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PlayStation 4: An amazing high-tech relic, argues Fraser MacInnes

The game has changed, but Sony hasn't…

PlayStation 4: An amazing high-tech relic, argues Fraser MacInnes
Fraser MacInnes is a mobile games industry professional who cut his teeth writing for Pocket Gamer.

He's now working for Danke Games, a new gaming start up based in the heart of the Black Forest in Germany.


At the time of writing, just hours have passed since Sony revealed the successor to the PlayStation 3.

Predictably, there were tech demos, there were some actual demos and there were some really realistic looking explosions.

Having spent my last column proselytising for unconsoles such as the Ouya and GameStick, I find myself wondering if another expensive box with a new number suffixed to its name is really what I want out of gaming these days.

Indeed, I fundamentally wonder whether I want invest in a future of home entertainment that's so resolutely bound by hardware.

Ripe for disruption

The other day, an industry friend of mine who spent a major chunk of their career working for a major console publisher in Silicon Valley, pronounced boldly over lunch, "consoles are dead."

"The future is tablet devices," he went on. "Whoever figures out the magic glue that connects them to TVs is going to permanently disrupt the industry."

Whether that's true or not, it feels like the PS4 (and Microsoft's inevitable riposte), are products that are in dire need of disruption.

Sony's effort builds on its previous three console launches with the same, "bigger, better, faster, more" approach, leaving 'new' and 'different' completely sidelined.

Geekonomics

It is, as so many things are, a question of economics. Console gaming is not the only show in town anymore and spending habits have changed.

After the PS4 launches, a consumer will be able to go and pick up a machine for maybe 400 euros, dollars or pounds (no official price as yet).

Then they'll need to plump an additional 50-60 bucks for a game. That's an initial outlay of 460 bucks just to be able to play a single game.

For audiences that have been gorging themselves on free or cheap titles on tablets and phones, it's hard to imagine how the traditional economics of console hardware and software pricing will match modern consumer behavior in a scalable way.

Game dev story

Then there are developers. Consoles need games and launch consoles need a crap load of them at once.

Assuming Sony or Microsoft convince a handful of studios to collectively assemble 15-20 launch window titles – what is the overall financial burden of bringing those games to market?

Maybe $20-30 million to develop each and then at least $10 million each to market them?

Even being super conservative with the numbers, we're talking about the best part of a billion dollars for the chance to trudge through stringent approval processes and exorbitant licensing fees.

Is this something developers are willing to do nowadays, when even the biggest publishers in the world are seeing the most significant portfolio growth come from titles like The Simpsons: Tapped Out on mobile?

It's interesting to note EA's complete absence at the PS4 launch event, by the way.

The sorcerer's adhesive

Let's get back to the magic glue scenario. I spoke last month about the technology trajectory of mobiles versus traditional console technology (as did Fishlabs' Michael Schade, last week).

Eight year cycles for traditional consoles leave an open goal for phones and tablets that iterate hardware every twelve to eighteen months.

It's not inconceivable to envisage that, in the PS4's natural lifetime, it will be outgunned by mobile devices. When that happens, shouldn't it be your phone or your tablet that sends games to your TV?

What happens if Apple decides to actually start marketing the Apple TV and its ability to stream games via Airplay? What happens if an unconsole takes off?

What if any sub 100 dollar box starts allowing you to seamlessly send games from your phone to your TV, no matter what platform is in your pocket?

Call me mad, but why then would you spend an additional truck of money on another platform that does exactly the same thing, but with less flexibility?

Devices, not experiences, will change…

Consoles are starting to wake up to the mobile angle, though the realizations have been either lacking in scope (hello Xbox SmartGlass) or ham-fisted (hello Wii U, the Fisher Price iPad).

The living room, big TV game experience will never go away – it's just too much fun. Similarly, consoles like those manufactured by Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft are also here to stay (though I'd wager they will become more niche over the next decade).

What will change is the device paradigm for the living room and on that front, the PS4, amazing as the explosions it can render may be, feels like a very high tech relic.

Your turn Microsoft…


You can follow Fraser's industry commentary on his blog, or else grab bite-size rants via Twitter.

PocketGamer.biz regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.

