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Opinion

How Sony Can Improve PlayStation In 2017

Delivering the future of play.

Sony have gone from strength to strength this generation, with the tens of millions of PlayStation 4 sales giving them a kind of confidence and swagger that was missing for much of the PlayStation 3’s lifespan. Yet the end of 2016 saw them at a crossroads, with a trio of new hardware releases and fresh challenges ahead of them. Here’s what we want to see from Sony over the next 12 months.

A major part of a console manufacturer’s job is to lead the way and create games that manage to get the very most out of the hardware. That’s especially true when a new console with new ideas is just starting out, but it’s something that I’m really not seeing with the PlayStation VR right now. While Sony are content to announce console games years in advance of any possible release – Death Stranding and The Last of Us Part II are prime examples of this – leading to the feeling that there are dozens of first party exclusives on the horizon, the same cannot be said for PSVR.

Farpoint looks like a promising semi-on-the-rails shooter – albeit one that strongly hints that Sony would quite like you to buy that bespoke gun controller – Starblood Arena looks like a fun 6DOF multiplayer shooter, and racing fans are gagging to discover how much of GT Sport will be playable in VR, but there’s precious little else coming out of Sony’s stable of studios. After the way the PlayStation Vita faded from the limelight, Sony need to do more to back their hardware up. There’s more than just PSVR hanging on this, but the entire VR headset market.

Similar things can be said of the PlayStation 4 Pro. It’s priced appealingly and brings the notion of 4K gaming into the mainstream, but it’s also fair to say that it missed having a “killer app” when it launched back in November. Lots of games were updated to support the Pro, but the results have been inconsistent at best. Some of the best examples have 2160p with checkerboarding, others like Uncharted 4 run at 1440p, others simply shore up at 1080p with a few extra effects, and there’s only a tiny handful of games that make use of HDR. None of these are in any way labelled or highlighted in the PlayStation Dynamic Menu, and even diving into patch notes often does little to clear up what game now does what. Just last week, Mafia III was updated with PS4 Pro support, with no real fanfare.

That lack of clarity and varying results from first and third parties both hurt the PS4 Pro’s appeal, but it’s something that should improve through 2017 as games are released with support baked in and have had more development time devoted to supporting HDR and Ultra HD. Here Sony are definitely leading the charge, with the likes of GT Sport and Horizon: Zero Dawn poised to make the very most of this tech.

However, there’s the looming spectre of quality assurance and the increased burden that catering to more and more hardware set ups can have. The rule that Sony stated was the while resolution and effects may increase, performance between PS4 and PS4 Pro should be identical, but Digital Foundry has pointed to numerous instances where that’s not the case. Watch Dogs 2, The Last of Us and others had poorer performance on Pro at launch, while Battlefield 1 and The Last Guardian suffers on the original PS4, and on and on. Getting the best out of the Pro is important, but it’s equally vital that the standard PS4 doesn’t suffer. There’s a real risk that a lot of games are going to get caught in this no man’s land.

Sony do have a vested interest in getting this transition right, beyond just selling millions of new consoles and games. The cynical might suspect that helping to prop up their long struggling TV business was one of the main driving factors behind embracing 4K and HDR so soon, and it probably was a major factor, but it works both ways. Having a PS4 Pro makes getting a 4K HDR TV more desirable, just as much as having a 4K HDR TV makes it more worthwhile having a PS4 Pro.

Sony’s 2017 range of TVs needs to achieve two things: they need to lower the entry point to meaningful HDR that meets and adheres to the Premium UHD specification, and they also need to be vying to be the best HDR gaming TVs going. Somewhat disappointingly, their 2017 range of TVs, the XE series, seems to be more of an incremental improvement over 2016’s XD class, outside of Sony’s new top end OLED TV. Local dimming remains a high end feature, but hopefully the improved chipsets within these TVs can improve upon last year’s middling input lag times.

However, there’s still work to be done on older products and existing infrastructure. The PlayStation Dynamic Menu has matured over time with things like folder support – though folders could still be improved upon – and broader social networking features, but there’s still some silly oversights like the PS4 Pro not being able to play HEVC encoded video files.

The system interactions when using PlayStation VR could also use an overhaul. I’m still baffled that I can happily be spammed by the sounds of notifications, but there’s not even a simple and unobtrusive indication when playing a game as to what this might be, leaving me to pause the game, head right back out to the main menu and puzzle over what’s actually happened. I’d also like for the PSVR to take a leaf out of the HTC Vive’s book and load up a simple environment when viewing the PDM, instead of having you in a plain black void – I know Sony don’t want to split the customer experience too much, but if this is only possible on PS4 Pro, so be it.

Despite the money pouring in from PlayStation Plus subscriptions, the PlayStation Store and PlayStation Network still leave you wanting. PSN has become a lot more stable over the last few years and is now subject to far less maintenance, but when it comes to downloading games – perhaps those Instant Game Collection games everyone loves to complain about – Microsoft, Steam and others run at much higher speeds.

