After struggling to define itself as more than just a top console, the Sony PlayStation 3's "LittleBigPlanet" era is set to begin Oct. 21. It gets era-starting status because the game is… different.
After more than a year of hype, the game's lead character, Sackboy (or Sackgirl), is set to tear down walls for gamers and possibly advertisers and perhaps become as famous as Nintendo's iconic Mario, of "Donkey Kong" and "Mario Bros." fame.
People were "awed" when the game was first teased at a game conference last year, says Eric Fong, associate producer for Sony Computer Entertainment America.
It was "as if they were kids again, watching some Saturday morning cartoon," Fong told IBD. "For me, that was the moment of realization that we had more than just a great game - it became something that the entire industry would look to as game-changing."
Users play as completely customizable sack puppets and compete for in-game prizes in a world designed to appeal to hard-core gamers and preteen girls at the same time.
"This is the most adorable game I'm not embarrassed to play," said Morgan Webb. She co-hosts the gaming cable TV show "X-Play," which is on the G4 Network.
Anyone Can Innovate
Besides the "worlds" that come with the game, users can create other worlds for anyone to play. And they can use the same tools as the game's maker, the privately held, U.K.-based Media Molecule. This is where its innovation shines.
A user-generated video game opens the door for a YouTube-like interaction that is only limited by users' imaginations. Or, as the game's intro says, "It's the manifestation of the embodiment of your dream world."
Because of the creativity factor, "LittleBigPlanet" could be as big as "The Sims," Adam Sessler, Webb's "X-Play" co-host, said in an interview. "The Sims," a life-simulation game, is the all-time best-seller.
LBP could be for Sony what Mario is for Nintendo or Halo is for Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox - a mascot that cements the popularity and quality of the gaming console.
"This could be almost Marioish, have it's own cult following," said Mark Valledor, Sony's marketing manager for "LittleBigPlanet."
Sony has a whole line of plans that involve Sackboy toys and accessories that will appeal to younger gamers, but it will market them only after - and if - the new title is embraced by hard-core gamers.
"There hasn't been a PS3 game where you can turn to your buddy and say, 'This game right here is why you should buy this console,' " said Michael Zenke, lead blogger on gaming site Massively.com. "This is a very big deal for Sony. It could be the break they've been looking for."
Sony has high hopes. Before the release of Nintendo's Wii and Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony commanded about three-fourths of the gaming console market share with its PlayStation 2. Now its goal is to get back to at least 30%. It has about 25%, to Nintendo's 53% and Microsoft's 22%.
Call It Gaming 3.0
One highly touted feature of the game is its combination of gaming and community, a movement dubbed Gaming 3.0. That's one reason Nintendo praised the game and tried to get it for its Wii system.
Those on "LittleBigPlanet" can play, talk and befriend each other. Then together, or solo, they can crack puzzles that level makers embed into their worlds.
This user interaction is a similar idea to viral growth of a hit Web video. The better that gamers make a level or prize, the higher others will rate the level and the more they'll tell their friends. In turn, more people will come to your level and try to win your prizes.
This aspect brings up the possibility that the game will attract advertising. "There is definitely potential for sponsored items," said Michael Cai, director of digital media and gaming at Park Associates. The innovation and use of prizes could bring in ads, he says.
In-game ad company IGA agrees that "LittleBigPlanet" could attract advertisers.
"This is certainly the type of game that could be in the top 5% for casual games," said IGA CEO Justin Townsend. But, he says, there are a ton of casual games out there.
Casual games such as "LittleBigPlanet" often are not an advertiser's first choice, he says. They're the type of game users play for awhile, then never touch again.
But "LittleBigPlanet," with its potential for a nonstop stream of new levels and worlds, might have what it takes to survive.
"There is a great chance for longevity," Sessler said. "There's every reason to believe that LBP will bring in nongamers. They won't be as distracted by the shiny new titles coming out in the next months and will focus more on the one title." More PlayStation 3 News...