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Opinion: How Not To Announce A Console

Schrödinger's PlayStation 4.

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:

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 They are the fixed standard to which developers can work with absolute certainty, before eventually being superseded, at which point you need to rally your troops behind a new standard.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?

  1. leeroye
    Since: May 2012

    I think Sony got it spot on. News about the PS4 is everywhere at the moment, even if its articles about how we didnt see the console, its all raising awareness for the console.

    What i took away from the conference is that Sony have really taken on board past mistakes and seem hell bent on rectifying them. The console is developer friendly and it has enough high speed RAM to at least future proof it to a certain extent. Hell even the controller has had a decent overhaul with better triggers and analogue sticks.

    Its taken a while, but Sony at last seem to be listening to customers and developers.

    Comment posted on 22/02/2013 at 19:56.
  2. gazzagb
    Master of speling mitakse
    Since: Feb 2009

    It would have been nice to have seen what the console would of looked like, but the event was still a success as I am interested in the PS4 which is exactly what Sony wanted. They can keep the hardware reveal for E3, along with a solid release schedule and they’ll still get plenty of headlines.

    Comment posted on 22/02/2013 at 20:05.
  3. cam_manutd
    Since: May 2010

    As long as it does not look like a 60’s computer and weighs like a big CRT TV then I really don’t care. I liked the PS3 George Foreman Grill look so whats next I wonder?…..

    Comment posted on 22/02/2013 at 20:20.
  4. xdarkmagician
    Since: May 2009

    I fully understand Sony wanting to save some things for E3, and that a slow leak of information keeps the playstation brand in the headlines. I also realize I might be alone here but I think theres a major point about Sony revealing the PS4 without actually showing the PS4. I know playstation fans consider this event a huge success, and I’m sure game journalists consider it an overall positive reveal (mostly because they have finally been thrown a Sony bone). But IMO I think this was all just an entertaining smoke and mirrors trick. They got people talking, but all the talk is still speculation we’re no better off today then we were monday, except we got a controller, generalized specs, and a few game videos. I would hope with the engine tech demos people already had an idea about what next-gen games would look like. So we got a controller and a chip set, do these 2 things really warrant a Sony-Con style event, especially considering how Sony billed the event the future of playstation? I feel this event was more about Sony putting on a good show to stoke their ego than explaining HOW gaming is going to change, or how they’re going to change gaming. That even Sony isn’t ready for next-gen to start, they’re just going through the motions of a new launch, that if they were seriously ready they would have shown us the PS4. Seeing is believing.
    We’re looking at a launch in 8 months, 8 months!- it doesn’t even sound right when you say it out loud. If next gen is starting in november its time to start the talking not teasing us with tid-bits of generalized information. Heres hoping Sony doesn’t wait until E3 to throw us some more scraps.

    Comment posted on 22/02/2013 at 20:33.
    • teflon
      Community Team
      Since: May 2009

      There’s a big difference between a tech demo which pushes a top end £1000 PC to the absolute limit and the kind of tech demo which is saying that this will be possible with a £300 (we hope) box that can sit under your TV.

      Similarly, if all that you took away from it was the chipset and the controller design, then you’ve missed out on the real vision for Sony’s next console, that of empowering people with a far more communal sense of gaming. From games built up entirely around a persistent racing world (in stunningly high fidelity) to sharing that time where you managed to flip over someone else’s tank in Battlefield 4.

      That’s how they’re trying to change gaming. It’s not the most ambitious proposal, maybe, but you certainly don’t need to be able to see what the box looks like to understand it either.

      Comment posted on 22/02/2013 at 21:27.
      • xdarkmagician
        Since: May 2009

        I wasn’t trying to imply that we can expect the same product as a top end demo, just that any intelligible gamer can look at what we got now, where the top is at, and then figure out roughly where a console version will sit. I wouldn’t say any of the game videos were shocking, they all looked nice, but none of them looked beyond expectations.
        Maybe its because I hate social networking so very,very much but I don’t understand how sharing videos is going to improve gaming, and honestly I don’t think Sony does either. I think they see youtube and facebook and decided thats whats cool so they’re going to try to force it in there because they think thats what we want. But like I said I don’t understand so maybe I am missing the point.
        I’m sorry but if youre going to be selling a product in 8 months you should have something to show. Why not show the PS4? What edge do they hope to keep by not showing the box? To me if youre trying to sell something you should show it. By not showing the box it makes people think somethings wrong.

