The Playstation 4 was finally announced at a Sony presser on Febreuary 20th with a two house marathon of buzzwords, game reveals, and some questionable design choices. Sony’s latest push into the console arena appears to be an effort, before all else, to being the PS brand back into the majority of gaming households. The words “accessible,” “simple,” and “social” were consistently thrown about during the announcement — a sign that Sony recognizes the issues that some had with the technical behemoth that is the PS3.
All of those who had an original Playstation or Playstation 2 (for most of its life) can remember that the PS brand was always significantly different from its competition. It was the undisputed master of the high-end gaming market (Dreamcast doesn’t count, sorry). At the end of the life of the PS2, however, Microsoft created the XBOX and a healthy dose of capitalistic competition was inserted into the mix.
Unfortunately, Sony did not fare well against the ambition that Microsoft pushed out for the XBOX 360. While the PS3 is the more powerful machine, it does not have the same level of consumer infiltration that the XBOX 360 has managed to pull off. The PS3 isn’t as flashy. It didn’t have Halo. The price point was too high when it was released. It was slow to get good console exclusives. These factors, coupled with Microsoft’s aggressive marketing of the 360, left Sony too far behind to ever create a parity with Microsoft.
Now, however, the tables have turned as Sony is primed to release the PS4 before the new XBOX. They have the ability, through the mere fact of being the first to be “next-gen” (and yes, the Wii U also doesn’t count), to dominate the field. How? Take a look at the following list of system features followed by my thoughts on them for some armchair insight:
- The Dual Shock 4: The latest Sony controller has the same form factor as previous iterations, with one notable exception — the touch pad. Although the Vita has been much maligned in the gaming press (and subsequent sales), it is a fantastic piece of hardware with truly interesting control mechanisms. Having a touch pad on the fore and rear of the Dual Shock 4 will give the standard controller a versatility that has been completely absent from a console experience. Touch pads allow nuance — they allow subtlety. Analog sticks are useful for precise control in a shooter, but what could be more precise than your actual finger?Also, the controller has a “Share” button, which leads me to …
- The Social Angle: We live in an absolutely connected world. Love it or hate it, it is a fact of technological life. You can deny Facebook all you like. You can block it out of your life completely … but that does not change the fact that millions of people use it and will continue to use it. Smart phones are now nothing more than social hubs for your life. Like a photo? You share it to Facebook. Or Instagram. Or Flickr. Or reddit. You share songs, you share quotes, you share statuses, and you share everything in-between (“you,” here, refers to the average internet user. You who take exception to the shared and the sharing should please forgive my second-person assertion).So, in an effort to hop on the social bandwagon, Sony created a social console. You can share any screenshot or video from your time playing a game with a single press of a button on your controller. You can have a profile with your actual name through the revamped PSN. Friends can help your play through games and solve puzzles remotely. Or .. you can be a loner and turn all of that functionality off.
By creating a social console, however, Sony wishes to create relationship of personal investment between the user and the machine. If your friends are all over your console’s feeds and menus, then (as they reason) you will be more likely to attach to the PS4 over a competitor’s product with lesser personal focus. This will probably work for the beginning of the PS4’s life, though I expect the next XBOX to have very similar social functionality.
- Content Streaming: Sony also announced that while the PS4 will not be able to play games from previous systems (due to a 180 on technical architecture), they did create a means to get past the thorny issue of backwards-compatibility. Although there are few available details for the game streaming at the moment, the idea is simple: you can play any games you own (or have owned) through the streaming service without having to provide a disk.If this works, it will represent another step toward a physical media-less gaming culture. The questions at this moment, however, are too many for me to make a judgment about the service. How will they know which games you own for the PS3? Will the streaming cost money, perhaps through Playstation Plus? What kind of bandwidth will this consume? What about those of us with relatively poor internet connections? Time will tell.
- The Software: Software makes systems sell. That’s probably plastered around the cubicles of Microsoft and Sony now, given their technologically-focused histories. Thankfully, the launch titles for the PS4 look promising. Killzone is making yet another beautiful appearance, although they will struggle to make anybody care. A new Infamous game was detailed and previewed, along with a racing game, an action platformer featuring a cute-ish robot, and, of course, Watch_Dogs:
What, then, will it take for Sony to succeed? All of the above points will have to work as they’ve advertised them. Sony will have to market the PS4 as not the PS3. There will absolutely have to be good games available with launch. And, ultimately, Microsoft will have to have a lesser offering than the PS4.