Thursday, February 21, 2013

PS4, part 2

A day after the press conference, things are settling down around the PS4 announcement. The trailers and speeches have been pored over in excruciating detail by more games news outlets than I can count, and endless lists drawn up of the system's successes and failings.

At the time, the biggest shock to come from the presentation was the jaw-dropping Killzone demo, which I'm still pretty certain is an in-engine, if heavily massaged and tightly scripted, demonstration of the graphical oomph Sony's new machine is capable of. But having had time to mull over the evening, the biggest surprise isn't actually anything Sony announced, or that they left out - it's my reaction to the back compatibility situation.

The PlayStation 3's Cell architecture was notoriously difficult for developers to get to grips with, and it's also likely to be very difficult to emulate in software any time soon. Sony could, in theory, include the Cell processor in the PS4 too enable backwards compatibility - that's the route they took with the PS2 for PSOne games, and with 60GB launch model PS3s for PS2 games. That's likely to drive the cost of the console higher than consumers would be willing to pay though, even if Sony did eat some of that additional cost to sell the machine at a loss1.

The surprise, for me, was the discovery that I don't care that the PS4 isn't going to be back compatible. Maybe it's because I don't have a particularly large library of PS3 or PS2 games that I'd have to "abandon", but I can't think of any reason I wouldn't keep the PS3 around for a while anyway. I still have my Dreamcast, Saturn and N64 after all - although hardware isn't built like it used to be, as the 360's RRoD can attest.

I don't know how it'll affect the machine's perception, though. It'll probably depend how Microsoft approach it; if the next-generation Xbox is backwards-compatible, that'll be a big advantage in Stuff You Can Play At Launch (and also allows you to trade in your 360 to offset the cost of new hardware). But Microsoft's announcement is going to be weakened by cross-platform titles that were shown on PS4 first - a lot of it will be "we've got it too!" rather than "check out our brilliant lineup".

But the PS4 announcement's strongest card was probably the focus on games - not social tools, not video and music and apps, but games. I'm sure Sony will have a lot to talk about on those other fronts too before the PS4 hits shelves, not least at E3 in June, but given the perception among some enthusiast gamers that Microsoft are turning away from games to embrace a more general-purpose home media strategy, coming out for this announcement showing games as the priority is going to have piqued a lot of interest.

1 I know that it was pretty standard, for a while, for game hardware sales to be a loss leader for the manufacturer - except, famously, for Nintendo - but I'm not certain that's still the case. If Sony're desperate for market share, they might be willing to sell at a loss, like Microsoft did with the 360.

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