Nic's PS4 Thoughts

Last week, after weeks of anticipation, Sony unveiled their next home console, the Playstation 4. So what do we here at The Inner Dorkdom think of all this?

Well, I'll give you my take. I'm going to do this in two parts. First, my attempt at an objective assessment, and second, my personal feelings.

My Objective Assessment
Though I try to be objective and unbiased in assessing and analyzing the world of gaming, I will again readily acknowledge that I'm the closest The ID has to a Nintendo fanboy. I've had all of their home consoles, and a good number of their handhelds. I love their software, and the sense of fun they still, to this day, bring to the world of video games. On the other hand, though I don't really have the desire for Sony or Microsoft to go down in flames or anything, I'm not always their biggest fan. Their competitive approach to the gaming industry, particularly in the realm of PR, just doesn't sit well with me. But I believe I am still capable of looking at things in a way that is at least pretty close to objective.

Here's my nutshell objective analysis: While there are definitely some nice features to the system, the challenge that Sony faces is that except for the Vita stuff, the Move/Eye stuff, and first party titles, there's nothing about the PS4 that couldn't be done currently, as in right now today, on a high quality PC.

Let's break that down.

The Vita Stuff
Streaming from the PS4 to the Vita isn't a bad feature at all. It has a strong convenience factor, and it allows the distinctive (when compared to a dual shock) controls and features of the Vita, particularly the touchscreen, to be brought to bear on console games. It increases control options, not diminishes them. I, and many others, already enjoy the similar functionality of the Wii U Gamepad. And given the rise in general popularity of touchscreen gaming thanks to tablets and smartphones, Vita control, like Wii U Gamepad control, has the potential to be popular with the mainstream. So bringing in a second screen, loosing the console from the moors of the television, can be a good thing.

But the thing is, we don't know (at least as far as I know) if the PS4 Vita connection will allow for unique second-screen content (like, main game on the TV, inventory and map on the Vita). It's possible all you'll be able to do is duplicate the main screen onto the Vita. I tend to think Sony will try to make unique second-screen possible, because without it much of the potential of 2-screen gaming goes out the window.

But even assuming they do have unique second-screen functionality, there's a major business and developer problem with how it will be implemented in the world of Playstation. That is, unlike the Wii U's Gamepad, the Vita will not be included in the box with every PS4. This is huge. Given the Vita's currently low sales numbers, and even allowing that PS4 connectivity may spur them a little, it's likely to be the case that only a small percentage of PS4 owners will also have a Vita. As I say, this is a problem from both a business and a developer side of things.

And it's the same problem Nintendo faced during the days (literally) of the Gamecube/GBA connectivity push. The concepts were intriguing. And, as Josh and I can attest, Zelda Four Swords Adventure was a ton of fun. But it never really caught on. Few games ended up utilizing the connectivity option. Of those that did, most used it for an option side-quest side-game type of thing (like the Tingle Tuner in Wind Waker). As far as I can recall, only two games made it front and center (Four Swords Adventure, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles). It didn't catch on, due in large part to the fact that, compared to the total install base, few Gamecube owners had the necessary hardware.

On the developer side of things, if you as a developer know that the Vita specific game features you'd have to work so hard to devise and include will only be enjoyed by only a small fraction of folks who play your game, you may be less likely to even bother with them.

And from a business standpoint, if Vita connectivity costs more money but isn't something for which there's a large demand, it makes no business sense to spend the money on it. (Unless, of course, Sony pays you big bucks to do it anyway.)

"But hey," you might say, "as you just conceded, these connectivity features might drive Vita sales." Indeed, that is a possibility. But given the rumored pricetag for a PS4 (which isn't unreasonable by itself), and the fact that Sony has said it is only dropping the price of the Vita in Japan, the initial investment a consumer would need to make in order to get these features might be more than many will be willing to make.

I don't say this as a Nintendo fanboy, but as someone who's paid attention to trends in gaming over the years. Let's be honest, Kinect and Move coming to market, if not their initial development also, would not have happened were it not for the Wii. When Nintendo unveiled the Wii remote and first announced that their new system would employ motion controls, the collective 'gaming' world laughed. "You have to move your hands? That's like a baby's toy." And then the Wii came out, turned into a mainstream phenomenon, and then lo and behold Microsoft and Sony introduce the world to their own motion control systems. Kinect went a slightly different route, what with the "you are the controller" body sensing technology and all. But Sony, well, at the risk of oversimplification, they inverted the Wii's camera and emitter configuration, added in tech similar to what Nintendo would later bring to the Wii in the form of Wii Motion Plus, and called it a day.

