So I've had my 360 for while now and feel comfortable talking about my first impressions of the system. First off, aside from the exclusive games, the 360 and the PS3 aren't all that different. They both have the ability to act as media servers to stream movies and music from a PC or NAS (network attached storage). They both have USB inputs so that movies can be played from a portable HDD or flash drive. They can both play DVD movies, and you can rent or buy movies from the online stores (though the PS3 does have the Blu-Ray option, but frankly most of my video consumption is digital). You can download demos and games from their respective online stores. The controllers are slightly different, but both are quite nice. I really like the Xbox controller and actually prefer the larger size, though I prefer the triggers on the PS3 controller and the lighter weight - so in my eyes, they're fairly even. The PS3 does have Crackle (a free Netflix type thing which stocks old Sony movies and TV shows that can be streamed for free) and I also have to admit that I often stream TV from network sites using the PS3 web browser... so yeah, some minor differences between the two consoles, but not much.
However, one of the larger differences in the two consoles is cross game chat. This seems to be the biggest differentiation between the PS3 and Xbox 360 and is often something pointed out as a valid reason for paying for the gold XBL membership. Now both consoles have the ability to form a chat group outside of a game... the PS3 even allows for free group video chat if you have a camera (and without paying for any upgraded gold memberships), it's just that the chat group breaks up if you choose to launch a game. With the 360, you can remain in a voice chat group not just outside of a game, but also when in most games and even when the chat members are all playing different games. There is no doubt that PS3 owners want cross game chat - and up until recently, I counted myself as one of those people. However, like every woman, I'm entitled to change my mind.
In all honesty, I would prefer now that cross game chat NOT come to the PS3. It's awesome to be able to chat with a bunch of friends while playing Halo, L4D2 or the Homefront online demo... but then you realize that the only people you hear are in fact your friends in the party. You can't hear that person shouting that they have the flag and need cover, you can't hear that person yelling that there's a sniper covering an objective or that there's a dickhead with a shottie camping the spawn. You also miss out on the joys of proximity chat and that random stranger telling you that you're a lagging cheater! I personally find prox chat to be amusing and hate missing out on it!
The PS3 has always been capable of multiple chat channels within a game... in MAG a platoon leader can easily switch between squad talk (8 player squad), platoon chat (squad leaders, platoon leaders, OIC) and platoon broadcast (speaking to all 128 members of their team), but everyone on the team can communicate with each other. I can't even imagine trying to play MAG where most of my team is in various parties chatting with friends playing different games. The upcoming game Starhawk will apparently have options for Party chat and also Clan chat. You will be able to restrict communication to those in your clan... even if you are all playing different Starhawk games, or you can restrict chat to those in your party. I remember how much of a team oriented game Warhawk was and I am honestly a little nervous about how this will impact on the team based gameplay, though the devs have said that clan chat may be disabled for certain game modes to ensure a focus on team participation.
Now the 360 does leave it up to developers and they can in fact restrict party chat and not allow it for certain games or modes. Apparently the COD series has in the past dis-allowed party chat for those playing certain modes - both to discourage cheating (people on opposite teams communicating) and also to encourage teamwork in that particular mode. Most games on the Xbox however do allow cross game chat and party chat and developers are under pressure from the Xbox community to allow for this - regardless of the consequences for the game itself.
I would honestly prefer to not see party chat come to multiplayer gaming on the PS3. It's a different philosophy. I do think that Xbox gamers grow more loyal to their systems because of the ease and ability to chat with their friends. There's a social context that is almost always present and very easy to achieve on the Xbox. People can gather in a group and regardless of the games they are individually playing, they can chat among themselves going from one game to the next seamlessly without ever leaving the chat group.
I think, however, that Xbox gamers are missing out on many of the joys of gaming - primarily the sense of teamwork, of meeting new people and of having to coordinate with strangers to win the match. I think that the party system also ruins this ability for other gamers. They might be very teamwork oriented, but the reality is that in most xbox games, nobody can hear you because most are in party chat rather than game chat. The game chat also seems to be of inferior quality to the part chat, often garbled and difficult to understand, so most people tend to prefer the party chat system simply for it's superior quality. I don't know that games like Warhawk or MAG could ever have been successful on the Xbox. Voice chat, or at the very least, the ability to hear others on your team are essential components to playing those games. They would have been far lesser experiences if party chat had been allowed.
I can't hear you! la la la la la!
It comes down to a choice, and a differing philosophy. On the Xbox, gamers and socialization comes first. On the PS3, it's the games that come first. You can socialize outside of a game quite easily on the PS3 using free video, text or voice chat, but once a game is launched, the game takes priority. If it's a single player experience... then you are alone with the game, with no distractions. If it's a multiplayer experience, then you are forced to actually be part of your team, to focus on the game, to listen to the ingame chat unless you actually go to the trouble of muting everybody.
The primary reason I wanted party chat for the PS3 was never to be able to talk to people in different games... it was mostly to ensure that there was always good, strong, stable chat in ALL games. There are games like Section 8 that released and had very poor in-game chat quality. There were games like Battlefield 1943 and Ut3 that released with absolutely broken voice chat and an inability to talk to your team after a game or two. There were even some online multiplayer games that released with no voicechat at all! (though this is becoming increasingly rare). I think that as long as Sony takes a hard stance on ensuring that all online multiplayer games have viable voicechat, then there is no need for party chat.
I like this differentiation between the systems. One is not necessarily better than the other, but they do lead to differing experiences. I would really hate for the PS3 to copy a successful aspect of the Xbox platform without looking more carefully at the consequences. The PS3 initially had no trophy support and this is one aspect of the Xbox that they did import... and sadly, I can't say it has improved my personal PS3 experience. Trophies to some extent have ruined some of the games I play - both in my own quest for trophies, the spoilers, and also other people's online actions in their trophy quests (teamkilling for the plant in MAG, etc). I think that cross game party chat too would have long reaching consequences. It might improve gaming for some people, but for others it would ruin the experience. The PS3 doesn't need to copy the Xbox to be successful. I like that my Xbox is a more social experience... but my PS3... it's more game centric. I love playing online team based games... I honestly think that party chat would totally change the experience for the worst, especially given the complexity of many of the games that the PS3 offers. For every 12 year old that won't shut up and is determined to annoy you with a string of words he learned on South Park, there are 2 or 3 really great random people you meet that want to work with you and make the game a truly a team based experience.
The PS3 does not need party chat. The PS3's focus on the game allows for complex team based games to thrive. It allows me to truly get lost in a single player experience.
I also like the 360 - that it allows for the social experience while playing a single player game and that you can talk only among your friends while playing a multiplayer game.
They are very different experiences that allow for different gaming experiences... but I personally wouldn't trade the complex, team based fun of playing PS3 games for the social aspect of the 360. For me, it would ruin the fun of many multiplayer games.
So please... PS3 gamers - quit whining for cross game chat! We don't need it.