It will soon be a year since Microsoft opened up and decided to allow cross platform play between Xbox and PlayStation, but aside from a terse response, nothing has really happened since. PlayStation to PC multiplayer happens on occasion, most notably with multiplayer VR games like EVE: Valkyrie, Eagle Flight and Werewolves Within, but PS4 to Xbox One remains off limits. Rocket League is in the laughable position of featuring both PS4 to PC and Xbox One to PC multiplayer, but not being able to mix the two. Wouldn’t it be nice to break down those walls further, helping to boost and extend the longevity of countless multiplayer oriented games? Of course, it’s never in the best interests of the market leader at the time to open up in that manner.

Navigating the PlayStation Store is still rather lacklustre as well, not having been improved upon since its 2012 redesign. Search on console uses a long scrolling list of letters that takes much longer to use and is less precise than using an on-screen keyboard, and the web interface is blighted by its bizarre in-page loading system that has you waiting for several seconds to display anything. It’s sluggish compared to Steam or the Microsoft Store. As game purchases gradually shift from physical to digital, it’s also bizarre that you’re unable to gift a game to someone via the PS Store, despite the inclusion of and ability to browse other people’s wishlists.

Finally, it’s been nearly a year since they disappeared from the weekly EU PlayStation Blog, but it’s about time that they reevaluate the utility of posting prices on the PS Store updates, or at the very least show the percentage reductions that games get when going on sale.

Coming into 2017, Sony are in an incredibly strong position, and that’s exactly when you need to push hard to improve yourself and do better, instead of holding back and waiting for others to catch up.

18 Comments
  1. Avenger
    Member
    Since: Oct 2012

    I agree with the menu shortfalls. I’d like to see the store become a little more fluid and accessible, the what’s new with friends section to actually work and be relevant, and the whole maneuverability of the xmb to be improved. As it is now, it’s far from great, though I’ve been spoiled by Xbox One and Steam interfaces.

    The HDR identity thing is messed up proper on all platforms. There are lists out there, but all games going forward should have a HDR ribbon to signpost that content there and then. Same goes for Pro upgraded games.

    If the all Pro supported games met a mandatory 4k resolution, either native or checkerboarded, I might be tempted to upgrade. As for PSVR, it would be nice for more to come, again it would tempt me into buying it, but not many devs seem to want to dedicate full blown games for it.

    It would also be good to see early access games come too, they’re incredibly good opportunities on other systems.

    Comment posted on 09/01/2017 at 12:51.
  2. hazelam
    Member
    Since: Feb 2009

    they could realise the world is not just America.
    do something about that shower that is scee, treat their largest region for sales as something more than an afterthought.

    Comment posted on 09/01/2017 at 13:07.
    • hazelam
      Member
      Since: Feb 2009

      oh, and they need to sort out the joke that is the download list.
      ten years worth of content could be in there, and there’s still no way to sort it.
      it doesn’t even allow you to specify only content usable on the hardware you’re viewing the list on.
      on the PS4 it shows PS1, PS2, PS3, PS4, PSP and vita titles.
      and the same on every other machine.
      and there’s no way to search.

      it’s ridiculous.

      and the list takes a bloody age to get through once you go more than a few pages down.
      you have to keep stopping while it downloads the next section of the list.

      how anybody can consider that adequate is frankly beyond my comprehension.

      Comment posted on 09/01/2017 at 13:19.
      • rSp8
        Member
        Since: Aug 2008

        Yes, this!

        Comment posted on 09/01/2017 at 17:28.
      • Unterred
        Member
        Since: Oct 2009

        Yup the download list is a total pain. Especially trying to download things to the VITA.

        Comment posted on 09/01/2017 at 18:39.
  3. gazzagb
    Master of speling mitakse
    Since: Feb 2009

    I think the PS4 Pro is in real danger if it doesn’t make gains in the next sixth months. Devs simply won’t see the point in optimising their game for it, especially if it ends up slipping under the radar like Mafia as you mentioned. Scorpio will be interesting, as that’s another step up, but will again require extra work from developers.

    Comment posted on 09/01/2017 at 17:13.
    • beeje13
      Member
      Since: Jan 2010

      Is there any optimising being done for PS4pro now though? I just thought it was changing graphics settings, which already exist if the game is on PC.

      Comment posted on 10/01/2017 at 17:52.
  4. JR.
    Member
    Since: Apr 2013

    Honestly there isn’t much I’d like to change. Better games with Plus and free pancakes every third Tuesday of the month. Oh and make the white light strip blue like it is in all the advertising and not boring old white like it is in real life.

    Comment posted on 09/01/2017 at 20:21.
  5. Sammy
    Member
    Since: Oct 2016

    I’d take a handheld they would actually support ;) I liked the PSP, didn’t bother with Vita.

    Comment posted on 09/01/2017 at 20:52.
  6. TrumpyMx
    Member
    Since: Nov 2016

    A proper remote control that works in all the apps is all I want. Come on Sony it’s not hard, Bluetooth and or wi-fi are perfectly capable of providing this.

    The lack of a good remote control, or an open control API and universal mandatory app support makes the PS4 crap outside gaming.

