Beyond the Playstation 4
Posted by Sam Hale
Last February, Sony revealed their entry into the eighth generation of video game consoles: the Playstation 4. A lot of bloggers, critics and gamers have sounded off their opinions and the consensus among the internet is that the PS4 will be an impressively powerful machine with controversial integration into social media. The social media features are intended to be well-integrated into the console, right down to a share button on the controller to provide direct access. Sony is clearly trying to make gaming a more social activity and use social media to market their product. It’s a strategy very fitting of the 21st century. That’s great if you’re trying to sell a company to shareholders but that doesn’t mean it’s good for selling a new console to customers. It’s too early to say if these features will succeed or fail. Social media may become to the Playstation 4 what motion control was to the Playstation 3, an afterthought that most developers eventually ignore. Sony’s previous social media experiment was Playstation Home, and that’s not exactly a promising track record.
All of this makes great speculation but the greater argument is whether or not having a new generation of gaming consoles is at all relevant in today’s world. The idea of a “console generation” has become more redundant in the last decade. The Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 have gone through multiple redesigns, a trend that also extends to handheld consoles such as the Nintendo DS and the Playstation Portable. A console revision is a lot like releasing a new console requiring funding for Research, testing and marketing. Making an entirely new console is similar, except that it costs much more. It’s much easier to revise a current console than to make a new one. This means that the time between console generations is going to increase. If this ongoing trend of console revisions continues, there is a possibility that the Playstation 4 will be one of , if not the last home console that Sony ever releases.
It’s a simple fact that the graphics in video games are becoming more detailed and more realistic every year, but at the same time this increases the cost of making video games. It will reach a point where a game’s graphics are limited not by the technical capabilities of the hardware, but by the budget and time constraints that the developer faces. When this point is reached, the most attractive aspects of a new console, mainly the power of the hardware, will become completely redundant. While video games have not reached this point, the jump in graphics between console generations is beginning to shrink. The “peak” in graphical quality is getting closer with each new console.
There’s also the trend of digital downloads. While PC gamers have been much quicker to embrace online sales on platforms such as Steam, home consoles have a strong presence in the online marketplace. The Playstation Store and Xbox Live Marketplace have grown immensely since they were first introduced. The quality of online releases has also drastically increased this generation. Some of the best games of the past year like the Walking Dead, Journey and Fez were initially available only online. In a single console generation an entirely new form of content distribution has emerged. None of this is by any means an indication that physical sales will some day become non-existent. Just like how the newspaper industry still prints newspapers, physical discs aren’t going anywhere, but online sales will increase in the next generation.
Combining the trends of console revisions, a limit on graphical quality and the prominence of digital downloads leads to a possibility that there will simply not be any new consoles but instead revisions that run faster than previous configurations. Because the graphics aren’t going to grow too far ahead, the hardware does not need to be upgraded. Digital sales can also eliminate the difference between DVDs and Blu-Rays which helps developers who make games on multiple platforms. Not only does this benefit developers but it would save Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft a lot money. Making a new console costs heaps of money into Research and Development, money that could be spent elsewhere if new consoles become obsolete.
The Playstation 4 will embrace everything that has changed about video games since the PS3 was released. But even then, when comparing the two systems the PS4 feels a lot more like a software upgrade than an entirely different console. Then again similar statements were allegedly made about the PS3 when it was first announced. So perhaps this is a simple case of industry critics being a bit of a broken record. Or maybe it’s a sign of change.
Sony is placing their best foot forward with the Playstation 4. It’s not a bold statement or a revolutionary idea but instead a reiteration of everything that Sony has done right (more or less). Sony is sticking to their guns, making a high-powered console that is (hopefully) easier to develop for. It’s difficult to criticize Sony for doing so, however they have thrown their proverbial hat into the social media ring once more, and that in itself is questionable given their history. Whatever is on the horizon of new consoles is likely to have an answer for everything the Playstation 4 bring to the table. So for now, the ball is in your court Microsoft.There won’t be a blog post next week as I’m going to be away for ten days. See you all in two weeks.