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How Sony is screwing Player Two on the PlayStation 3

3:04 PM on 11.05.2008 // Nick Chester

It sounds great in theory, but having a significant other who is also a gamer isn't always as great as you'd think.

Sure, it's helpful that my wife understands my job, my hobby, and my obsession. When work (or pleasure) calls for me to lose seven straight hours in a virtual world, she only complains that she misses me, not that she doesn't understand my "toys." Even when there's a single-player game we're both interested in, we split our time handling the controls, but there's always the argument: Who's going to get the Xbox 360 Achievements or PlayStation 3 Trophies?

It's usually decided with a coin toss, which seems fair enough to the both of us. (OK, I usually let my wife log in because I love her ... and she wears the pants around the house.) But when it comes to cooperative games, we usually don't have to make that choice: We both accumulated achievements and other rewards while playing through games like Halo 3, LEGO Batman: The Videogame, and Rock Band.

But that's only on the Xbox 360, where we can both sign into our Xbox LIVE account simultaneously. When it comes to the PlayStation 3, one of us is always getting screwed.

While Sony offers free PlayStation Network accounts to just about anyone with a pulse, the PlayStation 3 console itself will only allow for one person to be logged in at any given time. This leads to a bit of an unbalance, which became particularly evident a few months back with the release of PixelJunk Eden, one of the earliest cooperative games to support Sony’s answer to Xbox 360 Achievements, PS3 Trophies.

Best experienced with a friend or a loved one, the cooperative play of PixelJunk Eden far exceeds that of playing alone in your basement while munching on Doritos and cracking open cans of carbonated drinks. The game itself allows a second player to join by simply pressing “Start” on the second controller, at which point another Grimp (the game's little silkworm-like creatures that the player controls) drops in. Both players work together in the game's gardens to snag flowers and progress, but only one player -- the player signed into PSN -- grabs the ego-inflating Trophy rewards.

While certainly a bit annoying, it didn't break the game experience; we were playing simply to have fun, after all. But when LittleBigPlanet arrived at our doorstep, we were given hope, if only for a moment. Highly focused on cooperative social play, developer Media Molecule did something unprecedented as far as PS3 titles are concerned -- when a second (or third, or fourth) player logged in, it asks you which PSN account you'd like to select!

By doing so, all info for that player's SackBoy and progress is saved. This is great, but there's a problem -- they're not logged into PSN. Their friends can't view them as being online, they can't send or receive messages, and more importantly, they won't receive Trophies for completing levels and other in-game milestones. In short, player two gets screwed.

It got worse with the release of Insomniac's Resistance 2, which features excellent cooperative and competitive split-screen modes that can be played both online and off. The game's multiplayer modes have a heavy focus on gaining experience points to level up your character, as well as stat tracking, much of which ties in to, a social site that is linked to your PSN gamercard. Like PixelJunk Eden, Resistance 2 will let a second player enter the game by pressing start on a second controller. But once again, player two gets screwed.

"Your friend [playing split-screen] does not generate XP," said Insomniac's James Stevenson in comments on PlayStation.Blog. "We hope that at a certain point, we'll be able to allow your friend to log into their own PSN account and earn their own XP, but right now that functionality isn't available."

I did some asking around and was told by sources close to PlayStation 3 game development (who asked to remain unnamed) that this isn't an issue with individual pieces of software like Resistance 2 or LittleBigPlanet. The issue of two PSN accounts being logged in that the same time lies with Sony and the PS3's firmware. In fact, our sources tell us that Sony was promising developers this functionality would be implemented by now, and was coming as an update in system software version 2.50. It didn't.

When I contacted Sony on the issue, they refused to comment on "rumors or speculation regarding the feature set of the firmware updates." I was also told that they do allow dual log-ins on the PlayStation Network, but I've found no way to do so on a single PS3 console. (Tapping the PS Button on a second controller brings up the same XrossMediaBar that player one sees, and attempting to log in as second user prompts for a logout of the first.)

As far as the future is concerned, there's no word on when the Balance of Trophy Power will tip towards player two.

"We don't have any announcements regarding the potential for the second player to earn Trophies at this time," a Sony rep told me.

It's too bad. While playing online with your friends and strangers has become commonplace, there are still plenty of players who game side-by-side with their families and buddies, laughing and shouting at each other face-to-face. It seems a bit shortsighted that dual log-in functionality wasn't considered when designing the PS3 and PSN, particularly when Microsoft, their biggest competitor, had included it from day one.

Despite Sony's refusal to comment or commit to including dual-login functionality in their titles, based on what I'm hearing, I have little doubts that we'll see an update to address this oversight sooner rather than later. Until then, my wife and I will keep flipping the coins we find buried in the cushions of our couch ... or simply playing all of our multiplayer games on the Xbox 360.

Nick Chester, Former Editor-in-Chief (2011)
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