model to model and is between 16% and 20% of the hard drive space. This space is reserved for system administration functions and for future updates or developments. This space is not reserved for "Other OS" functions."

Most folk are reporting 413Gb/465Gb from their PS3 after doing a clean install with a 500Gb drive.

 I hope this helps others who were wondering where the extra Gb was going.