If You Don’t Buy a PlayStation 4, God Will Kill a Puppy

Console generations have historically been about moving the visual performance of the hardware forward. The gap between the current and previous generation was also about evolving connectivity. These are the two metrics I consider when I assess the need for another generation of console hardware, and then whether I need to get on board or not.

John Teti wrote a brilliant analysis of the PlayStation 4 preview event (I refuse to call it a reveal) on The Gameological Society and one of his arguments is that pushing hardware power does not equal innovation in videogames. David Cage took the stage during the preview to argue videogame creators have been hamstrung in their ability to create emotion owing to the technical limitations of previous hardware, equating polygon counts with the ability to depict human expression.

I don’t understand anyone who is already getting excited about the PlayStation 4. We know better than to do so this early.

I have four words to say to that. The Walking Dead. Journey. Games which do not require powerful hardware to run and are counted among the best games of 2012. Hell, Journey swept up at the DICE awards earlier this month and is likely to follow suit at the GCDAs in March.

As Teti witnesses, Killzone Shadow Fall is just more Killzone. The idea of “next generation gameplay” sprinkled here and there throughout the PS4 preview eludes me. I hope to hear game developers getting very specific in the near future about what they want to do on the PlayStation 4 which they simply could not do on the PlayStation 3 outside the realm of graphics.

PlayStation Home was a failure so now Sony is ostensibly going to look towards an Xbox Live-type community. The ability to quickly share content and upload videos could be interesting. The ability to observe other players’ sessions and to jump in and take control over their games to help is also interesting. We have no idea whether any of this will actually work, however, and from last week’s preview, these are the bulk of the new connectivity features the PS4 is going to offer.

They are also just promises, like the idea of cross-platform play with the PS Vita, and we ought to remain skeptical of all these announced features in light of Sony’s track record on console reveals as excellently outlined by Andrew Groen on Wired. I don’t understand anyone who is already getting excited about the PlayStation 4. We know better than to do so this early.

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You have to buy next generation hardware because otherwise the videogame industry won’t know what to do with itself. And maybe God will kill a puppy. I don’t know. But you are expected to buy the next generation. That’s how it’s been for decades. So what happens if the pattern finally collapses?

I think it’s interesting that when Blizzard made its announcement about Diablo III coming to the PS4 we also learned the game was coming to the PS3. When Bungie took the stage to announce exclusive PlayStation 4 content for Destiny they reiterated that Destiny will also be released for the PlayStation 3. Doesn’t this sound like a hedging of bets?

This is going to be a console generation about justifications, and Microsoft will have to answer the same questions I’m throwing as a consumer at Sony. Why should I upgrade? What will the PlayStation 4 offer me that I don’t already have and that I wanted but didn’t realize?

Bioshock WashingtonI keep thinking about BioShock Infinite and the bar-raising master class in immersion and emotion it has been touted as offering us. Let’s say it lives up to the hype. Infinite is going to run on current-gen hardware. What might the next generation of hardware offer up as an improvement on what Infinite is attempting to do? If Infinite succeeds, what does that say about the remaining potential in the current generation and the need for the consumer to move on to another console generation at all?

The average gamer is 35 years old, now. We’re not a bunch of children who need to keep up with the kid down the block. Moving to another console generation is a pain in the ass. It’s expensive. It means mothballing old consoles and/or finding a way to keep them hooked up to our televisions in tandem with the new consoles if there’s no backwards-compatibility (which is the case for the PlayStation 4). The concept of not upgrading is going to seem much more reasonable to a whole generation of gamers than in any console generation-jump since we’ve been gaming.

Sometimes the pain in the ass is worth it. The Wii gave us a whole new way to play videogames. The Xbox 360 introduced the most successful social network on a console yet. The PlayStation 3 was a substantial improvement performance-wise to the PlayStation 2. So far the Wii U has borrowed from preexisting tablet technology and merely caught up with HD competitors visually. Last week’s PS4 reveal demonstrates a console playing catch-up with interactivity and addressing the patching shortfalls of the previous generation (and little else – see our own Stu Horvath’s piece on Wired). I’m not seeing a reason to get excited yet about spending hundreds of dollars on new gear and new games for said gear without any promises of truly new experiences.

