The PlayStation 4 is on its way, and this time around Sony is focusing on new play options. With the help of things like the new DualShock 4 controller, a dual camera, and new streaming technology provided by Gaikai, Sony is aiming to give gamers lots of new ways to play.
Most of these new features share the common denominator of giving players the ability to experience games before buying them, but that’s not Sony’s only endgame here. Looking at the big picture, all of these new features make one thing very certain: Sony is launching an all-out attack on the competition.
Sony may be focusing on “new play options,” but the majority of their new features seem just a little bit familiar. That isn’t to say that Sony is copying anyone or failing to offer unique features, but a lot of the fancy new gadgets and abilities coming to the PlayStation 4 are definitely a direct response from Sony to the competition. With the PlayStation 4, Sony wants to send a message to the world, and that message is “We can do everything the competition can do and more.” Let’s take a look at some of the improvements Sony has made to their home console experience on the PlayStation 4.
When the initial rumors about the PlayStation 4’s new controller began to surface, there was an almost instant outcry from Nintendo fans who felt Sony was copying the Wii U’s GamePad. This sentiment has died down significantly with the revelation that the DualShock 4 only has a touch pad, as opposed to an actual touch screen, but the idea of bringing the touch control experience to the home console is still something that Sony will likely try to use to incorporate some Nintendo-esque ideas into their future games.
Cross Play and Remote Play
Sony has been slowly integrating Cross Play (the ability to use both a Vita and a PlayStation 3 together to enhance gameplay) into their games, and they will presumably step up these efforts with the launch of the PlayStation 4. Cross Play allows Sony to emulate the same kinds of gameplay experiences that can be achieved with the Wii U and its GamePad, adding a second screen for more options.
Meanwhile, the newly announced Remote Play looks to undercut another major feature of the Wii U: off-TV play. One of the big selling points of the Wii U is how well it works for families that share a TV. The simple press of a button can transfer your game from the TV to the GamePad’s screen via streaming technology. Remote play allows the Vita to do virtually the same thing, with Sony’s eventual goal being that every single PlayStation 4 game will be playable on the Vita through Remote Play.
Cross Play and Remote Play with the Vita gives Sony both a distinct advantage over Nintendo in one aspect and a tough obstacle to overcome in another. As Sony has not been shy about declaring, the Vita has enough power packed into it that, if developers really devoted the effort, it could out perform the Wii U GamePad’s potential. The GamePad is largely dependent on the Wii U console itself, whereas the Vita has its own dedicated hardware in addition to the streaming abilities of the PlayStation 4.
Of course, Nintendo’s advantage in this situation is the combination of simplicity and pricing. The Wii U comes packaged with a GamePad for around $300, whereas in order to make use of Cross Play and Remote Play, PlayStation 4 owners would have to buy the home console, and then separately purchase a Vita. Given that the Vita is $250 by itself, the price tag for experiencing two screen gameplay is pretty high.
As the Vita grows a larger install base this will become less of an issue, but the system is not meeting sales expectations currently. With no price cut expected any time soon outside of Japan, it may be a while before Cross Play and Remote Play can really challenge Nintendo. The Wii U is just more practical for those kinds of experiences right now.
Smart Phone App
Connectivity with the Vita isn’t the only trick Sony has up their sleeve when it comes to bringing a second screen into the gaming equation. The PlayStation 4 will launch with an app for iOS and Android devices that allows them to act as secondary screen. This smart device app will allow players to access information about the game they’re playing, make purchases for the console, and “remotely watch other gamers playing on their devices.”
If all of this sounds a little bit familiar, it’s because this is essentially the same concept as Microsoft’s SmartGlass. As with SmartGlass, I anticipate this PlayStation 4 app to be more of a nice add-on than an actual core part of the gaming experience. Smart devices with the app won’t be used to replace the controller, but rather to work along side it as an extra information provider. For this reason, I don’t see this as any direct competition to the Wii U, but it will directly compete with SmartGlass.
Perhaps the one distinct advantage that the PlayStation 4’s smart device app will have over SmartGlass is the ability to watch your friends as they play. This spectator feature isn’t for your phones and tablets only, but will also be a key part of the overall PlayStation 4 experience.
From the system itself, you can tab through your friends list, pick a friend, and watch live footage of them gaming, even if you don’t own the game that they are playing. What’s even more impressive is that, given they allow you to do so, you can actually assume the controls for them and play their game from your console.
