Reaction to the Playstation 4 Reactions

As expected, Sony announced their next-gen console today. The keynote filled in some of the juicy details, including apparently some sort of social network and video sharing, game streaming, the usual cacophony of motion + touch + button controls, and of course top-of-the-line hardware specs (at this point in time) and pretty games. The Verge has a great overview of what’s been revealed thus far.

ps4-controllerAnd as expected, the general reaction has been largely negative, full of “more of the same” and “not enough like a phone/tablet.” Given how conditioned we are to mentally shortcut anything and everything consumer electronics to mobile, that’s not a big surprise. Being a closet Sony fanboy, I wanted to spend a little more time thinking about the rationale and the thinking behind what will be the 4th Sony Playstation console.

The presentation itself was solid if unspectacular, which is probably a good thing given the opportunity for these things to go from meme-generation-worthy to just batshit insanity. Finally, it seems like commentators are finally getting over the idea that once-in-a-decade presentations do, in fact, only happen once in a while. In this case , having over half a year between the initial announcement and the eventual launch makes the mechanics of the presentation less important in the long run anyway.

Predictably, Sony went with what has worked for them in consoles: big games, more input systems, impressive hardware, and further iteration of their online strategy. The main criticism is that they seem to be ignoring the mobile gaming trend, but that’s probably a safe move to make at this point. While mobile games and mobile-friendly games are still a small part of developers’ portfolios, whether these style of games can work for larger screens is still an open question[1].

People write off the Wii’s dramatic collapse to an overemphasis and over-reliance on “casual gamers” and their (lack of) game purchasing habits. The fickleness of the target Wii user, though, is not so far removed from the mobile gaming one. We talk of the rising tide of mobile taking over all other forms of gaming, but it’s still at least a few years from materializing, if it ever does catch up with the consoles’ numbers. For November 2012, mobile apps (with games leading the pack) made something on the order of $120-150 million, while declining retail sales (which don’t include digital downloads) still generated $2.25 billion in revenue.

Is it disappointing, then, that none of the console makers are pivoting their big, public companies to throw yet another hat into the mobile arena – particularly when two of the three already have mobile divisions making phones that integrate gaming components? The underlying tone is simply that Nintendo and Microsoft and Sony ought to follow the Apple and Google mobile playbook[2], but none of them are at a great position to compete; Apple’s logistical advantages and Google’s ability to subsidize Android on search revenues are formidable moats, and they’re almost guaranteed to struggle in the same steps paved currently by Microsoft.

The traditional console business model is undoubtedly declining from its once absolute dominance, but contraction doesn’t mean extinction, and I’m glad that there are now a proliferation of gaming business models and not necessarily just one kind of
oligopoly shifting to another.

Footnotes    (↑ returns to text)
  1. The Ouya Android console would be the first to try, but it should be quite an uphill battle, as all the console makers and TV-box builders have declined to even try.
  2. Which is about as lazy and armchair as you can get with “analyzing” consumer technology.