When Sony came to revealing the PlayStation 4 to the public, they knew they had to get it right. By and large, I think they did. It was a million miles from a perfect showing, but through the highs and lows, the questions answered and unanswered, they got the job done. Yet, I find it somewhat bemusing to see how strongly this has been criticised.
In particular, I’ve noticed a trend among Apple bloggers of questioning the timing and content of Sony’s press conference. Why have they held a conference when so many elements were seemingly not quite ready? Why did they not show the PlayStation 4 design? Why do all these companies persist in not mimicking Apple’s perfected release model?
Even Microsoft employees were quite publicly snarky about the event, something our very own editor sent a cheeky rebuttal for:
@majornelson I know, almost as bad as showing a canned demo of a pedo simulator or lightsaber dance and pretending it’s live. Or achievable.
— colossalblue (@colossalblue) February 21, 2013
I’m firmly in Bunimomike’s camp, when he calls for us to be allowed our optimism and passion. However, I’m torn between this and the validity of some of the incoming arguments.
I’ve scoffed along with the Apple crowd as Microsoft stumbled through the Surface unveiling, the company formerly known as RIM endlessly battled with Blackberry 10, and I questioned their timing, strategy and so on. Yet the games industry is quite a different proposition.
For one thing, computers, phones, tablets, TVs, microwaves and everything else is in a state of perpetual change, whilst new consoles only arrive after 5 years at a minimum. They are the fixed standard to which developers can work with absolute certainty, before eventually being superseded, at which point you need to rally your troops behind a new standard. Similar to how Microsoft have with the new interface for Windows 8 or Apple did with the iPhone in 2007.
This is what a PS4 looks like right now. It's a big metal box with holes.
Sony had to send out developer kits ahead of time so that developers could get to work in earnest for the games to be delivered on day one, alongside the console. They seem to have flung the net far and wide to get everybody involved. When you do that there will be leaks, and so there were, as almost everything from the core specifications to some of the game trademarks were known before the lights had even dimmed in New York.
We also know quite a lot about Durango, of course, but perhaps not the sheer volume of information that emerged about the PS4. We saw the DualShock 4′s Share button, we had rumours of cached video uploads and streaming. There’s only so much time before these rumours become old news to the public, before you have no surprises left for your actual unveiling, and so Sony forced their own hand into staging this conference. Maybe they weren’t quite ready, but they had to do something or lose control of the story, something which can happen all too often in the modern world.
It was a necessary evil though, given the way in which games are developed. Unlike with the oft evolutionary release of smartphones and computers, you can’t make this huge an architectural and technological change and expect developers to deliver their products in a matter of weeks or months. You can barely expect everyone to deliver updates when you’ve done something as simplistic as change the resolution, let alone shift development to a wholly new device. Like a Hollywood film, it takes years of development to produce a top end title for an existing console, and with new hardware that process is stretched out even further.
Yet, I feel that Sony’s timing of the announcement is a lesson learnt from Apple, just not the Apple of 2013. Several years ago, Apple stopped attending trade shows outright, and this is now the second time in a row where Sony have announced a PlayStation console at a dedicated event. By doing so, it has allowed Sony to set the talking points and draw a line in the sand. They perfectly built up the hype leading to the show, and did so without interference or noise from Microsoft or anyone else. There were further leaks, but just enough was held on to that everyone wanted to tune in and see for themselves. And there’s still more to see next time.
"How would you like to share?" - Sony have set their more social agenda for the next generation.
Though this new machine seems far from being a complete revolution to how we play games, I see a marked similarity to what Apple did with the iPhone announcement in 2007. Through some of rough points in the presentation, they have come and set the agenda for this generational shift. We now know what the PS4 will deliver in terms of streaming, sharing and connectivity and everything that comes after this is an imitation.
Whether Microsoft announce their console in March or wait until E3, if they have 8GB of expensive GDDR5 RAM, a share button and a vast array of streaming video capabilities, it’s because Sony did it first. Microsoft might honestly have planned to have these all along, or just wanted to wait until they could show off their own perfected version in a really slick presentation, but Sony took control and did it first in the eyes of the public.
Sony, to my mind, found themselves in the middle of an incredibly tricky balancing act. They couldn’t completely disregard their closest rival’s plans, they couldn’t allow the volume of leaks to take the story out of their control, and they had to produce a compelling narrative that sets a clear direction for their next generation machine. All of this whilst rushing to put a show together and presumably trying to cling on to a few secrets to reveal later down the line.
Personally, I think they succeeded and I’m fascinated to now see the battle at E3.
Does it really matter that you didn’t get to see the box?