An Analysis of the Sony PS4 and Its Role in the Video Game Industry

The recent announcement of the PS4 was an audible sigh of relief for an ailing video game industry that has seen even established game developers and publishers take massive tumbles.  Beyond the excitement and anticipation, however, removed from the hype and what the Sony execs and designers are telling us, what does the Sony PS4 mean for the currently roiling video game industry?

The current generation of video game consoles is past the average iteration of console generations. Now that two major consoles are – or will be – in the market, the “quantum leap” in gaming that people from the Triple-A side of the industry have been clamoring for is close at hand. But is the quantum leap going in the right direction? Taking a look at everything we know about the PS4, there are notable things that the Sony PS4 is and isn’t doing.

The PS4 is Focusing on Power

The processor, memory, and graphics specs that are already confirmed for the PS4 are truly powerful. Games that can fully leverage these specs will inevitably be more realistic, immersive, and encompassing than ever, translating to potentially better gameplay or storytelling experiences for gamers. Triple-A games are a step closer to being full-fledged “playable movies,” where the only real indicator that you’re playing a game is the controller in your hand.

The PS4 is Focusing on the “Core” Gamer Crowd

Given the lack of proper technical definitions, we’ll go with popularly accepted ones: core gamers are the loyal Triple-A title patrons whose lifestyles include gaming hours on end. This crowd is what the video game industry relies on – casual gamers can hardly be swayed to spend $60 on boxed games on a console they need to buy separately when they can just whip out their tablets or mobile phones and start playing. This focus on the core crowd is what made the PS4 announcement a success. The target market had been waiting, and they were not disappointed, indeed, they were courted and wooed. The openness to a flexible system price, the integration of social features (even buttons) and Gaikai’s streaming functionality, the possibilities offered by a secondary chip that makes background loading faster and downloading while playing possible – all of these are included to make core gamers smile. There will even be new cloud features rolling out when the console is already in the market.

Now all this is well and good, but what about what the PS4 isn’t doing?

The PS4 isn’t Allowing Backwards Compatibility… of anything

No titles from the first three generations of Playstation will be compatible with the new console. No memory data, no controllers, and no peripherals will also be compatible. Everything will have its own “4” release: like the PS4 Eye and the Dualshock 4. While it appears to be a minor hiccup in a generous feast, it seems improbable that the technologically advanced PS4 can’t be bothered to play DVDs and CDs, or read data from 8MB memory cards. Sony wants gamers to look forward: let the past lie, and focus on the next gen. For the brand and the console, this is a good tactic. Centering the focus on the very appealing PS4 gets rid of distractions that could take away from its eminent success. All eyes on the PS4 please, as if it wasn’t already very conspicuous.

The PS4 isn’t Blocking Used Games

On a cleverly (or fortuitously) timed PR twist, Sony’s decision to let the PS4 run used games comes only days after the rumormill spewed forth disturbing hearsay that the next gen Xbox might not allow used games.  GameStop was quick to nip the conspiracy in the bud by gainsaying the possibility with a probable huge backlash from gamers. So the PS4 will allow gamers to play used games. In contrast to their no-backwards-compatibility move which was just a minor issue, not even Sony can get away with blocking used games. The same goes for requiring an always-on Internet connection to play. Sony appears to be taking alternative measures to stop piracy, however, with a revealing new patent to an anti-piracy process.

Taking all this into account, it appears the PS4 is focusing on delivering more power and a few in-demand features to the core gamer crowd, encouraging gamers to look forward to the promise of next generation gaming, while mostly preventing more loopholes that can be used to further bleed the Triple-A side of the industry but not at the cost of outright opposition to such a prevalent trend as playing used games. At first glance, it seems straightforward and generally positive, but there’s a contention here. The PS4 is everything we can expect from a next gen Playstation that should have been released a few years ago. Today, the core gamer crowd, despite being loyal to the Triple-A side and their titles, is not proving enough to keep the industry from faltering. The PS4 is stepping in the same direction that its previous iterations have been going in, hoping to reinvigorate the industry like a defibrillator shock trying to stop a conclusive flatline.

If Microsoft steps up to the plate and delivers excellent competition, then we may see an exciting surge in Triple-A video game industry sales, but the hard truth remains that while the gaming population has multiplied tenfold, a LOT of them aren’t core gamers. If the PS4 and the next gen Xbox can help casual gamers “graduate” to Triple-A games, then they may slow the inevitable shift. Unfortunately the Wii U might not be much help, as it seems comfortable in the in-between, catering to a wider range of gamer demographic. You have to give it to Nintendo, however, for helping spearhead a shift that it has directly benefited from – Nintendo was nearly out during the reign of the PS2 and Xbox. The Wii was its radical new idea, and it paid off. Is the PS4 a radical new idea that will pay off?

Sony considerably upgraded the console’s power and is carefully moving into the social, cloud, and live streaming facets of gaming. Will that be enough? Should the PS4 offer as much of a different experience as the Wii did in its time? Should the next generation be shorter and will that help the video game industry regain its footing?

At this rate, after the initial excitement dies down the new consoles will find themselves with the same old crowd, and the same old problem. The console shows a lot of potential, hopefully the game developers and publishers are ready to impress and appeal to a greater target market.


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