Sales of Move have been, well, honestly I find it difficult to find the right descriptive word. They haven't been pathetic, but they haven't been overly impressive. As of this past November, Sony had sold worldwide 15 million Move units. Total PS3 sales are approx. 77 million units as of last month. So, roughly, one in every 5 PS3's out there has a Move setup. Not too bad. (Although the Wii has sold approx 99 million units, with 99 million of them having a motion control setup.)

What's my point? My point is that motion gaming was huge. It was especially so for Nintendo, but Sony and Microsoft had some success with it also. But that's the past. What about motion controls now, and in the future? Are they going to continue to be big sellers? We just don't know. Maybe they will, and upgraded motion tech will really help Sony. On the other hand, it may end up that the folks who are game savvy enough to notice and appreciate the upgrade do not now and will continue to not give a rear end about motion control, and the folks who like motion control won't be able to appreciate the upgrade enough to want to go out and plop down the money for a PS4.

First Party Titles
If the quality is there, this can be a good thing for Sony. A gaming system is only as good as the games for it. And in a climate where the console market is increasingly in competition with the getting-less-expensive-every-day PC gaming market, where the line between consoles and PC's is increasingly becoming fuzzier, anything Sony can do to differentiate themselves in a positive way is a good thing.

But I don't think this is their ace in the hole. Josh and I were talking about this phenomenon on the podcast. And if you recall he argued that a situation where there's a greater emphasis on, a greater need for first party titles, while an opportunity for all three console makers, is one that really only benefits Nintendo. I'd say that while Sony and Microsoft do have the ability to produce good first party content, he's right. This best helps Nintendo, the company most known for their quality first party software.

Everything Else Is Possible On a PC
Sony revealed the PS4 specs right out the gate. They read like current high-end gaming PC specs. And while that does mean PS4 games will look nicer than PS3/XBox360/Wii U games (a point I'll come back to in a minute), it also highlights what I was just talking about: the line between console and PC is not what it once was. Gone are the days when a PC version of a game was invariably inferior to the console version(s). Gone are the days of console makers creating and tweaking their own gaming-dedicated computer systems...making their own custom hotrods, as it were. What we have with today's consoles are actually slightly customized non-user-upgradeable PC's running custom operating systems. And really, this is something that's been happening since the days of the PS2, XBox, and Gamecube.


Integration with Existing Social Networks : Some people will eat this up. Others will just not care about it either way. And others will think it silly. "I don't want to be blowing up people's Facebook news feeds with a bunch of updates about my progress in Little Big Planet," they'll say. "And I don't want my news feed similarly blown up by other people with their gaming accomplishments. I mean, let's face it, Facebook is already growing more annoying and pointless by the day. Just a bunch of stupid pictures, political rants, and hashtags #imsosickofhashtagstheyreallyaregettingonmynerves. It won't be enriched in any way by adding realtime updates on what type of tires people are selecting in Gran Turismo. Besides, it won't be long before we reach critical mass, the bubble bursts, and folks abandon Facebook faster than they did MySpace, current home of digital tumbleweeds." Either way, this can also be done on PC fairly easily.

Gaming on a big TV: HDMI has rendered this difference between PCs and consoles a thing of the past.

The Share button: A cool feature in the eyes of many gamers, no doubt. But, except for the convenience of having a dedicated physical button on the controller for it, this is also something that can be done right now on PC's.

Nice PS4 graphics: These also can currently be done with a powerful PC. And as far as the advance from the PS3 to PS4, I think Colin Campbell of IGN put it well in his relatively positive review of the PS4 reveal event:

It dawned on me, even as I sat enjoying the games, that PlayStation 4 is going be just as neat as we’d all hoped. But also that the incredible PS1-PS2 jump is never going to come again. Nor the enormous PS2-PS3 leap.
The astonishing visual fidelity being shown in New York, is quite a bit nicer than the gorgeous fidelity I can find on my PS3 at home. These are lovely-looking games. But they are not so much greater than PS3 that my tongue is lolling around my curly chest-hair.

I'm not trying to say that the PS4 won't be capable of great game imagery. And I'm not trying to underestimate this jump in tech because I'm a Nintendo fan and the Wii U isn't nearly as powerful. I have no doubt that many folks, game players, developers, and publishers alike are excited about the power of the PS4. And as well they should be.

But 1) we are reaching a point of diminishing increases, as Mr. Campbell points out. Videophiles can tell a difference between PS3 and PS4 graphics. But will the more mainstream market be able to? And, perhaps relevantly, will the parents of kids who want their parents to fork over several hundred dollars for a new Playstation be able to? (The Turbografx 16 was more powerful than the NES, but my friend David Harmon's dad couldn't tell a difference.) And in the end how much will this increase in horsepower translate into better games? All unknowns.

And 2) the specs on the PS4 will, presumably, be static for the life of the console. But, PCs can be upgraded incrementally. As PC prices come down, more and more people are starting to realize that.