        I’m not trying to hate on Sony, I wasn’t expecting everything, but I was expecting more. Sure the box is irrelevant but they have no reason not to show it. So now we’ll wait until the PS4 image gets leaked, probably right before the MS Xbox reveal and have to wait until E3 to confirm it. Wouldn’t a Sony reveal have been better, more dramatic? IMO if youre going to hold a future of playstation event you shouldn’t be afraid to play some big cards, but all the important questions are still unanswered.

        Comment posted on 23/02/2013 at 01:23.
      • xdarkmagician
        Since: May 2009

        *hate social networking in gaming

        Comment posted on 23/02/2013 at 01:26.
      • teflon
        Community Team
        Since: May 2009

        Ah, I get you now.

        To be fair, though, Sony’s announcement has broken well beyond the realms of the games industry. Instead of showing their plans to gamers or developers, they’ve shown them to the wider world and broken into the mainstream press, with no response from competitors.

        As Al says below, it would’ve been lovely to see the box at the end, but when they’ve shown you the software platform and the thing that’s actually going to be in your hands, I can’t get worked up about that.

        Comment posted on 23/02/2013 at 11:47.
  5. XisTG
    Since: May 2010

    Clap clap clap :)

    Comment posted on 22/02/2013 at 20:58.
  6. Alex C
    One for all.
    Since: Forever

    Whilst I agree fully, let’s not pretend that the conference wouldn’t have been better if they had showed it at the end.

    Nobody there knew what was going to happen at the end. I even started recording on my phone from the balcony thinking they’d show it.

    I mean – all signs pointed to them showing it.

    Comment posted on 22/02/2013 at 21:28.
    • bunimomike
      Since: Jul 2009

      Agreed. It’s disappointing that we didn’t get to see the design but most of the mainstream media appears to have thrown the baby out with the bath water.

      Comment posted on 22/02/2013 at 21:57.
  7. The Von Braun
    Since: Oct 2012

    The media would do well to look back at hardware reveals from the past:

    The Konix Multi-system (A.K.A Slipstream):All the hype was about the console and how it’d transform to suit the game you were playing (car steering wheel, bike handle bars, aircraft yoke etc) and how it had a light gun and OMG a hydraulic chair (powered by a washing machine motor and the prototype blew up).

    Press frigging creamed over it, publicity shots of Jeff Minter using said chair etc.

    Reality was the hardware inside said console (Flare 1) really was’nt all that, the games shown? Amiga games with more colours (256) like Star Ray, Attack Of The Mutant Camels, Last Ninja and Hammerfist and there was NO way they could make the chair for the expected £250 RRP.

    Then we had the Jaguar V.R Headset, again, lots of hype and publicity shots, but total vapor ware in the end as parent company pulled out of the deal with ATARI.

    The 3DO, ohh yes, real 3DO hardware running these games, hell yes, so jurno leans over, presses eject button on 3DO ‘running’ games, no disc in tray, he follows wires from console, they dissapear into a partitioned wall, ohh look, Apple computers running the demo’s.

    The Xbox, ohh look a huge silver X-yeah, like that’s the final design.

    The PS3, ‘boomerang controller’, talk of PS3 handling 2X 1080P video images at 60 FPS, time final design is done, no boomerang, no 2X video outs and few other ports missing.

    Do we honestly want a return to ‘smoke and mirror’ events like this?.

    Comment posted on 22/02/2013 at 21:37.
  8. mrfodder
    Since: Nov 2009

    Sony could have done it like Apple, when they were ready in November. Here’s our box, it does this this and this. It’ll be out in 3 weeks. Unfortunately there will be no games, because our secrecy meant no one else could see it.

    Comment posted on 23/02/2013 at 00:33.
    • xdarkmagician
      Since: May 2009

      If they developed like apple they would have to lose the prototype in a bar ;-)

      Comment posted on 23/02/2013 at 01:33.
      • The Lone Steven
        Never heard of him.
        Since: May 2010

        Now, that’s not true. They would lose it in a Starbucks because every Apple product owner goes to Starbucks. ;)

        Comment posted on 23/02/2013 at 09:14.
  9. Roynaldo
    Since: Nov 2008

    Heres an idea… See that silver box and controller image at the top? Imagine it a little thinner and in black. Sorted. Black box.

    Comment posted on 23/02/2013 at 09:42.
  10. JBoo
    Since: Oct 2011

    This comment is hidden.

    Comment posted on 23/02/2013 at 10:02.

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