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Sony's Second Screen Future and the PlayStation 4 Controller

Look down. What do you see?

Every couple of years there seems to be a new gimmick pushed by manufacturers of videogames hardware. Ever since the 8-bit days we’ve seen robot buddies, light guns, balance boards, motion controllers and attempts to popularise 3D. Most recently, as the cost of the technology has plummeted, we’re seeing a big push for what has become known as “second screen” devices.

The technology as it relates to videogames might have its earliest foundations in the Dreamcast’s VMU but we’ve come a long way since then. The rise of smartphone use to look up salient facts via wikipedia, IMDB and similar information sources while playing games or watching movies and television programs on home consoles has informed the desire to shape that second stream of related content – no doubt with an eye to controlling the message (and any advertising revenue) that’s displayed.

I was sceptical about the GamePad and I still don't think it's perfect but when used well, it's revolutionary.
My initial reaction to the idea was that it would just be another gimmick which would rise and fall, with certain entertaining or interesting – but ultimately disposable – elements along the way, before it became a side-note in videogame history. But the Wii U GamePad is in the process of changing my mind.

It’s not that I’m finding every use of the GamePad to be useful or even comfortable. There are plenty of times when it’s awkward to split my attention between two screens which are relatively far apart. But when it is used well, it’s a game-changer. It’s more useful than motion controls have ever been and it certainly does more for a game than 3D ever could. This gimmick might just be useful enough to stick around.

At this time, each of the three platform holders is approaching the problem in a different way. Microsoft expects you to own an expensive tablet or smartphone to use the system they’re calling “Smartglass.” Sony expects you to buy another expensive handheld gaming device – the Vita – to partake in any second screen action. But there’s a change coming. There’s a new generation expected from Microsoft and Sony – second screens will, I believe, have a notable presence in this new generation.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect users, who are putting down the sort of sums of money that a new console generation will demand, to spend more on another device. So I don’t think Sony will continue with the Vita as their second screen. At least not solely – allowing it as an option, or for use as extra controllers in multiplayer games, would potentially be a smart move to help aid the handheld’s poor sales so far. But the PlayStation 4 is going to have to ship with a second screen in the box. That means a significant change – or at least addition – to the DualShock.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to PlayStation fans. We know that Sony looked at redesigning the DualShock before the PlayStation 3 was launched, the prototype boomerang controller’s presence in early appearances of the console implies that the idea of a change in design might have gone quite far before eventually being abandoned in favour of sticking with the much loved ergonomic design of the PS2‘s DualShock in their SixAxis controller which remained rumble-free for the first phase of the PS3’s life.

Sony has flirted with a redesign before but this time there are much greater reasons than simple aesthetics.
I believe that the Vita holds the key to Sony’s strategy here. The usability experience, developer familiarity and patents they hold with regard to the two touchscreen surfaces on the Vita will stand them in good stead when trying to put together a new layer of control surfaces on the PS4’s controller. The experience and infrastructure they already have in place for manufacturing the Vita’s screen will potentially make that aspect of a new home console controller much more manageable during research and development too.

The second screen on Sony’s future PlayStation controller will, I think, be smaller than Nintendo’s but, with a higher resolution and multi-touch capability, it will have more uses and a more premium feel than Nintendo’s cheap-feeling GamePads. Hopefully it’ll have a better battery life too.

It’s all conjecture at the moment but we’ve seen rumours that there are big, radical plans for the new console’s controller and we know that Sony (and Microsoft) is also looking at biometric controllers that can sense reactions from nerves (this Sony patent published as recently as October). My experience with the Wii U’s GamePad has begun to make me much more comfortable with the idea of a “baked-in” second screen and Sony’s experience with the Vita puts them in a unique position to really get the implementation of it just right.

The next generation of Sony hardware – the PlayStation 4 – is only a few months away but the box that goes under your television might be the least striking thing about it. The thought that the next generation of console hardware from Sony might not be sold to new users purely on the graphical power it can display but on the widening in scope of experiences is incredibly exciting. A second screen offers precisely that kind of space for innovation.

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  1. colmshan1990
    Since: Apr 2009

    I shudder to think of the cost of a truly next-gen console with a second screen controller, especially if it’s being made by Sony.

    Comment posted on 30/12/2012 at 21:11.
    • cc_star
      Team TSA: Writer
      Since: Forever

      A lot less than the actual PS3 cost was (not its retail price), that’s for sure.

      Comment posted on 30/12/2012 at 23:59.
    • The Von Braun
      Since: Oct 2012

      :-) Sony ‘People will be willing to get an extra job to pay for Playstation 3’ type approach? Think they’ve learnt a harsh lesson with quotes like that.

      High price of Vita memory cards makes me shudder at what sort of madness pricing Sony will come with over anything PS4 related.

      Comment posted on 31/12/2012 at 11:09.
  2. Gadbury
    Since: Jan 2009

    I don’t see the need for a second screen controller. I can see potential and will remain open minded; without having tried it, it seems like a gimmick at present. I like the cross buy, cross play initiative though. Sony are on to something with this. I do like the idea of continuing my game on a smaller screen when I leave the house.

    Perhaps remote play will be improved upon with PS4. There should be no lag. Anyway, Sony should have learnt some tough lessons this gen with PS3 and Vita, and that will stand them in good stead.

    Comment posted on 30/12/2012 at 21:30.
  3. skibadee
    Since: Oct 2009

    looking at how bad the wiiu is doing in the UK does anyone care for it that much?

    Comment posted on 31/12/2012 at 00:35.
  4. Tuffcub
    On the naughty step.
    Since: Dec 2008

    Do not want.

    Comment posted on 31/12/2012 at 09:33.
  5. The Lone Steven
    Never heard of him.
    Since: May 2010

    As long as the Dualshock 4 is supported and use by a majority of games, i don’t mind if they decide to use touchscreen tech on the controller as i can always ignore it. If touchscreen controllers are mandatory for the PS4, i may end up swearing a lot when i play Dark Souls 2 as playing that on a touchscreen would be a right nightmare. ;)

    I suspect they will use the traditional Dualshock design as it’s an iconic look of the PS franchise. They need to ensure there are a decent amount of games out at launch instead of one every few months as chances are it won’t have BC thus people will leave their PS4 to gather dust.

    Comment posted on 31/12/2012 at 11:51.
    • cam the man
      Since: May 2009

      I like the Dualshock as it is but wouldn’t mind if the design changed as long as it’s comfortable to use. As for a second screen, if it enhances the games etc. could be good.

      Comment posted on 31/12/2012 at 13:58.

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