None of what I've said means I think Sony is doomed. Not at all. But they, like the other two console makers, do face challenges in this new generation of console gaming.

My Personal Take
I own a PS2. I bought it many years ago, several years after I bought a Gamecube, at the suggestion, some might even say pressuring, of one Mr. Josh Shaw. He enticed me by pointing out all the games I'd previously been missing out on that owning a PS2 would now allow me to enjoy. Indeed, a back catalog of PS1 games, in addition to PS2 exclusives. That's quite a few games.

I have four PS2 games (Dragon Quest VIII, Final Fantasy X, the Friends Trivia Game, and Simpsons Road Rage. I have two PS1 games (Blaster Master, Chrono Cross).

So as you can see, my past gaming history has not made me predisposed to get all fired up about the reveal of the PS4. It's not that I hate Sony's games division and all that they stand for. I just don't really care about Playstation as a brand. I have no brand loyalty. And, for me personally, the games and franchises I really enjoy and feel like I gotta have aren't Sony first party games and franchises. I'm not saying I hate their games. Indeed, many of them I haven't even played, which makes it impossible for me to have an informed opinion about them. So it's not a matter of hatred or dislike. It's, again, a matter of ambivalence.

So when, before the PS4 reveal, they put out Internet ads that say, "Oh, yay, another Mario game. Step up to Playstation," it does nothing for me. At least, nothing positive. I don't get excited just at the mention that Sony is making a new Playstation. I'm neither insecure enough, nor manipulable enough, nor gotta-have-cutting-edge enough to be persuaded by them telling me that getting a Playstation is "stepping up." Yes, I understand that the PS4 is going to be more powerful than the Wii U is. But in my mind getting a more powerful system isn't necessarily "stepping up" to something better. Horsepower is important to me, no question. But in the end what I care about are games, games that match my tastes. "Stepping up" to me means getting a system that delivers the games I enjoy playing. Computing horsepower doesn't guarantee the existence of such games. Which brings me to the first part of their ad. See, I'm one of those folks, like millions of other people, who look forward to new Mario games. So a new Mario game actually does make me say, "yay" (ok, not literally, but you know what I mean).

So I went into the reveal without any hype in my heart. If I had any emotional predisposition going in, it probably was one of skepticism, and a hope that whetever they had wouldn't just blow Nintendo out of the water, since 1) I like Nintendo and want them to be successful, and 2) I can't stand all the machismo and adversarial urination contest-style attitude people on the Internet tend to approach videogame discussions with.

I didn't get to watch the presentation itself, as I was busy with other things. But I did read all about it, watch some of the demo footage, etc.

My personal feeling is still best characterized by a lack of enthusiasm. The PS4 is a great PC that will only run games and video applications, no doubt. But for a bit more money I could build a comparable PC now, one that will do more than just play games and run Netflix, one that will run games not available on the PS4 (like Star Trek: Online baby!), and one that I can upgrade as I go along.

As for the games, I've lost confidence and interest in the Final Fantasy brand. So a new FF game does little for me. Watch_Dogs looks like it could be really interesting, even if it skews close to the "dark and realistic" ends of my gaming preference spectrum. But I'll be able to get it on Wii U, with some fun Gamepad functionality probably thrown in. So no worries there. Knack looks ok. Beyond that though, I don't remember anything jumping out at me one way or the other.

And, again, the franchises I care most about, from big-budget-retail to download-only, for the most part either come from Nintendo or will be available on Nintendo systems. (As a side note, there were several download-only titles this generation that I was interested in that weren't available on the Wii. Given that the difference in tech between the Wii U and PS4 is not nearly as large as that between the Wii and the PS360, I'm hoping that situation will occur less in this generation.)

The PS4 won't play PS3 games (whether disc or downloaded), and it is not compatible with the Dual Shock 3. Since I don't own a PS3, this doesn't mean much to me either way. But I completely understand the disappointment current PS3 owners are feeling over this.

I have a 3DS, and with a large number of good games available for it both now and in the coming months, I just don't see me feeling the urge to want a Vita. So the Vita stuff doesn't entice me.

I seldom feel the desire to share my gameplay videos with the world. So although I understand that many folks do, and although I realize that if sharing was as convenient as pushing a button I'd probably be more likely to give it a try, it's a feature that doesn't really grab my attention. 

And, well, that's my take. I don't think the PS4 is stupid. I don't think people who are excited about it are stupid. And I don't feel like I have to throw either it or them under the bus as a part of being a fan of another console maker (in my case, Nintendo). People are entitled to their gaming preferences (ID Primary Directive #3). But for me, the PS4 currently doesn't do anything for me.

Until next time, Gamepad firmly in hand, I remain,

 - Nic


Posted on February 26, 2013 .