Yesterday, the gaming world was abuzz with Sony’s official Playstation 4 press conference, where they showed off what the upcoming next generation console will be able to do, without actually displaying the console or announcing its price.
Without a doubt, the new hardware will allow for visual and gameplay advancements that many have been yearning for (seriously, check out some of the videos), but will this just be the newest and shiniest version of console gaming as it is today? Or will Sony really be able to tap into the myriad mobile and social advancements that have changed the consumer landscape since its last living room hardware release?
Really, my concern lies with the 4 years Sony claims to have been working on this release. Such a long development cycle does not mesh well with the rapidly changing tastes and behaviors of the new, always connected, mobile-first consumer. Expectations are higher than ever, and while integrating including multiple devices in the living room entertainment experience is intriguing, is Sony really up to the task? The PS Vita has been out over a year, and hasn’t made much of a splash, and the closest I’ve come to a Sony smartphone is watching James Bond bicker with M.
Facebook, Android, and iOS have emerged as revolutionary gaming platforms, while Sony has spent 4 secretive years in development since PS3. They’ve lost billions moving so slowly and there’s no sign of them changing their R&D approach to compete in faster moving multi-platform world. Even their attempts to add social media features seem outdated before even launching. Sure there’s a button to share to social media, but that already seems as quaint as “checking-in” to a restaurant.
The indie game movement has largely focused on tablets & smartphones, because console development and approval is such an ordeal.” At the same time, the battle for the living room is heating up,
competition that will make a high-priced piece of gaming hardware that much easier to live without.
Let’s look at the opposite side of the spectrum: an exciting company right here in L.A. called OUYA.
They’ve embraced customer development and crowdsourcing to such an extent that it’s sometimes hard to fully differentiate the company from it’s independent game developers and outspoken gamers, and the thing (a low cost Android console, if you’re not familiar) hasn’t even shipped to consumers yet!
OUYA has looked to crowdsourcing for input on nearly every detail, including its initial $8.6M in funding on Kickstarter and the company is reaching out to gamers and game developers as it iterates constantly, even on its very first product. OUYA has embraced customer development with both arms, and it’s hard not to be excited by a company willing to listen to even the smallest design requests from the community it cares most about. Also, being developer-friendly is how you create 166 game prototypes in 10 days. I’m already convinced platforms like OUYA will more effectively take advantage of social and mobile capabilities as they exist today, but I’m even more convinced that as we start to find new methods of communication and media consumption, the PS4 will quickly fall behind more agile platforms.
Like many, I hope Sony’s hardware update pushes creative and technological limits, but it’s looking pretty much like just a sequel. The real revolution is happening whether they join in or not. The prettiest games this year will be on PS4, if they actually ship on time. Just don’t expect OUYA’s next iteration (or 10) to take 6 years, or the rest of the startup and gaming world to ignore the power of the hands-on, grassroots approach OUYA is proving.