PS4: Sony’s big gamble?

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I own and enjoy pretty much every gaming machine currently available, but I have to admit that the PS3 edges it as my format of choice. This isn’t a place for me to worship at the altar of Sony and explain why but, in addition to this, I’ve finally abandoned Xbox Live and bought my first PlayStation Plus subscription instead due to the Xbox 360 experience (for me, at least) zooming downhill over the last few years. Happy as I am with my PS3 (and to a lesser extent, my Vita), I can’t help but look at what we know of the PS4 so far and wonder: Sony, are you sure you know what you’re doing?

Over the course of a backside-numbing two hour event – much of which was nothing more than a PowerPoint presentation – Sony finally admitted the existence of the fourth PlayStation, announced its name (the PS4), and did its very best to convince everybody that they needed to buy one. With the grim inevitability of death, there was much tedious talk of social features and how “the experience will revolve around you”. There was also, thankfully, a lot of talk about games. This is the most important aspect of any console – and also the area Sony seems to be on the shakiest ground.

I won’t waste much time on David Cage’s contribution, which mainly consisted of disturbingly realistic eyes set in a disturbingly unrealistic head. As for the actual games, well, lots of them looked pretty good, but one thing seems to have been confirmed for me – the graphical leap from PS3 to PS4 isn’t all that great. DriveClub looked amazing, but it also looked very unrealistic (in that I’m cynical that the product consumers will buy will look exactly like that during play). Watch Dogs was definitely shown off with genuine in-game footage – as you need to be told it’s running on PS4 in order to see the graphical improvement from the current generation.

Speaking of Watch Dogs, it seemed to wow “journalists” and potential buyers alike. What a reason to pre-order a PS4! Unless you plan to buy it for your Wii U. Or your 360. Or, indeed, for your PS3. Okay, so maybe you want Sony’s new console for Destiny. No, hang on. The Witness? That’ll be PS4 only – to start off with. Er, Diablo III? Well, it will only have been available for PC for a year and a half by the time the PS4 hits shelves I suppose…


Exclusives were announced, of course they were. A Killzone sequel and an InFamous sequel, whoopee do. Actually I’d enjoy seeing what a new InFamous game is like, but I wouldn’t buy a new console for one. Would you? As for Knack, that remains something of a dark horse. Predictably (so far as I’m concerned, anyway) Media Molecule’s corner of the presentation was far and away the most impressive in terms of innovation, potential, and Iwantthatnowness. They did rather let themselves down with the puppet concert at the end though; it may very well have been recorded “in real time”, but what was it supposed to prove, exactly? The puppeteers sure as heck didn’t have 100% direct control over the instruments via their Move controllers.

The physical console itself wasn’t revealed, likely for one of two reasons. Either Sony believe that leaving the reveal of the actual machine for E3 will draw a lot of attention away from other exhibitors (and given the state of games journalism today, it probably will) or there’s some feature of the PS4, still unknown, that will become immediately apparent upon close inspection of the unit. What we were shown, which (barring any aforementioned secret features) is much more important, is the controller. Apart from the fact that it looks like a prototype some Kotaku blogger has hurriedly sellotaped together for a news story, the two new features baffle me somewhat.

First, the strip of light on top. One word: Why? In an apparent attempt to emphasise the pointlessness and superfluousness of this ‘feature’, Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida took to the PlayStation blog to justify it thusly:

On the front side of DualShock 4 is a light bar with LED that illuminate in various colours to match the colour of the character in a game as a simple way to identify players. The colours can also provide useful information to players, such as when their character has taken damage during a game.

If you don’t want a PS4 now, you never will!

In fairness, he goes on to say that “[the PS4 camera] can sense the depth of the environment in front of it and also track the 3D location of the controller via its light bar”. In theory, this means that the DualShock 4 can act in place of a PlayStation Move, or at the very least act in a similar fashion. Am I really the only one to think this is a stupid idea? Even ignoring the fact that a joypad feels much less natural as a motion controller than a remote or wand design, as soon as the top of the controller is facing away from the camera, it will essentially become invisible to the console. Swinging motions (such as those for tennis, sword fighting etc.) won’t be possible. How could this feature be used successfully, bearing in mind again that we’re talking about a joypad rather than a Move controller? What can the light bar achieve that Sixaxis cannot? Expect plenty of gimmicky gameplay to stem from this.

