Are you a person who identifies self as a “Hardcore Gamer”? Are you disappointed by the power of Nintendo’s “next-gen” console? Have you been frustrated with the focus on motion controls, like Wiimote, Move and Kinect, in the current generation of consoles?Are you more interested in “Gaming” rather than social networking or streaming TV shows on your console?
It looks like Sony’s focus is to address all your concerns with its foray into the next-generation of consoles with the PlayStation 4.
Focus on Hardcore Gamers:
Amid the sand storm of speculation and frissons of anticipation, the reveal of PlayStation 4 and Sony’s new outlook was presented to the world in the “PlayStation Meeting” on 20th February 2013 in New York City. The focus of this meeting seemed to be squarely towards attending to the past complaints gamers had with Sony’s current-gen performance and the focus of gaming industry at large.
Right off the bat, Andrew House, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, announced that “We will show you how the living room is no longer the center of the PlayStation ecosystem, the gamer is.” Thereby distancing the PlayStation brand from Microsoft’s slogan of “Living room Experience” and emphasized on games, gaming and gamers.
Moments before announcing PlayStation 4 to the audience, Mr. House conveyed Sony’s position on the forthcoming console generation by stating that “Today, we will give you a glimpse in to the future of play, an imagination of the gaming experience that has been developer led, consumer inspired and powerfully and thoughtfully engineered by Sony entertainment.”
Were these just buzz words to create marketing hype; or was there indication that Sony has learnt from the mistakes it made in the PS3 era? Did Sony actually show that it is willing to take steps to alleviate complaints of the “core gamers”?
Let us look at the complaints majority of core gamers have had with Sony’s past performance in the console business with the launch and execution of PS3.
- Too much focus on casual games and motion controls like Move and Sixaxis.
- Flawed 3rd party support culminating in issues with PS3 ports of Multiplatform games.
- Controller issues.
- Lack of online content, Slow downloads and intrusive firmware updates.
- Lack of cross game chat.
- Exorbitant launch price of PS3
- Rigid price of games in face of variable prices in PC games.
Does Sony’s vision for the “future of play” address these issues that the fans of gaming have had for the past 5 years?
Focus on Hardcore Games:
With Microsoft’s growing fascination with Kinect and Illumiroom, and Nintendo’s proliferation of casual games, unimpressive console power and lack of 3rd party support in Wii and now WiiU, core gamers were concerned whether Sony will also follow the trend of focusing on Move games and Wonderbook and dive into the gravy train of casual games in the next generation as well. All that apprehension, it seems, was unwarranted.
Not only did Sony debut next installments in its popular franchises with Killzone: Shadow Fall and InFamous: New Son, but it also showed willingness to address the criticisms of the community on lack of originality because of “Sequel-itus” by focusing majority of games reveal on brand new IPs. New franchises like Knack, Drive-Club, The Witness, Deep Down, Watch Dogs and Destiny.
And even though the heavy hitter brands like Uncharted, God of War, Gran Turismo and Little Big Planet were absent from the show floor, President of the Sony Worldwide Studios, Shuhei Yoshida confirmed in an interview with IGN editor Colin Moriarty that all 12 of Sony owned studios are in process of making PlayStation 4 games.
Moreover Sony unveiled the specifications of PlayStation 4 hardware and with it, its willingness to address both gamers’ and developers’ complaint with the PS3 being difficult to develop architecture.
Through its choice of going with custom AMD hardware, Sony has basically molded PlayStation 4 into a custom PC and thereby making it easier for developers to make games for the system without the issues of inferior ports like Skyrim, Bayonetta, Fallout New Vegas, Mass Effect 3 and Orange Box.
Sony even managed to woo the console shy developers Blizzard to partner with them and showcase Diablo3 on the PlayStation 4.
In the same aforementioned interview with IGN, Yoshida-san said that “The architecture choice we have made this time around has allowed us not to invest to create dedicated factories and conducting factories and things like that — so that helps in order for us to provide an affordable price to consumers.” Therefore by going the route of custom AMD hardware instead of Sony’s own proprietary hardware, the company has saved on R&D and production costs and therefore the customers can expect to get a more competitively priced PlayStation 4.
This should help to quell the fears of an exorbitantly expensive PlayStation 4 and wipe the bad memory of the $600 launch price of the PS3 in 2006.
Moreover there has also been concern amongst core gamers regarding the rigid price point of the retail games in PS3 as well as the high prices of online games available through PSN. On the other hand PC games are able to sell at a very heterogeneous pricing, thereby allowing the publishers the affordability to craft games that they can make and the consumers the ability to buy games that they can afford.
