Never Stop Playing – Sony’s Foray into the Next-Generation
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
Sony had their big event last night and one of the worst kept secrets was made fact: Sony is releasing PlayStation 4. That’s right. Sony is following Nintendo into the next generation, looking to get the jump on Microsoft and their next-generation console. And it looks like Sony might be making some waves.
Sony going social was the biggest takeaway from the presentation. That is, Sony wants every aspect of gaming to be alongside friends, whether it be alongside them physically or virtually. That includes live-streaming of gameplay, beacons (similar to Xbox Live) and allowing friends to jump in and take over a game at any point. That’s right. If you’re playing a game and there’s a rather difficult part you just can’t beat, you can have a friend jump in for you, even if that friend happens to be halfway across the world. It’s something of an homage to the olden days of gaming, when you’d just hand the controller to your best friend who’s beaten the stage you can’t get past.
There’s also deeper integration with the PlayStation Vita. Sony took a page from Nintendo’s playbook with the Wii U. That is, if you’re playing something on the PS4 and need to relocate for whatever reason, you can transfer the game to the Vita, which will allow you to continue playing it in real-time. The fact that the Vita is capable enough to handle what are presumably graphic intensive games is something of an achievement. The interoperability is similar to that of the iPhone/iPad ecosystem, where typically games are synched across devices. It’s a powerful, unifying ability that will make games all the more interesting.
Speaking of playing games, Sony trotted out the usual suspects. There’s another Killzone. New first-party games include Knack, DriveClub and Infamous: Second Son. Third-party titles include The Witness from indie darling Jonathan Blow, a Move inspired game from Media Molecule, Deep Down from Capcom, a new Final Fantasy from Square-Enix and Watch Dogs from Ubisoft, Diablo 3 from Blizzard and, of course, from Destiny from Bungie/Activision just to name a few.
That’s a slew of big-name publishers with games of equally great stature. Sony more or less corrected Nintendo’s biggest shortcoming with the Wii U launch in that the Sony launch line-up actually looks appealing. The Activision/Bungie deal will be huge for PS4, thanks to Bungie’s upcoming Destiny, the insane, overarching, massive, persistent online environment. Sony knows that games sell consoles (in addition to features) and the publisher is making sure that the new console isn’t short on the games.
One major knock on the PS4 is the fact that it’s currently not backwards compatible; not even with PS3 games. That’s a rather large blow to Sony, seeking to sell at least PS3 users on the concept of the PS4. Typically, the next-gen console is supposed to replace the previous one. Convincing gamers to buy a PS4 to sit alongside their PS3 is a tall order. Streaming older games is on the table, but how exactly that will work with respect to an owner’s library is still left answerless.
Another major knock on the presentation itself is that interested gamers are still left wondering when and how much. When the PS3 was announced, the price point was exorbitant, but at least it was definite. To be fair, the PS4 doesn’t seem to be advertising nearly as many hardware components that warrant a high price (Blu-ray anyone?). Sure, the processing power will be incredible, but Sony knows the console will have to be sold at a loss. That’s the only way it will be successful. Maintaining steady sales of the PS4 is vital to Sony’s long-term stability; high sales of PS4 will likely lead to high sales of the Vita.
Sony is really focusing on the social aspect first and foremost, as it appears the US side of the Sony shop had much more input in the design of the PS4 than the Japan side. There are some good-looking games and some promising, creative uses for the new console. And Sony got through the whole show without advertising features that block used games, something that was feared. It’s presumed that the PS4 will have a Blu-ray again, mitigating the aforementioned knock about replacing the PS3.
Sony’s biggest fear has to be broadband proliferation. The entire premise behind the PS4 hinges on being connected and sharing with friends. If the network isn’t there and users can’t do all the things advertised, then the PS4 is essentially dead in the water. What they showed at the presentation was promising and if they do things right it could really take off. Everything is moving towards social interactions; even the current generation consoles have some form of social mixed in. Microsoft is currently the king of this generation and Sony has issued quite a few warning shots. It’s Microsoft’s move (Kinect 2 with HD?) and they’ve got to refine their centralized entertainment hub premise if they want to stay ahead of Sony.
Sony is betting a lot on a new direction and the steps they’re taking are in the right direction. The company needs the new direction, because they don’t have any bandicoots shouting on megaphones or Kevin Butler as the VP of Silent but Deadly.