Kyle once again;
The title of these posts is a reference to a Chris Rock standup routine, which I think just about fits the situation of the Metreon vs. San Francisco Center. The Metreon is definitely the “other” mall these days.
But after we’ve come to terms with the fact that the place has just about completed its long slide from the Metreon into the “Ghettreon”, from a showplace to a noplace, the question left to ask is how it happened.
Here’s a one-word answer: Sony.
The Metreon was, right from the start, emblematic of what’s been wrong with Sony for years. How many times have you seen a Sony product that was almost – as Apple would put it – “insanely great”. Almost… but not. Again and again, Sony has released whiz-bang items that look great in product demonstrations, but that are disappointments in the real world. Too expensive. Too proprietary. Inexplicably lacking key features, and/or leaning on features that are outdated, unimpressive, or don’t justify Sony’s price premium. Seemingly designed by people who work in hermetically-sealed offices who have no idea either what customers really want or what their competition is up to.
Examples? The Mylo, which was almost cool enough to be an iPod Touch competitor (but was too proprietary, and lacked key features). The Vaio P and Vaio W (nice netbooks, but way too expensive for what they are). Memory Stick, which was okay enough, but that Sony refuses to let go even after it’s clear that SD won the format war (thus inflicting further problems with proprietary hardware upon us). The PS3, which was almost cool enough to extend Sony’s winning streak to three generations of consoles in a row (but was too expensive, and Blu-ray didn’t justify the additional expense for most people). Or how about Blu-ray itself, which does offer better video quality – but not good enough for most people to be able to justify sinking money into investing in a new format, especially when digital download looks to be about to make optical discs outdated.
And the Metreon. Like the Mylo, it was cool-looking on casual examination, but once you got into it, suffered from bizarre peculiarities. Like Sony’s attachment to Memory Stick, some of the anchor stores it contained were just inexplicable. Other key spaces were filled with stuff that, like Blu-ray, were probably outdated the day they appeared.
Such as the huge video arcade that anchored the second floor. In 1986, this would have been killer. By 1999, everybody had a game system at home, and video arcades were relics. I’ve played House Of the Dead in an arcade, and it was fun – until I realized that in a half hour of playing the game against a friend, I’d dropped about 2/3 of the money I’d need to buy a copy of the game for my console that I could own forever. And Sony, of all people, couldn’t see where this trend was headed?
Inexplicable? Try the Microsoft Store that was one of the Metreon’s original anchors. Remember, this was before either the Xbox or the Zune was introduced. So the Microsoft Store was there so I could, what – buy a new boxed copy of Windows at $399? Microsoft Stores are a lame idea even now. Opening one in the days of Windows 98 was just mindboggling.
In addition, the Metreon was laid out weirdly, in what I’m sure was an attempt to make it stand out, but that just made it not quite click. There was too much open space. This may sound like an odd thing to complain about, but remember that every inch of open space in your building is an inch of space where something isn’t going on. The people flow was wrong, and never drew you past the upper floor retail shops. The movie theater was hard to find. The food court – which is, along with the IMAX theater, the only part of the Metreon still doing any kind of decent business – should have been put on the second floor, to draw people upstairs.
There was no event space (other than the movie theater) designed into it, which I guess fits with the fact that there weren’t really any events (other than movies) there. How about free gaming space for RPG and card gamers? Yes, I know Games Workshop had a couple tables – but what if you wanted to play a game other than (Games Workshop’s proprietary) Warhammer? Or, considering that non-digital gaming was declining, how about some Sony-sponsored LAN/Playstation game parties with prizes? A Sony-sponsored anime club with advance screenings (I hear that Sony has some connections in Japan)? Sony Music-sponsored free concerts by up and coming artists? All of that could have fit in some of that pretty, but useless open space, especially on the second floor (where the “bridge to nowhere” Gaming Walk of Fame is).
Hell, even the Apple Store on Market Street, which is maybe 1/5 the size of the Metreon, is constantly having free events and classes in the little theater they have upstairs. At the Metreon? Zip.
Which demonstrates the core problem with the Metreon. Once the novelty wore off, and you’d seen all the stores, there really wasn’t all that much reason to keep going back there. As the cachet wore off the Sony brand, even the Sony Style and Playstation stores weren’t very impressive anymore. Eventually, all there was left to go there for was the three things that are still doing relatively good business – the IMAX screen, the food court, and the bathrooms.
Which won’t be enough to save the Metreon. Nor should it be.