There’s one more punch to be thrown in round one of the new console wars, but unless Microsoft comes into the ring with something truly special, we may be looking at pure brand loyalty as the sole motivator for console upgrades. Nintendo fans will need the Wii U to play their Mario games, Sony diehards will grab the PS4 for Killzone and whichever other exclusive franchises toddle on and the Xbox crowd will likewise stay their course as well.

In the current generation, Microsoft is winning. Food for thought. I’m sure Sony is thinking about it, which would certainly explain a PS4 preview that felt premature and haphazard. Or it might be the 10 percent price drop in Sony shares following third quarter losses. There’s always that.

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You can tell Dennis he is entirely wrong about this on Twitter: @DennisScimeca.

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  • Rob Haines

    Every generation we're promised the increased power of new consoles will lead to fundamental advances in AI, in interactive storytelling, in the complexity and maturity of the gaming experience. The Emotion Engine. The Cell chip. The creepy old-man face. And then the consoles come out, and instead of something new, it's the same old, but with more airborne particles and greater pretties.

    There's good reasons for that, of course. It's harder to do something revolutionary than slightly improve the texture detail and add some dynamic lighting, and how exactly do you show off advanced AI routines in a two minute E3 press conference trailer?

    With all that in mind, my greatest fear: that the PS4 conference would be little more than Sony marketing trying to push 4K TVs thankfully didn't come to pass, and for that I'll remain grateful!

  • QQQQQ

    In what way is Microsoft winning this generation? http://www.itworld.com/personal-tech/335129/idc-t

    Outside of the US the PS3 has outsold the 360 despite being released later.

    • Stu Horvath

      Worldwide console sales, via WikiPedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Console_wars):
      Wii – 99.38 million as of 31 December 2012
      Xbox 360 – 75.9 million as of 31 December 2012
      PlayStation 3 – 70 million as of 4 November 2012

      • Karmic_Portions

        Stu, the Wikipedia page you link to links to the IDC page linked by QQQQQ showing PS3 outgunning the Xbox by about a million consoles.

        Not sure who is "correct" here, as a 7 million unit discrepancy is quite large. On the other hand, I thought it was fairly well reported that in worldwide sales the PS3 had recently overtake the Xbox.

        • Stu Horvath

          Damned Wikipedia updates!

          At any rate, I think the perception in the industry is that Sony lagged behind most of this generation, despite having a better piece of hardware.

          • Karmic_Portions

            Hoist by your own petard, as it were? :p

          • Stu Horvath

            So it would seem. :/

          • QQQQQ

            That was what I was getting at, that it is more of a perception that Sony are doing worse rather than that they are actually doing worse.

            (Although I suspect that Microsoft has done a bit better financially this generation, regardless of who sold more units, since it made less of a loss off of each one.)

  • Bobby

    This is just launch stuff.. of course there’s going to be cross-system games during the transition. Remember PS1-PS2/PS2-PS3? Games that release in that period will sometimes have only graphical changes between generations. I don’t think Killzone is at all representative of what this generation will be. It felt stale when they were demoing it because it *was* stale.

    I’m betting we’ll see far more realistic physics and animation systems this generation. We’ll see really great ideas a year or two out (not that there wasn’t good stuff in the preview). I’m sure it takes some time to develop games for this new generation.

    Do you, a games journalist, really think that not one developer will be able to properly utilize the PS4’s power? Your reasoning for us not needing a new generation is that the experience will be the same, based solely on a few trailers? Then there’s the fact that we’ve *already* been subjected to sequel after sequel with superficial changes. Plus it just doesn’t make sense that having more power at your disposal would somehow stop games like Walking Dead and Journey from being made.

    Sorry, but this is just a really shoddy piece.