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Opinion: PS4 may have learned from the past, but it's ignoring the present

Opinion: PS4 may have learned from the past, but it's ignoring the present
Throughout Sony's PS4 reveal yesterday, the message came across loud and clear - 'we've learned the lessons of the past.'

This was an altogether humbler Sony than previous console reveals. One that dispensed with baffling system architecture, foolish, aggrandising boasts and flimsy buzzwords.

Instead, it played things with a straight bat, and the industry's getting a powerful, developer-friendly system that will allow studios to hit the ground running.

Gamers, meanwhile, will benefit from genuinely useful features like instantly accessible demos, fast installs, and the seamless ability to share clips.

Toys for boys

And the games? It was a largely risk-averse selection of the kind of male-focused driving games, shooters and action adventures that get the hardcore palpitating.

You couldn't fault them for their epic production values, but, in truth, most didn't deviate one inch from the blockbuster formula we've been fed for the past five years.


Lead first-party blockbuster Killzone: Shadow Fall

Innovative offerings from LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule, and Braid wunderkind Jonathan Blow showed that Sony is still squarely behind interesting, creative-minded development.

But one area that was conspicuously glossed over during Sony's presentation was how the PS4 will be relevant in a gaming market that increasingly values a flexible ecosystem.

After the two hour briefing, I came away with the distinct feeling that not a whole lot had fundamentally changed.

Hot air

Sony spoke briefly about how the PS Vita, smartphone and tablets would be able to run PS4 games via Remote Play, but I will be extremely surprised if that turns out to be anything more than hot air.

Considering how flaky PS3 Remote Play has been on both the PSP and, latterly, on the PS Vita, it will be a major surprise if Sony can coax the kind of stable, lag-free performance you need in order to make good on the promises of streaming gaming.


Sony's struggling PS Vita was presented as key to PS4's success

As of now, the PS Vita is capable of playing a handful of HD remakes, like God Of War and ICO over remote play, alongside some indie titles available on PSN.

To be brutally honest, the lag can be an intolerable mess even when you're streaming to the Vita in the same room as the PS3 - online it's a disaster.

And what about phones and tablets? There's some half-hearted talk about a SmartGlass-style PlayStation App that allows games to display second screen content on your smart device, but this is likely to be as underwhelming for PS4 as it is currently for Xbox 360 right now. 

Now, I'm fairly sure a sizeable chunk of Sony's hardcore following will be pleased that Sony isn't 'diluting' its next generation offering by pandering too much to the 'casuals'. It's making a hardcore games machine, with hardcore games for hardcore gamers.

Ignorance is bliss

Then again, that's a relatively small, and possibly shrinking portion of the total gaming audience these days, and to potentially ignore the possibilities of tapping into that audience and broadening your customer base is a curious decision.

Brave or foolish? I'm not sure, because it's fair to say that Sony has only just opened the doors to what the PS4 does. It would be very stupid to judge the system before Sony has even showed us what the console looks like.


Bungie's Destiny was one of the big third-party releases announced

With E3, Gamescom and even Tokyo Game Show to come before the system ships, there's plenty of time for Sony to drip-feed information about how the system will interact with other devices.

That said, it's a little concerning that the company barely uttered a word in its big reveal about the wider ecosystem of the machine.

At this point, it looks like the PS4 is going to be another expensive box sitting under your TV, delivering expensive content to an audience that's rapidly getting used to freemium and other payment models.

There's no doubt that Sony has a loyal enough audience to support the old ways of doing things, but I can't help feeling that it's a rapidly shrinking one.

Whether Sony can do enough to retain and even grow its audience will be a fascinating story to follow.

There's no such thing as 'not enough time' in Kristan's world. Despite the former Eurogamer editor claiming the world record for the most number of game reviews written before going insane, he manages to continue to squeeze in parallel obsessions with obscure bands, Norwich City FC, and moody episodic TV shows. He might even read a book if threatened by his girlfriend.

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Kristan Reed Consultant at Hit Detection
When I hear 'PlayStation App', I hear Smart Glass. It's a nice feature to be able to chuck out there, but only if developers both to make use of it. And knowing developers, 99.9% of the time they develop to the lowest common denominator - they'd never design a game that specifically requires a second screen, so you'll hardly ever see it used in any majorly interesting way. The only system you're likely to see interesting second screen games is the Wii U.
Jonathan Morris Operations Editor
With no real talk about anything more than connecting the PS4 to your Vita, or perhaps to a tablet (is that any Android tablet, or just a Sony Xperia tablet?) I got the impression that PlayStation Mobile isn't a very high priority.

But, there's always a possibility that Sony will give a bit more information on that at its press event next Monday at Mobile World Congress - which would make sense.
Keith Andrew
I don't think PlayStation Mobile is much more than a last minute reaction, really. It's certainly not a sign of Sony taking smartphones seriously.
jon jordan
Another interest point - mentioned only one, but with significant implications - was when Andrew House spoke about free-to-play games.

That's a big change for a previously premiu, walled-garden like PlayStation...
Mark J.
If I remember correctly, they did briefly touch upon the fact that there would be companion apps for the PS4's social capabilities on tablets and smartphones. Admittedly they didn't really elaborate on them, but then there's also PlayStation Mobile. I'd take both of those as a sign that they're not ignoring the handheld market.

I also don't think Vita's Remote Play issues will continue on into the PS4's life cycle considering that they've got Gaikai on board. From what I've experienced, Gaikai know how to make lag-free remote gaming work.