Wednesday’s PS4 reveal, in the midst of the bombastic trailers for heavy hitters such as Killzone 4, Watch Dogs and InFamous: Second Son, brought Sony firmly into the future of gaming.
For a long time now, the Xbox 360 and PS3 have been lagging behind the trailblazing smartphone and tablet markets, with Apple and Android threatening to derail the console space still stuck in its old ways and presenting closed platforms frustrating developers the world over.
After all, why develop for the PS3 or Xbox 360 when you can easily get your game published on the App Store, update freely and often as you like, without the crippling costs and approval processes associated with console.
Wednesday’s PS4 reveal shows that Sony is learning the harsh lessons of the past few years, and is ready to meet developers where they are, rather than forcing them kicking and screaming into its own ideals and constrictions, stating it is prepared to open up its hardware ecosystem to business models such as free-to-play and episodic content.
Where the console giant perhaps failed is neglecting to provide firm details on the costs of developing for and releasing games digitally on the PS4, and what, if any, restrictions may be in place.
But that wasn’t the point of big reveal, was it? Sure, Sony could have spent ten hours telling us every fine detail of its plans, but that’s not the goal here. Sony set out to tease initial details about its big next-gen project and what it’s been up to for the last few years, and pip Microsoft to the post.
It’s also clear that, with almost a year to go till its Holiday 2013 launch, there is plenty left to show. It has to save up some of these details to keep momentum going throughout the year and give them something new and exciting to show at GDC and E3.
Indies may be nervous, but watch this space – Sony has clearly been listening.
Who needs to see the box?
A few people have been moaning about not seeing the actual console box itself, but why?
The case doesn’t matter, it’s just a box. We got some impressive technical specs revealed on what is inside the box, plans for cloud gaming using the $380 million tech from Gaikai and a brand new controller offering a touch pad and motion control.
And with the confirmation that the PS4 will provide cross-platform gameplay, with users able use their iOS and Android tablets and smartphones as a second screen to the core game, or even use these devices to download content remotely away from the living room, the box has become more irrelevant than ever.
Gaikai’s tech could be groundbreaking and a truly innovative acquisition that will give Sony a significant advantage over Microsoft and Nintendo as they struggle to offer streaming content and cloud services in a similar offering. Sony has seen the rise in social gaming and eSports, and has provided a gateway for this audience and relevant developers to ignite great success in this area for the first time on console.
The cloud technology will need to show off a lot more of course than it did on Wednesday. Although initially impressive that the PS4 can essentially act as a server for PS4 gaming on the PS Vita, how many people will actually use this function?
Whereas Nintendo’s Wii U comes complete with this function from the off, although not for all games, will it really encourage more consumers to fork out £200 to play a game on a small screen instead of the main television? Unlikely.
We’ll likely see more over the coming year about how Gaikai will be integrated into the PS4 to offer unique services, but the plan for cloud gaming is probably much more long-term.
One criticism of console hardware is that it grows old and creaky, and due to its nature cannot adapt to inevitable industry changes. With cloud streaming however, Sony could perhaps keep its platform up-to-date with the times, especially as internet connection speeds continue to rise over the next few years. While Nintendo will have to adapt and develop a new console, Sony may not have to for a very long time.
Is the controller a confused mess?
The new DualShock 4 controller certainly raised a few eyebrows for its plethora of features. Sticking with motion controls is certainly an interesting move, especially given the move away from the tech from its creator Nintendo.
That combined with a tiny touch pad and a new Share button enabling a plethora of social features such as sharing recorded gameplay – it could look like Sony refused to hedge its bets on one potential technology path, instead deciding to stay safe and hope one of the gamepad’s features lands in line with the future of gaming.
At the very least however, it provides a better option than having multiple separate controllers that will cost the consumer more money and confuse both users and developers. But developers need to be careful not to overload button combinations and motion controls resulting in an awkward and frustrating gameplay experience.
Sony’s new console has certainly done enough already to impress developers around the world into creating content, or at least registering interest, for the PS4.
With the likes of Ubisoft, Activision and Capcom on board, as expected, Sony has kept the big players happy. An impressive array of first-party titles and the commitment from Blizzard to return to consoles and bring Diablo III to the PS4 also shows what could be a strong launch line-up.
A notable absentee from the show however was EA, although it is registered as a licensed developer, so expect to see games revealed by the publishing giant at a later date for the hardware.
And Wednesday’s show was encouraging, not just for an impressive selection of features and strong hardware, but the number of licensed developers for the console and the selection of games already revealed.
As Nintendo is learning, you can provide all the technology and innovation you like, but without the support of developers and a strong line-up of games – you will fail in the console business.
The reveal succeeded into providing a glimpse of that future, which is all it ever wanted to do.
Your turn, Microsoft.