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Analysis: Sony looks to PS4 to reverse its fortunes
Analysis: Sony looks to PS4 to reverse its fortunes
February 20, 2013 | By Chris Morris

The reveal was just the beginning.

Sony's unveiling of the PlayStation 4 Wednesday was the start of a long, carefully planned marketing campaign that will culminate in its release this holiday season. And while the company might be focusing gamer attentions on the new hardware, the touchscreen controller and several big name games, what's really at stake is a whole lot bigger.

The PlayStation is a cornerstone of Sony's ongoing rebuild -- along with the mobile and digital imaging. And if the PS4 has sales that are as disappointing as the PS3, it could be devastating.

"In many parts of the world, [Sony] is bordering on irrelevance compared to where it was 12 years ago," says P.J. McNealy, CEO and founder of Digital World Research. "There's still a core market segment that loves the brand, but that market share is shrinking. They need to raise their base."

On a gut check level -- as well as a checklist level -- the company seems to be hitting a lot of the important marks. The focus on social integration is a wise move, given how quickly that field is growing in the video game space. It also gives Sony the opportunity to establish a viral presence on YouTube and other social outlets, as funny (and perhaps particularly skilled shots) are bound to be circulated widely.

Integrating today's most popular technology -- smartphones -- is also smart. To ignore them would be ludicrous and self-delusional.

All in all, Wednesday's press event was a solid triple for the company. It failed to knock it out the park, though. The reveal that Destiny, already slated for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, would launch on the PS4 was a bit anticlimactic -- and the porting of last year's Diablo III wasn't exactly the barn burner Activision Blizzard and Sony were likely hoping for.

But word that Bungie would be creating exclusive Destiny content for the PS4 was a positive -- and will certainly be a bragging right for Sony in months to come. (Expect lots of inferences that the new PlayStation has stolen Microsoft's crown jewel.)

Similarly, Gaikai's Dave Perry had lots of grandiose visions to discuss, but none of the truly big ones -- like backward compatibility through the cloud and PS4 to Vita game transfers -- seemed to be on the immediate horizon. And investors are savvy enough to know that Sony has made those sort of promises in the past and failed to live up to them.

Then there are the big questions Sony didn't even bother addressing, most notably price.

"They need to show that they've figured out... a value proposition that doesn't start at $600, and they need to figure out what their brand means now," says McNealy.

And while it's still highly unlikely that the system will block used games, the fact that Sony didn't squash the whispers means they'll continue to hang over the company -- and investors will continue to worry that the company may alienate a segment of its audience.

(Also, it's worth noting that the lack of clarity on the issue will continue to hang over GameStop's stock.)

But Sony certainly succeeded in throwing down the gauntlet for Microsoft. And it made a pretty good case that consoles, while they're evolving, are hardly dead.

"Just as a phone is no longer just a phone, a console is no longer just a console," says McNealy. "These devices will still be worthwhile and it will be a nice package to get entertainment into the home."

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GameViewPoint Developer
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I'm at the point now where I'm not sure hardware really matters anymore. Give me a good App store to target and great cross-platform tools and I'm set.

Rodolfo Rosini
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You are absolutely right, the OS is a commodity, the hardware is a commodity. With the demise of retail the new bottlenecks where you can create value for consumers is the app store and the dev kit to make games. I think that once that is solved then discoverability will be the next frontier (like it's already a bit on iTunes) but in order to get there we need a massive output of games that overwhelms what a core gamer can play and the tools to make them are not yet there.

GameViewPoint Developer
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The true battle of the next generation is not hardware but App stores. For whoever wins that battle will be sitting on a whole pot of 30% F2P IAP gold.

As for tools, the most likely candidate right now is Unity.