Amazingly, familiar and needlessly overhauled at the same time.

That touch pad in the centre, erm… that’s what we were all hoping for, right? Again, it’s difficult to envisage industry-shaking uses for this addition. Expect the PS4 version of GTA V to have in-game scratchcards, and Uncharted 4 to feature plenty of charcoal rubbings. It could, of course, act as a laptop touchpad and allow a major comeback for point-and-click adventures; but that won’t happen, if only because that’s what a large proportion of gamers actually want. It is perhaps telling that not a single game at the presentation demonstrated the light bar or touch pad in use. Either developers are still scratching their heads over how to use these things without making their games look stupid, or one or both were late additions to the design after the reveal of the Wii U.

Once the final trumpet has echoed its last, and the fanfare is well and truly over, perhaps more and more people will look closely at the PS4 and realise that, actually, it’s not offering as much as everybody thought. That would be a disaster for Sony, especially as they very carefully avoided talking about a price tag. This was of course a deliberate move, and one par for the course across the electronics industry. It’s a simple but smart business tactic: throw time and money at the press so they’ll tell their readers/listeners/viewers that they really need one of these new shiny things, then break the news of the wallet-busting price tag later once the hard work is done. Announce the price at the same time as the details, and too many people might make business-unfriendly calculations regarding the dollar-to-new-features ratio. Sony’s biggest gamble seems to be ignoring the fact that they’re pushing their brand new console into a still-harsh economic climate.

Sony have already put their collective foot down and said, quite firmly, PS3 discs will not work in the PS4. Even your digital collection of PSN games will be rendered useless by the new console. The reason given for the lack of disc compatibility is some technical mumbo jumbo about different internal architecture. I don’t for a second doubt that this is true, but I also don’t doubt for a second that there are several ways Sony could get around this if they wanted to. The first batch of PS3s had the right innards to play PS2 games, or did so via software emulation (depending on where in the world you live). The US PSN store even has PS2 system data to download to help the process along; or at any rate, it did. There seems even less excuse to refuse consumers the ability to transfer PSN purchases, especially with Gaikai in the mix.

Well, Henry seems to be having fun.

It can’t be coincidence that the PS3 started to pick up steam shortly after Sony cut backwards compatibility out of the mix. Rather than playing their favourite games from the last generation (which were still being produced), and going back to those they hadn’t yet finished, PS3 owners were forced to spend money on PS3 games if they wanted something to play. Sony seem keen to avoid the same situation with their new console. Yes, PS3 games can be streamed. Will you be able to stream a game you already own for free? Highly unlikely. How would you prove, for example, that you own a disc; and that you haven’t sold it on, or aren’t just borrowing or renting one?

As for the various social and online features, there are a few major problems with those. For one, in an amusing piece of irony, it’s clear from social networking sites that a lot of potential purchasers aren’t terribly interested in such things. What are arguably the most interesting features are already familiar to users of OnLive (recording and sharing gameplay footage, watching friends play, instantly playing purchases) which is still struggling to take off. There are many reasons for this, but a big one is that only a tiny proportion of people have an internet connection fast and strong enough to stream modern games while maintaining stability and top-quality graphics. Can Sony use their financial and technical muscle to avoid this being an issue? That remains to be seen.

And now to return to the issue of the console’s price tag, because it’s an important one; an issue, in fact, that could make or break the console. If the PS4 takes one for the team and sells at a major loss (ideally below the average price of a Wii U premium pack), Sony will likely have a runaway success on their hands. That is incredibly unlikely though, as Sony are obsessed with the idea of ‘perceived value’. The PS3 for example launched in the UK at a bank-shattering £425 with one controller and no game. Look also at Sony’s stubborn refusal to issue a price cut for the floundering Vita until very recently (and, at time of writing, only in Japan). Have they learnt that people no longer look at something black and shiny and think “it’s stupidly expensive, it must be good, I’ll buy one immediately”? UK retailers seem to agree on a tentative £400 price for pre-orders but, well, they underestimated the price of the significantly less powerful Wii U…

Bottom line: people have much less spare cash nowadays than they used to. The PS4 will not allow them to play any games that they already own. Sony haven’t shown a string of mouthwatering exclusives (yet). The online features with the most potential – which don’t interest everybody – demand a fast internet connection with no data usage cap. There are already people who can’t wait to get their hands on a PS4, regardless of price; but Sony will have to work harder to ensure the number of these people is great enough to ensure a healthy, profit-turning launch.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.


