Homevid format to provide promo push

When Sony launched Blu-ray in 2006, it hoped its PlayStation 3 would be the high-end homevideo format’s biggest cheerleader. But consumers are still struggling with the PS3’s high pricetag, especially during the recession — and Sony is now banking on Blu-ray to provide a major promotional push for the videogame console.

The company has gamemakers excited about Blu-ray’s massive storage capacity, which enables them to expand the playability of their games, create more levels and larger worlds and pack on more features such as extra cinematic sequences, known as cut scenes.

A slew of new games for PS3 will be heavily touted by Sony this week during the Electronic Entertainment Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The event is expected to return the glitz to the annual videogame confab and attract 40,000 attendees vs. the roughly 5,000 that were on hand for the much smaller E3 that took place in various hotels downtown over the past two years.

Because Blu-ray games can be played only on a PlayStation 3, Sony hopes the resulting exclusive titles will get consumers more interested in the $400 console and, as a result, boost sales.

That could particularly occur when studios start to package certain Blu-ray movies with the game version of the pic, as some studios have been considering.

Blu-rays can hold up to 25 gigabytes of information per disc. A dual-layer Blu-ray can store up to 50 gigabytes. Quad-layer Blu-rays are currently being developed that will offer up to 100 gigabytes. To put that in perspective, a dual-layer DVD can carry only up to 9 gigabytes.

“What Blu-ray has allowed us to do is build these epic experiences,” said Scott Rohde, VP of Worldwide Studios America for Sony Computer Entertainment. “When you have more room on the disc to store more assets, you can do a lot more with your titles.”

First-party games from Sony like “Infamous,” “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves,” “God of War III,” “Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time,” “Final Fantasy XIII” and “Heavy Rain” will be on display at E3.

Sony’s “MLB 09 The Show” pushes Blu-ray’s limits by adding around 35 real-world stadiums to the game, extensive cut scenes and hours of commentary.

“You can play that game for years and not hear everything on the disc,” Rohde said. “What we’re trying to create is a situation where our games don’t give you all they’ve got in the first three hours. These games will continue to give over time.”

And that’s what Sony hopes will help keep the PS3 from further lagging behind its rivals. It’s sold 23 million units since 2006. Nintendo has sold 50 million Wiis, while Microsoft has moved 30 million Xbox 360s.

In April, 340,000 Wiis and 175,000 Xbox 360s were sold vs. 127,000 PS3s, according to NPD Group.

But Sony is upbeat, saying it will sell 13 million PS3s this year, up 30% from last year. Yet that’s still half the 26 million Wii consoles that Nintendo projects.

More gameplay on a single Blu-ray-based disc isn’t expected to raise the current $60 price of those titles.

“We’re fine with the current pricing model,” Rohde said.

Blu-ray’s ability to pack on more features is hardly a gimmick in the games space.

Gamemakers have long pushed technology’s limits to produce more advanced games. Storage capacity has always been an issue for them. And they were always keen on what the PS3 would offer them given that Sony has always pushed high-end graphics as a selling point for the console over its rivals.

“Designers and creators are always going to be outthinking the technology,” Rohde said. “That’s one thing that will never end. But for the first time, with Blu-ray, the technology is staying ahead of them.”

Naughty Dog, behind the upcoming treasure hunting adventure sequel “Uncharted 2,” said Blu-ray enabled it to add more cut scenes, levels, characters and multiplayer modes, as well as foreign languages to the high-profile game that bows in the fall.

“The game is bigger overall,” said Evan Wells, co-prexy of Naughty Dog.

Some industryites question whether more feature-filled or graphic-heavy games will sell more PS3s. They also question whether more cut scenes, for example, will lead to a better overall game.

“The Wii is crushing Sony,” said one high-level videogames executive. “People are always trying to find new ways to sell their hardware, but storage space isn’t a metric that consumers flock to. They don’t walk into a Best Buy and say I want to have the highest possible capacity entertainment device. They walk into a store because they want to play ‘Halo.’ “

Developers like Naughty Dog say they understand that and utilized Blu-ray’s offerings to make a better game during the two-year development of “Uncharted 2.”

“Blu-ray is helping us not be constrained,” Wells said. “It’s nice to know that storage is not going to be a limiting factor for our creativity. It allowed us to focus on what’s important: making a great game.”

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