Sony seems to be going for a varied towards this variable pricing model as well with the PlayStation 4. In an interview with CNBC, SCEA president and CEO, Jack Trenton clarified that the Sony will allow free-to-play games as well as “games with prices ranging from $0.99 to the more traditional $60 range with the ability for players to sample games before they buy.”
Besides the impressive hardware specs that allow better graphics and processing power, there were also announcement of new features for PlayStation 4, both on the hardware and software front of gaming.
On the hardware side, the new controller was unveiled. On the face of it, the aptly named the Dualshock4 seems to be the same as a Dualshock3 with an added touch screen, however when looked closer, there are a lot of changes that have been made to the traditional design of the Dualshock controller.
While the touch screen, speaker/microphone and the sensor bar hold little value to the hardcore gaming audience, the subtle differences to the triggers, sticks and handles promise to quell the concerns of several gamers that have complained about the design of Dualshock3 this generation.
Keeping in mind the concerns of FPS gamers, the L2, R2 triggers have been modified to allow a better button press and the tops of the analogue sticks have been made concave, so as to offer a better grip rather what was offered by the previous convex design. Furthermore, the handles of the controller have also been broadened to the likes of the Xbox360 controller and a textured feel is added to its back to offer better overall grip of the controller.
On the other hand, Sony had a lot of new features at the software end, most of which dealt with the issues that the gamers experienced when dealing with the online aspect of gaming. The number one feature that every online player demanded from Sony has been the cross platform chat functionality. Something that Sony has not been able to provide current gen due to the infrastructural limitations of the PS3.
This time though, Sony has made hardware considerations that not only allow cross game chat, but also cross game video chat and remote control. On top of that, the new acquisition of Gaikai affords Sony with the infrastructure to offer background firmware updates, streaming of demos, play games while they get downloaded and streaming of PlayStation 4 games on PS Vita.
Streaming and Sharing is Hardcore?
Along with the aforesaid features, the changes in the controller and expertise in streaming brought forth by Gaikai, allow the PlayStation 4to let gamers publish gaming videos to video streaming site, at a push of a button. While this feature might seem like an afterthought and something that might only interest the casual gaming audience, that sentiment could not be further from the truth.
Gaming community has grown at an exponential pace in the past decade and now the action that was only seen as a hobby has transformed into avenue for gamers to earn a living. Hardcore gamers have taken a daily activity and turned it into source of revenue through the advent of e-sports and Lets Play videos.
According to Forbes’ “2012: The Year of eSports” article, e-sports industry brings out 10,000 viewers for individual streams and hundreds of thousands of viewers for major events at streaming channels like Twitch.tv.
Whereas Lets Play videos from gamers like PewDiePie and BlueXephos garner more than a couple of million subscriptions on YouTube. Ease of video publishing and instant sharing can not only benefit those that stream their plays to the public but also gamers who wish to learn to get better so as to become competitive in the games they play.
What does the future hold?
From its focus on hardcore games to its consideration for game developers, from impressive hardware specs to its game centric features, PlayStation 4 looks to be the total package, and a promising prospect as THE go to console for the hardcore gamers in the future.
During the PlayStation Meeting, Andrew House proclaimed that “Our vision for the future is consumer centric, developer inspired and characterized by an unwavering commitment to phenomenal play experiences.” And all that is visible in what Sony has brought forth in its introduction for the next generation of console gaming.
However, while the Mr. House’s words like “Passion for Play” might seem appealing to the hardcore gamers, they are still mere words. Same is true for every specification, feature and service promised by Sony to date. Remember that the PS3 also promised cross play with PSP, or that Vita got its RAM reduced before its retail, or the impressive “in-game” Killzone2 trailer that turned out to be a CG render, or the hailed sixaxis functionality that turned into a joke.
So let’s not fall in love with Sony right at this moment and let’s not choose our console of choice in haste. There is still lot of time till PlayStation 4’s retail window and a lot can change in a few months. More importantly, Sony’s chief competitor; Microsoft has yet to show its hand.
Maybe Microsoft can match Sony in every spec and every feature, maybe they can offer something that Sony cannot; 4K resolution or backward compatibility? Maybe the rumors are false and next Xbox still allows used games to be played or maybe Microsoft vows us with 1st tier exclusives or ultra-competitive pricing.
The future of gaming is still uncertain and hardcore gamers can only wait with bated breath for the future of gaming to come to pass.