Merc Hoffner
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While I think you may be right in the sense of the actual processing element, my argument always comes back to the interface. Games are inherently interactive and the user experience is totally dependent on how they physically connect with the software. Universal generic pointing interfaces like touchpads and keyboards can work well for some forms of gaming, but fall very short for all potential gaming. As such hardware can be endlessly minimised but it must always stop at the controller. And without someone left to iterate, innovate and sell the controller, the forms of gaming available would become increasingly generic and stagnated. Game evolution would be confined to increasingly abstract 'high level' mechanics like character concepts, user generated content, story, scripting and artistry - you know, all nice things, but having more to do with video than gaming. The original Super Mario Bros. is now as primitive as can be imagined (heck, go back to pong), but there's a visceral something in the instant physicality, something in the jumping and the sliding, that's immediately satisfying, and immediately un-replicable with a mouse.

Simon Ludgate
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I think it really comes down to good game and exclusive games. When they had Squeenix's Final Fantasy brand director standing on the stage, that was the moment they needed him to say that FFXV was going to be PS4-exclusive. And he didn't. That was a painful moment.

Ron Dippold
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Yes, that was a head-scratcher, especially after showing off last year's tech demo. Was there anyone who actually thought that PS4 would not have Final Fantasy games of some sort?

Same with most of those reveals. Of course Watchdogs would be on PS4 (and others), of course Destiny would be on PS4 (and others).

For exclusives as shown there's iNFAMOUS 3 (eh, given 2), Killzone 4 (eh), whatever Media Molecule was demonstrating (not sure what it is, but it looks interesting and I'm sure it'll be great), Knack (could be fun!). And of course David Cage's Old Man Simulator 9000.

So was a pretty weak show as far as that goes. I have to assume they've got more held back from Naughty Dog and Santa Monica, right?

Carlo Delallana
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Do people still care about Final Fantasy? I believe it's not the system-seller it once was (outside of Japan)

Ron Dippold
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@Carlo - They might if it were an exclusive. *badump*

Seriously, it probably wouldn't help much outside of Japan, but Japan is still a market Sony would really like to win this generation for lots of reasons. And there's still Nintendo - maybe. Why even haul him out otherwise, or show off last year's tech demo?

Simon Ludgate
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Yeah, the care is in the exclusivity, as Ron Dipplod points out, more than the game itself. Sony held Final Fantasy exclusivity for a while (various PC releases notwithstanding), until the XBox 360 came out and FFXIII was announced for both major platforms. That title was seen with scorn by certain FF fans, as if Squeenix was "dumbing down" the Final Fantasy Formula for the XBox generation.

A return to Playstation exclusivity is not only a nominal success for Sony in returning to the way things were (when the PS2 dominated), but also a nominal success for FF fans in returning to the way things were (when PS1 and PS2 Final Fantasy games were awesome).

Bob Johnson
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Maybe consoles are dying. At least consoles as they were.

OUYA isn't the answer. But something for $200-$250 with a digital-only store might be. IT is more about the experience that the best specs.

The games I saw (and I didn't see all of them yet) were a bit flashier versions of stuff we are already playing. Games that probably are becoming too bloated or predictable already.

I wanted to see that true next-gen experience. I didn't feel like I saw that yet. Maybe having a pc that already does nice graphics lessened the impact?

But at the same time maybe the kids feel different. Definitely not marketing to me any more.

Roberto Dillon
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"I wanted to see that true next-gen experience."

We all want that but expecting it at the first announcement is a bit unrealistic. We'll get it a couple of years into the lifecycle ;)

GameViewPoint Developer
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Unrealistic? it's 2013! it's been SEVEN years since the last consoles arrived. The whole gaming ecosystem has radically changed due to mobile. Sony had some cool ideals, but it looks to me a whole lot of restraint is being shown, probably because people just really don't know where it's all heading. The PS4 might be the machine for right now, but I suspect will age quicker than the last one has.

Consoles aren't dying, they have died! that's pretty obvious to anyone who has has even the slightest interest in the gaming industry.

I don't think people really see gaming machines anymore like they did 20 years ago, they just see games/apps and they want them on whatever device is closest to them, wether it be a phone or a TV set. Just in the same way that most people don't see "camera's" anymore, they just see photos, and apps to manipulate those photos and want to be able to take a photo with the device which is handy to them, i'e their phone.