This raises the bar dramatically, as it takes ideas like Nintendo’s Miiverse (which lets you share images and talk with other Wii U players) and SmartGlass, and takes them to the next level. With PlayStation 4, you can watch your friends play from your phone or console at any time. That’s pushing the social aspects of gaming to a whole new level.
This concept of social gaming is furthered by a new function of the DualShock 4 controller: the Share button. With the simple touch of a button you can record gameplay footage and upload it to sites like Facebook and YouTube. Never before has it been so easy to experience a game and then share that experience with others.
The combination of the Spectator feature, the smart device app, and the Share button gives Sony that big push into social gaming that Nintendo and Microsoft have both been aiming for. Nintendo executives have said that they want Miiverse to be like Facebook for games, but Sony is looking to incorporate sites like Facebook into the gaming experience, and unlike Miiverse, you won’t have to own a PlayStation 4 yourself to see all the social interactions between gamers. Instead of setting up a social network inside the PlayStation 4 community, Sony is bringing the PlayStation 4 to the social networks themselves.
The DualShock 4 may be the center of attention, but there will be other ways to control your PlayStation 4. Despite the fact that last generation’s DualShock 3 controller won’t be compatible with the PlayStation 4, the motion-based Move controller will. Move isn’t new to the PlayStation 4, but it looks like there will be an added emphasis.
Sony brought Media Molecule, creators of LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway, on stage during the PlayStation 4 reveal to show off some ideas for Move implementation in the future, showing that the company hasn’t abandoned the Wii-esque motion control scheme.
Nintendo’s Wii remote isn’t the only motion control device that Sony has taken note of; PlayStation 4 has an answer to Microsoft’s Kinect as well. Sony’s new console will come with a dual camera capable of tracking motion in much the same way as the Kinect, while incorporating both the DualShock 4 and Move technology.
Whether it’s motion controls, touch controls, social gaming, or streaming, the PlayStation 4 has an answer for everything that Microsoft and Nintendo have used to separate themselves from the pack in recent years. Sony is looking to make the PlayStation 4 a balanced gaming experience that truly lives up to the PlayStation 3’s slogan of “It only does everything,” but will it work?
With the dual camera and smart phone app, I don’t see Sony gaining any kind of distinct advantage over Microsoft, but they will be able to compete for a similar market. Microsoft managed to pick up some of the “casual gamer” crowd that was so enthralled by the Wii with Kinect, and the PlayStation 4 will at least offer that same kind of experience, but it’s not likely to be a game-changer. The spectator feature of the smart phone app gives them a slight edge over SmartGlass (provided that Microsoft doesn’t launch something similar), but that seems more like icing on the cake for Sony fans than a sales motivator.
Cross Play and Remote Play with the Vita gives the PlayStation 4 a lot of potential, but I don’t believe it will be fully realized for quite some time. Sony could (and should) put out some stellar first party content that utilizes these functions to a greater extent than the Wii U can, but it will likely be some time before third party developers are fully on board with the idea. Two screen gaming on Sony products requires players to own two systems. This limits the target audience for these types of games, and it’s a safer bet to develop for the Wii U until the Vita has a larger install base.
Where Sony truly gains an edge over the competition is in the aspects of social gaming. If Sony really pushes things like the smart device app, the spectator feature, and the Share button, they will be miles ahead of the competition in social gaming. Miiverse and Xbox Live don’t have anything that can top that right now, and it could be Sony’s next big thing.
Overall, the PlayStation 4’s fancy new gadgets do their job. The PlayStation 4 offers something similar to what the competition has to offer in most aspects, and then a little bit more. Sony shouldn’t have to worry about missing out on any third party titles that are based on things like motion or touch controls, and the PlayStation 4 has enough unique features that they should be able to put out some interesting first party content that sets them apart from the competition.
With the exception of the social aspects, the PlayStation 4 isn’t really blazing any new trails, but it’s got enough of everything that it can appeal to just about any demographic. For gamers on a budget and families looking to keep the whole house happy with one console, the PlayStation’s mantra of “it only does everything” might just ring true in the next generation. If Sony can successfully balance all these ideas in one console (that means no empty promises, Sony), then the PlayStation 4 has a fantastic amount of potential.