The idea is that this card provides a bunch of information about a player, and they can post it on their blog or their favorite forums. The information includes the person's gamertag (i.e. their name), their reputation, their score, a zone (i.e. are you a family gamer, a casual gamer, an "underground" player, etc...), and the last few games that you've played. It's a community thing, and it fits into some of the other things Xbox Live does. I'm not that experienced with Xbox Live, but my understanding is that it uses your score and reputation to help find matchups for you. That way, if you're a new player, you won't get matched with the expert gamers who'll just destroy you. Neato.
The PSN seems to have a patchwork of features, none of which are tied together very well. For instance, they implemented a "Trophy" system last year which parallels the Xbox Live Achievements functionality... except that this information doesn't seem to serve any real purpose. This is exemplified by the PSN Portable ID, which is supposed to be their answer to the Xbox Gamercard. Here's my PSN Portable ID:
Wow! Look at all that info! Just as good as Xbox Live, right? Ok, so the trophy system doesn't get you any real tangible rewards in terms of matchmaking, but at the very least it could be used for bragging rights, and this is seemingly a big part of why people post their Xbox Gamercards all over the place. For reasons that are beyond me, I've spent some time playing games with the sole intention of getting this or that trophy. It can be fun (perhaps I just enjoy activating the reward circuitry of my brain), but it's kinda pointless if I can't share my accomplishments. The dumbest part about this is that I can login to the PSN and bring up an online gamercard that's much cooler. I just took a picture of it:
(Apologies for the lack of a good screenshot, these were pictures taken of my TV) Ok, so even this might not be as good as the Xbox Live gamercard, but it's a heck of a lot better than their portable ID thingy. It's got a PSN level, the number of trophies you've earned, and it has pictures of the last several trophies you've achieved. You can then go to another page which breaks out what kinds of trophies you've won (and there's a third page that has some biographical information). You can view your friend's cards as well, and you can even compare your trophies with theirs. Of course, none of this is available in the official gamercard. What's the point of using the official PS3 gamercard if the only information it contains is my name? If I want to tell people my name, I can do that pretty easily (hey, my PSN id is "mciocco"). The point of a gamertag is to populate it with at least some dynamic data that indicates what kind of player you are or what you've been up to lately. Shamus recently summarized the issue thusly:
I know they have the trophy system, but it doesn’t look to be tied to anything like an account or gamer profile which can be shared. Without a gamertag, you have to just tell people you beat Explodious 3 on super double-hard. The system tracks your accomplishments, but it doesn’t give you a way to share them, which is what makes the system social and perhaps even viral.Am I making too big a deal of this sort of thing? Maybe. Even the Xbox Live Achievements system is arguably not that useful, but to Shamus' point, it's fun to share your accomplishments. And if you don't think that PS3 owners care about that, then why are there a bunch of sites that allow you to create your own PS3 gamercard by populating the data manually?
I suppose the good news is that Sony is tracking that sort of data and they do seem to be making strides in the right direction. After all, they did only just recently implement these trophies... but still, part of the fun of earning trophies is that it's supposed to be a community thing. The lack of a respectible gamercard seems rather silly to me - it should be a relatively easy thing for them to implement, right? (Come to think of it, it takes forever for the gamercard to populate with data in the PS3 interface, so maybe it is more difficult than it sounds... but I can't see why it would be...) On the other hand, I've heard rumors that your Trophy points would contribute towards unlocked stuff in PS Home or possibly even some sort of monetary value. I suppose that would be nice.
Of course, the Wii is selling double what the Xbox and PS3 are combined, and the Wii has nothing like this at all, so I suppose this whole online experience should be taken with a grain of salt (then again, one of the manual gamercard sites linked above also provides a Wii gamercard option). Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some Dead Space trophies to earn.