After the Sony event though it's going to be interesting to see what MS come up with, because if they just announce a powerful PC in a slick box, an enhanced version of Xbox live and remote play it's going to look like they are just copying Sony.

Jannis Froese
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Hardware wise the PS4 very similar to a gaming pc, but a giant leap from current-gen consoles. I sure hope that this not only gives us nice looking old men but also better physics, and new types of gameplay, perhaps some more reactive open world experiences. Only time will tell what developers make of it. The trailer show today didn't show much yet.

Doug Poston
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"..probably because people just really don't know where it's all heading."


This is why I feel sorry for all three platforms.
They all need(ed) to come out with something right at this weird point of time.

4K TVs are just starting to come out, so these games will look sadly low-rez in 3-5 years.

Internet service in most of the US is still shit, so you can't bank on always-on, high bandwidth, low-latency streaming of games.

The world economy is still sluggish at best.

And their target market can barely find enough time to look up from their smart phones to notice that there is a TV in their living-room.

Fernando Fernandes
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I can only say... Meh.

Jason Chen
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hardware matters for developers, not users.

GameViewPoint Developer
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But if you are using a tool like Unity does it even matter for developers anymore?

Jeremy Reaban
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The Vita is the monkeywrench in that plan. There are a lot of dispirited and disgruntled Vita owners out there, dismayed by the lack of game for the device. (Well, not a lot of Vita owners, but of those that exist, many are)

Sony should just pull the plug on the Vita if they aren't going to support it. Release firmware turning it into an Android device, at least let people get games from the Google store or something.

Remote Play is a kludge at best, it's less than ideal for Vita owners (since they have to spend $400+ for a PS4 and $60+ for games) and less than ideal for PS4 owners wanting a offscreen experience, since the Vita has no triggers (and no, the back touch pad is not an adequate replacement) and very small buttons

GameViewPoint Developer
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The whole Vita thing looks like Sony attempt to do something with it, it's almost as if they think "well this is going down hill what use can we get out of it? oh I know!"

What would of been really cool, would of been enabling remote play from any screened device, so say from a tablet or phone......cue Microsoft.

Jarod Smiley
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There's no one saying Buy a PS4 just to use vita, it's obviously a bonus for people who do have one, and who plan on getting a PS4. Not to mention, this event was about PS4, and they clearly stated, PS vita plans will be reveal at a later time.

I took the exact opposite from this conference with regards to Vita. I think the reason Sony has been smug and nonchalant about Vita's sells is because the all the pieces aren't assembled yet. It is clearly a helper device for PS4, that also is another console to get content on. Whether this all comes to fruition is another story, but I least like the philosophy. And especially like the philosophy of PS4. If the platform is truly open, it should be a very easy device to flow with the trends.

Overall great conference. Clear vision, simple platform design, and unattainable goals. I have ABSOLUTELY ZERO interest in gaming on my smart phone or tablet so I truly don't see why people are going crazy over these new input devices like it's where the next Call of Duty or Gran Tursimo will be played on. Sony simply needs an infrastructure to match Steam/Xbox, and leave it as open as possible, perhaps an Open-Source section of the store so they can get indy's on there platform A LOT easier, and PS4 is a go in my book.

Dominique Louis
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@Jeremy I think the PS-Vita will prove key to the PS4's success or failure. Decent hardcore gaming on the move, has yet to be realised. the PS4 PS-Vita combination makes this possible.
Remember the Casual gamers of today, will become the hardcore gamers of tomorrow, once they hooked :).

@GameViewPoint Developer I agree with @Christian. How do you automagically translate full analog thumbsticks, R1, R2 and R3 and the left versions onto touch devices? I'd wager it would be horrendous. Having the PS4 and PS-Vita have nearly identical controls and only the image size being different is workable as you can just scale the image being sent from the PS4.