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jon jordan
I bet that Sony will be giving PS4s away in the years to come, if only like mobile subscriptions...
Fraser Ross MacInnes Product/Design Director at Danke Games
Hey Robin, lot's to digest in there, I'll try to address the points you make as best I can. First off on the budgets for games and marketing, I'm not saying all console games will cost 30-50m to make and market, I'm saying that launch titles tend to be in that range and I think what was shown at Sony's presentation bears out the fact that that's too uncomfortable for the types of studio that can produce those games these days.

What I'm seeing is publishers hedging their bets rather than committing dedicated resources. Watch Dogs, Diablo III and GTA V are all PS4 titles that have been announced for other, current-gen platforms too. I agree that there's lots of choice on consoles these days with regard to digital titles, but that's not what sells a box with a 400 price tag.

As for your comments about Apple, I don't think you're far off the mark with that either. I don't think Apple will intentionally go after the console market - though I wouldn't be surprised if it created a situation where its platform became much more interesting for developers and publishers than it is now.

If the Apple TV is opened up to developers and if AirPlay is fixed (its enforced system volume control panel implementation is a total disaster at present), it's conceivable that it will be a more financially viable route to the TV for games companies than traditional consoles are.

I also agree that consoles and mobile device experiences are not like for like currently (though I do think the technology trajectory of mobile technology could change that in a relatively short time-frame), but I do question whether high-end console experiences are as mass market today as they were in 2006.

The mass market has a bigger mass now and tastes and behaviours have changed. Consoles are as you say a different but equally valid proposition, but not where they are aimed at the sorts of mass market audiences they once were - I don't think Sony and MS launching a year early with gen 3 is the only reason they've had to fight tooth and nail to repair the financial damage of failing to replicate the PS2s incredible success - some of that difficulty has to be attributed to customers finding gaming entertainment beyond the console...

Anyhoo - maybe I'm completely wrong and the PS4 will sell by the tanker load. Either way, I won't be buying one until the price vs entertainment value equation makes more sense for me...
Robin Clarke Producer at AppyNation
This analysis doesn't seem to acknowledge some things that are already happening in consoles, and a few key things that were announced yesterday.

As digital distribution becomes more prevalent, lower price points and other payment models (F2P, subscription) will further erode the (outdated) assumption that all console games are $50-60 discrete retail items. This makes a nonsense of the idea that all console games will command $20-30m budgets and $10m+ marketing budgets (this is far from the case right now, and things aren't going to regress).

With a solid, service-based platform as a foundation, there's nothing stopping Sony or Microsoft from refreshing their hardware spec much more often than once in 8 years. (The current console generation didn't go on this long out of anyone's preference - MS and Sony had assumed that their machines would replicate the success of the PS2 and have spent a long time clawing back the financial damage done by rushing them to market at least a year too early.)

If Apple start marketing Apple TV, they'll also need to refresh it with a credible technical spec, storage solution and game-specific control interface, and commit to working with third parties to market their games in a way far beyond anything they've ever done on iOS. Apple's existing business is in rude health - what would be the impetus for radically changing their business model and corporate culture?

All the microconsoles are nice hobbyist toys but drastically underpowered and with no warchest to actually push their games into the general public's consciousness.

Most alarmingly naive is the mistake of treating games like sacks of potatoes. Consumers will pay $300 for a console and a further $60 for a game because there is nothing even remotely equivalent on mobile platforms. It's not delivering "exactly the same thing". And this is coming from someone who has spent the last ten years making mobile games. They're a different but equally valid proposition, like TV and movies or books and theatre.
Phil M
That last heading could be rephrased...

"Experiences, not devices"

Pretty much agree with all of the article.

"The future is tablet devices," he went on. "Whoever figures out the magic glue that connects them to TVs is going to permanently disrupt the industry."

That's exactly it. If MS wanted to really shake things up whey would release a tablet/console. A device that can act as a true tablet but equally can be plugged into the TV.

My generation grew up with "boxes" that you plugged games into, and you plugged into other things. To the current generation of gamers that's an odd concept, for them it's about taking their games with them, it's about getting those games instantly, it's about sharing the experience with friends.