The official confirmation of the PlayStation 4 from Sony was something that many people had long awaited since rumblings first surfaced on the internet. The event held in New York City by Sony provided some great insight into the direction the company is moving, with a lot of promising ideas at the forefront. Yet one statement that constantly resonated throughout the entire conference was the concept of PlayStation 4 being a saving grace for game developers. And while this is very appealing and something that will lead to some great titles down the line, it is also the seeds of what could possibly be a problem for Sony in the years to come. Shouldn’t the PS4 be a great system for gamers as much as it is for developers? Aren’t those who buy the games in the end supposed to be the first priority for a company like Sony? This is where aspects of the presentation in New York City start to take a very interesting turn.
The new hardware for the PlayStation 4 (PS4) presents a new level of creativity and innovation that developers can harness to create new and exciting games. Moving away from the Cell Processor and utilizing the X86 CPU will help developers go beyond the limits of the past generation of gaming. This is fantastic for the production side of this new system, but also brings about a new problem that heavily affects gamers from the last generation. The new system architecture also eliminates the possibility of backwards compatibility with last-gen games. Such a marvel in technological ingenuity completely ignores the fact that many gamers this generation have invested a lot of time and money in titles that were for the previous console. And while a lot of the possibilities through Sony’s Gaikai acquisition can make available tons of older titles on PlayStation Cloud, it will still require gamers to repurchase titles they may have already bought recently. This was a very similar problem that occurred in the beginning days of the PlayStation 3, where the first fat model became very popular due to its backwards compatibility with PlayStation 2 games.
Exciting and interesting games have always been a main focus for Sony in regards to any of the PlayStation consoles. It is admirable that Sony would want to help to bring forward and showcase lesser known developers and their titles in hopes of the games becoming even more than just an indie alternative to mainstream games. While creative tools as games are interesting and present a great concept to build upon and yield some awe inspiring results, they should not become the forerunner for the PS4. Much of this can be alluded to in Media Molecule’s tech demo at the New York City event, calling the PS4 the “creative console”. While there is an audience outside of developers that desire something other than a straight forward game, like a Wonderbook or Udraw, it has never been Sony’s strongest or most popular asset. Rather the games that present new stories, characters, gameplay mechanics, and environments are what bring the majority of gamers to the Sony brand.
While the elements from the acquisition of Gaikai will bring about some awesome capabilities for PS4, it will also still highlight an inherent problem that has plagued this generation. Internet infrastructure stability. Much of the features on PS4, such as streaming full games through PSN, will require really stable and decently fast internet connections which will also consume a lot of bandwidth. And while large quantities of gamers have internet connections decent enough to play games online, there are still many others who do not have stable internet to fully take advantage of such features. Unlike in places like Japan, where the internet is faster and more stable, the infrastructure in the United States is a lot more unbalanced. Problems such as slow streaming of games and sharing options of gameplay could arise easily and cause lots of trouble for many gamers that purchase a PS4. Having these features as the main justification for gamers to purchase a PS4 will neglect an audience willing to jump on board, but will be virtually unable to get the full experience of what the new console is capable of for reasons outside of their control.
The PlayStation 4 should not be viewed as a console for developers, but rather as a console for both gamers and developers. History has shown us many times that favoring either end of the spectrum has created and discovered newfound problems and obstacles that delay any new console from being fully realized early in its lifecycle. If Sony is to make a huge impact as they are set up to when PlayStation 4 is released, they will need to prepare for and remedy such issues to arise. After so many dropped balls with PlayStation 3’s launch and PlayStation Vita’s recent handling, Sony will need to really show they have learned from their past mistakes and apply that knowledge accordingly. This is a console generation that Sony can’t afford to mess up.