  1. Colin /

    PS4 will not be cheap at all. And I don’t know why ppl are thinking it will be. Nintendo in a first has sold their system at loss. Bout 430 (in Australia), including a game. Not only will PS4 cost more without a game, its controllers with capacitive touch and move functions will make each one cost more. Which PS4 gamers will have to buy a new slew of. Either the old Dual-shocks will be made obsolete, or the new controllers will have no major benefits cause devs cant programme much of signifigance for non-standard peripherals. To take advantage of PS4 performance will cost more to. Leading to higher priced games. And the graphical leaps will be less pronounced this time round cause, it takes exponentially more processing power to yield lesser improvements

    U know how man times Ive seen a PC or graphics card tech article do a side by side image comparison of a current visual filter against an updated version, and have me squinting down at the individual pixels to discern the difference??

  2. Malakite /

    This was literally Sony’s best press conference in years. They focused on what the core gamers are looking for games! The new controller looks beautiful and added everything gamers wanted; headphone jack, improved grip, sticks, d-pad, and triggers. (Aside from the share and options buttons [seriously bring back start and select])
    In fact the only thing that most people I’ve talked to were disappointed in, was in regard’s to 3 games:
    Final Fantasy Versus XIII
    The Last Guardian

  3. Xanther /

    The online features are all optional. This has been confirmed.

  4. Massacred /

    The touch pad could actually be really cool; think a mouse for internet browsing, a touch pad and clicker for RTS’s and a selection wheel for fallout/oblivion.

    • Lilorack /

      I wouldn’t rule out backwards compatibility yet. After a bunch of people kept asking him after the PS4 conference, Kaz, said they would be looking into it, but had nothing to announce yet. I could see them either going with a higher end SKU or backwards compatibility through emulation.

  5. Lilorack /

    PS after people kept asking him if the PSN collection would work he also said they would be looking into this. We shall see what happens, but look forwards to GDC and E3

  6. McRotrici /

    I will buy one because I want to play Killzone: ShadowFall, Infamous Second Son, Drive Club, The Witness (and Final Fantasy Versus XIII, Agent and The Last Guardian?)

  7. KrazyFace /

    Ain’t hindsight a wonderful thang!? There are still un-addressed issues even months after PS4’s release though; a typical (silent) response from Sony. No news is good news?

    Since Gaikai has now been confirmed as PlayStation Now for a streaming service for all software offered in the PlayStation catalog, all that remains for us (UK gamers) is to hope our copper lines forged in 1908 can handle the service!

    I was lucky enough to get myself a shiny new PS4 on launch yet, after having a good poke around inside its innards I’m only left wondering why it has less features than the PS3 and strangely has had established, expected features removed entirely – such as the battery charge level info on the pad in use or even just a category (and ability) to play digital video files!? I mean, the share button is very shiny and all but I just don’t have the right level narcissism to use it really; same goes for the ability to broadcast my own version of The Royle Family! I’m sure it’ll have its uses eventually and I read somewhere that PS4’s broadcasting made up 20% of Twitch TV’s output, but I’m still struggling to find myself interested in other people playing a game.

    As long as Sony keep to their promises of bringing Indy games and continue their quality of in-house/exclusive offerings I think they should be alright this time. I think we all let out a sigh of relief after hearing the actual asking price though. As long as MS’s TV, TV, TV forcing is only really set-up for US markets (right now), and its larger price tag stays as it is I’d say Sony have more than a free-shot at pulling the rug from under their feet this gen; rather than playing catch-up for the rest of it.

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