Unpacking the PlayStation 4 reveal

Prior to the unofficial yet predictable unveiling of the PlayStation 4, I expected disappointment. Sony’s continued failures did little to convince for anything better. The PlayStation 3 launched for $600 with no software support for two years; the ridiculously expensive PSP Go didn’t play PSP UMDs, and the PS Vita barely sees any new game releases. Even outside of the video games market, the last innovative piece of technology Sony produced was the Walkman.

But I was wrong; Sony finally learned something.

Dual Shock 4 – A tentative grasp

About a week before Sony’s announcement of the PS4, Destructoid.com posted what looked like a prototype PS4 controller. In the photo, a blue light bar – similar to the Playstation Move – hinted at some type of motion control implementation. No one wants to waggle their controller or shake it furiously; we learned that immediately after the Nintendo Wii’s novelty wore off. After hearing the confirmation of Move support, the idea didn’t bother me.

Even if the Move support, small touch pad and Six-Axis tilting go unused, the Dual Shock 4 can easily continue to exist without any ramifications (except for cost of manufacturing). The controller introduces new functions, but not essential ones.  Sony’s mentions of improved latency – the delay between the button controller inputs and the game’s response – and improved rumble feature show that Sony wants to make improvements beyond the physical attributes of the Dual Shock controller.

Play, Create, Share, Gaikai

The most interesting new button, the “Share” button, encompasses the idea of the PS4. Sony wants players to become involved with the game community and they provide the tools to allow that involvement. The Share button grants the ability to take screenshots, upload gameplay video and even stream live video of whatever game you’re playing.

Whenever I speak to friends about a game I played recently, if they become interested, they immediately search YouTube for videos to put my words to a picture. Most of the time, the video they find won’t accurately represent any specific scenario I described. With the PS4’s streaming capabilities, I can now take a video or live stream my game for them to watch.

I view these streaming capabilities like a social gathering.  Although I don’t particularly enjoy Skyrim, I can easily see groups of friends getting together in a party chat (let’s assume Sony implements cross game chat) to watch that one friend who found that unbelievable weapon, or glitch that completely broke their game.

With the use of Gaikai streaming technology, even though very ambitious, Sony claims that those watching their friends Stream can take control of the game to, for example; help your buddy pass that unbeatable boss. The idea seems infinitely complex, yet the limitations of the Gaikai technology remain unclear.

Games, games, games

The promise of new games and the demonstration of launch titles like Killzone: Shadowfall, excited me in ways Nintendo failed to capture during the Wii U’s first reveal. Nintendo gave us hardware and ideas for games that could be imagined with the Wii U gamepad. People don’t buy consoles for the technology and ideas, they buy for the games. If Sony came out and just talked about the Share aspects, the hardware specifications and the Dual Shock 4, Sony wouldn’t convince many with their vision.

Some games like Knack and Killzone: Shadowfall, Sony revealed with demonstrations and gameplay to display the console’s capabilities. Although both games looked marginally interesting to play and appeared to offer a game experience not at all different from those available now, their existence, the proof of a game you can actually play, becomes essentially in a console unveiling. Without that promise or proof of concept, conference viewers will watch pointless tech demos of flying birds like during Wii U’s reveal.

Sony’s announcements of new intellectual properties coming from both first-party and third-party developers for games like DriveClub, Final Fantasy, Capcom’s Deep Down and The Witness, only saw brief trailers or teasers. Expecting demonstrations for all of these games before E3 didn’t at all seem realistic, so their announcement, although not preferred, still satisfies better than some birds.

Before the conference I said Sony needed to focus on one thing: making video games. With the announcement of the inFamous: Second Son, I knew immediately that I would purchase a PS4 at launch because of that one game. Nothing will sell someone on a console more than the sequel to an adored series or new IP from a trusted developer. However, Sony’s library, although high in quality, lacks a title as culturally present as Halo or Mario.

Without the previous association with some of Sony’s franchises, finding a reason to purchase a PS4 can become difficult. Without owning a PS3, I would never play the inFamous series, therefore not having come to an immediate conclusion that I will inevitably own a PS4 for Second Son.

What Sony revealed definitely excites those who owned a PlayStation 3 and played the great games from the very talented, exclusive developers. Convincing those on the outskirts most familiar with the Xbox and Nintendo offerings, will not get excited about sequels to Killzone or inFamous. New intellectual properties, those that Sony only briefly mentioned or showed, require no previous knowledge or investment. These new games will to need convince those unfamiliar with the PlayStation brand.

599 US Dollars

Sony cannot release another console for 600 dollars. All the excitement built around the game announcements and Sharing capabilities will completely dissolve if the price exceeds reasonable limits. Considering the PS4 contains specifications that far exceed the capabilities of the Wii U, which launched for $299 and $349 respectively, a $500 price point seems very likely.

Without the knowledge of what the console will come packaged with and whether retailers will carry multiple skews, the price will differ significantly. But what price becomes acceptable? People complained about the $300 Wii U yet it sold reasonably well to start. Then when the New Year arrived, the console sold fewer than one hundred thousand for January, probably due to the lack of any new software.

Does a price become more acceptable the more games you make available throughout the launch and the following months? Even if you drop the price of a poorly selling console, without any software, no reason to purchase it will even exist. Depending on the launch line-up, I think the price of the PS4 – or any console for the matter – becomes somewhat relative to available software. I imagine console launch line-ups like the amount of Wins from your favourite sports team. You’ll pay for tickets to watch your favourite team play, but you’ll pay more for tickets if they win. The more games available, the more reasonable the price of a console becomes.

What’s next?

Many questions in regards areas such as the PlayStation Eye camera, online services and launch games still loom heavily. With a 2013 holiday release date, I imagine Sony already knows the answers to most questions, and just continue to wait patiently for Microsoft’s inevitable Xbox reveal. Until E3 in June, what we know about the PS4 will not change.