Sony’s SingStar: what’s gone wrong?

As Sony removes 683 songs from its SingStar service, is it curtains for the once-hugely popular singing game?

Just thought this was worth a quick revisit. Back in October 2015, we took a look at Sony’s karaoke videogame, SingStar, that since its PS4 release has enjoyed barely any updates, nor a quick conversion of songs from its PS3 catalogue. Whilst there’s been no official confirmation, it seems Sony has all but given up on the game. In days of old, updates were regular and new discs were released. However, the latest addition of new songs to the SingStore came back in March 2016. 

The most recent news update, in November 2016, actually listed songs that were now being removed from the service. In total, 683 – yep – songs are being removed. The list of games can be found here. Questions as to what happens when you attempt to re-download songs affects that you’ve already bought before from SingStore were not being answered in the commenas underneath the post.

The official statement did add that “no other songs except those listed are impacted, and our large library of songs remains fully accessible”, and that “as a true PlayStation classic, we are always looking at how best to ensure SingStar remains one of the most beloved franchises around and we’d like to reassure our fans that we are fully committed to supporting the SingStar franchise in the future”.

That said, outside of an occasionally updated Twitter feed, there seems little life left in SingStar, at least at the moment. Maybe Sony will inject it with new life in 2017. The signs don’t look good…

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Here’s our original article from October 2015.

UPDATE: Wouldn’t you know it, as this article went live, a SingStar update – the third of 2015 – was released. Details can be found here.

The impending arrival of Christmas brings with it the also-impending need for party games to keep people entertained, lest they get inebriated and hurl abuse at each other post-turkey/vegetarian alternative.

Sony and its PlayStations had this market cornered at one stage. First came the EyeToy, then came SingStar, and then came the Buzz series of buzzer-centric quiz games.

Buzz has been seemingly retired now, and the EyeToy has been usurped by an assortment of motion capture technologies that people invariably don’t use (how’s that Kinect sensor bar doing?). But SingStar was relaunched by Sony for the PlayStation 4 last autumn, with the promise of a new beginning for the karaoke game franchise.

It would be fair to say that things have not gone to plan.

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Across the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3, Sony regularly released fresh SingStar discs, and uploaded individual songs, and song packs, that could be bought online via the SingStore. Sure, the asking price of a quid a song seemed a bit steep, but if you liked getting a bunch of people in a room to scream Chas & Dave’s immortal classic Rabbit into a microphone, it’s not like there were many other options.

For some time, SingStar was a solid success. But as things slowed down, Sony changed things around. It made the core game free and downloadable, and you just bought the songs you wanted. Sure, not everyone wanted to download the core game (grumbles were duly noted), but the change of pricing mechanic was an attempt to invigorate the series in the era of downloadable content and in-app purchase.

The bigger relaunch, though, came last year. A new disc was launched, bringing the game to the PlayStation 4 for the first time. This time, too, you didn’t even need to invest in microphones. You could, through simple app wizardry, use your mobile phone as your mic.

But straight away, there were problems.

Customers who had bought add-on tracks for the PlayStation 3 version of SingStar were told that they’d be able to download them for free on the PlayStation 4 version as and when they became available. The problem? Only a fraction, a year down the line, have actually become available. There have been assurances that progress is being made, but for those who invested heavily in song libraries on earlier versions of SingStar, this still rankles.

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Presumably there are some rights issues in there, but it’s surprising, given that backwards compatibility has always been one of SingStar‘s strengths. Those who had bought, for instance, PlayStation 2 SingStar discs were freely able to use them on the PlayStation 3 version of the game. Neither PS2 or PS3 discs, however, can be used with the PS4 version.

This is then compounded by the fact that the promised regular updates to the SingStore have simply not happened. At the time of writing this piece – October 2015 – the last listed update to the SingStore dated back to March 2015. At its peak, SingStore was being updated fortnightly with new tracks, and this went on for over half a decade.

In 2015, it’s been updated twice.

That’s led many to conclude that the game has been abandoned by Sony, yet that isn’t the case. On the official SingStar Twitter and Facebook accounts, Sony remains insistent that further updates are coming. The last was posted in July 2015, and read:

“We wanted to let you know that we are still working very closely with our partners in the music industry to license new tracks, and we’re sorry there hasn’t been a SingStore update for a while.

The licensing process can take some time to finalise, so we’re going to carry on working on this behind the scenes for a little while longer.

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Additionally, our development team have been working on an update for the game which will be released later in the year.

We appreciate you all being so patient as we really want to bring you the best SingStar experience possible!

SingStar HQ”.

That was three months ago, and you don’t have to scroll far down the list of Facebook comments to find irate SingStar users. Sample comments? “Shockingly poor form – wouldn’t be so bad if PS4 could play PS3 and PS2 discs or had all downloads available” … “still using this rhetoric as a stalling tactic?” … “that tells us diddly squat … how can and do other games do it successfully yet you can’t?”

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that, back in April, Sony had promised further progress. As it posted on Twitter on April 27th 2015, “to everyone asking about SingStore updates, we are working on the next one… Stay tuned!”

People did still stay tuned, but the update never came. Sony later revealed that “we were working on an update for release in April but unfortunately we just didn’t have enough songs and didn’t want to disappoint you and the rest of the community with another small update”.

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So what’s the problem? Well, according to Sony, “Sadly over the past year we haven’t had as many tracks available to us to license for the SingStore, which is why we’ve not been able to do updates every two weeks. We are still working hard on getting new tracks but as we said above, this can take a long time”.

And this might be part of the issue. Licensing tracks for games is competitive now, and may just be more expensive. But still: games like Just Dance manage regular updates, whilst the Now That’s What I Call Music brand is launching its own karaoke title on games consoles this Christmas.

But the bigger part of the problem is that Sony is engaging with its SingStar customers, but not actually telling them anything they can count on. The SingStar Twitter feed, for instance, is pleasant, bouncy and reasonably regularly updated. Yet it’s about competitions, emojis and the odd quiz, rather than anything tangible about the game.

SingStar customers, by this stage, just want Sony to come clean. Given how discounted the SingStar PS4 disc now is, it’s probably fair to assume that the game didn’t take off again in the way Sony hoped. Had updates stopped completely, then it’d be missing, presumed dead.

Yet Sony seems to retain some commitment to it, and obviously has promised to fulfil to the regular SingStar customers who upgraded to the PS4 edition. As things stand, there have been more promises of updates than there have been updates in 2015. And, bluntly, end users don’t want to hear stories of rights issues. That’s why we’re the the customers, and Sony in this case is the developer and manufacturer. Rights issues are thus its problem, not that of the customer who’s forked out for the game and assorted add-ons.

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Granted, that puts Sony in a tricky place. It’s clearly keen to keep communicating with people, and is trying to say something that’s more than just treading water. But the blunt, cold truth is that it’s made promises it’s not delivered on, and to the remaining SingStar enthusiasts, surely now they just want to know where they stand.

To be fair to Sony, the way it’s engaged with its customers in recent times has been excellent, hence there’s still an olive branch for the SingStar series, and there’s still a lot of people who fancy digging it out this Christmas. Oh, and if Sony is reading this, if Buzz could come back, that’d be great too.

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