    Comment posted on 09/01/2017 at 21:28.
  7. TrumpyMx
    Member
    Since: Nov 2016

    “Microsoft, Steam and others run at much higher speeds.”

    Subjective at best, untrue at worst. Many cheapo ISPs throttle and traffic shape Akami mirrors (which PSN uses). Any slowdown is far more likely ISP related.

    Comment posted on 09/01/2017 at 21:34.
    • MrYd
      Member
      Since: Mar 2011

      There’s a certain amount of luck involved with PSN download speeds. They don’t just use Akamai. Other CDNs are available. And you might end up connected to one that doesn’t give you as good a speed, or doesn’t have what you’re trying to download cached. Pausing and restarting a download may sometimes improve the speed (possibly from the same server, or possibly switching to a different one in the process).

      For me, downloading anything on the PS4 (over WiFi!) will happily eat up all my available bandwidth, making anything else I’ve got connected struggle. But I’m stuck at a rubbish 25Mbps until I hassle Sky to get it back up to what it should be. If I could get the faster (70+Mbps) fibre here, it should be able to eat up all that bandwidth. And yes, you can get even faster connections with Virgin Media, but I suspect you’d struggle to get anything close to full speed with them, because they’ve always been a bit crap at letting you use what you’ve paid for.

      But yes, it’s most probably ISP related. When you see someone complain that PSN takes several hours to download 5GB on a 100Mbit connection, it’s obviously an ISP issue if other people can do that in half an hour or less with a connection running at a quarter of the speed.

      Comment posted on 10/01/2017 at 10:40.
  8. The Lone Steven
    Never heard of him.
    Since: May 2010

    Improve the darn store! Roughly 10-20% of the time, it can take up a minute or two just to start to boot up then a few more minutes to load the darn thing! Searching is godawful on a console as it has predictive text. No option to disable it and very slow to browse. Get more PS2 and PS1 classics on there! Or at least allow people to transfer it over to the PS4! I paid cash for the Final Fantasies! I ain’t buying the PC ports that are on PS4 when I own the original digitial PS1 versions.

    Don’t drop VR after 6 months like they did with the Move, the Vita and well, i won’t even go into the PSPGo and how they abandoneded it as quickly as Bunimomike abandons his victims in a field if he suspects someone is close to catching him.

    How is that I can name something in SKyrim quicker then it takes to type on teh store? I………….. Shou……..dn’t be………waa..a…a… *disconnect* Son of a! Browsing should be simple, not something that is tedious, very slow and makes me want to enact great harm on myself by subjecting myself to whatever the worst Channel 5 has to offer.

    Comment posted on 10/01/2017 at 08:16.
  9. cc_star
    Team TSA: Writer
    Since: Forever

    On the games front I get a bit distracted by Sony announcing games years in advance, then when you see the line-up of 2017’s games it looks a bit bare.
    Death Stranding, God of War IV & more recently revealed Last of Us 2 get me hyped but then I look down the release list and see GT Snoozeville & a few others of little-to-no interest and am disappointed.

    We’re a few years into this gen and apart from Uncharted 4, I still don't think we've had a killer app for it, and am bemused by the PS4's runaway sales success.

    Anyway, the way Sony are handling transition to PS4Pro is nothing short of disastrous, the article does well to highlight it launched without a key reason to buy it, and the fact the and results in the subsequent releases & updates are so hit & miss or hard to access makes me wonder if the Pro will crash & burn WiiU-style.

    Is it so hard to mandate a quick settings menu with options to set either/or
    – Performance
    – Graphical effects
    – Resolution

    And I can't see PSVR lasting beyond the tech demo phase – If Sony were serious Naughty Dog, Guerilla, Santa Monica & Japan would be throwing everything they have into it. As it stands I think it will do well to have as agonisingly slow death as the Vita.

    Something else Sony may need to to adopt is a transition to mobile, with their franchises aping Pokemon, Super Mario Run as well as Tomb Raider, Hitman & Deus Ex Go… Sure, they've got a Jp studio working on some mobile game but it doesn't involve their Western recognisable franchises.

    For me,
    – Sony need to double down on games from their big studios, especially as many studios have merged or shutdown
    – Mandate a settings menu for titles that support Pro (could PlayStation Now be used to demo PS4 PRO to PS4/PS3/SonyTV owners with enough bandwidth of course)
    – Round out PS4 experiences into full games

    The leap in tech that Scorpio brings could leave PlayStation being the one outsold 2:1 if they're not careful

    Comment posted on 10/01/2017 at 15:10.
  10. stueeeee
    Member
    Since: Jun 2009

    I agree with all points and would also love the ps4 to store media files like the ps3 did.

    I encountered a new issue recently when updating my surround sound system from my 10 year old one, and it appears the settings for sound through HDMI have been more difficult than the ps3 to set up even since launch and they still have not done a patch to make it easier. I cannot get DTS 5.1 through HDMI on ps4 at all. Through optical yes, and through the ps3 no problems at all! Very odd.

    Would also love an option to stream the games from the disc rather than have to store a 50GB game even though I have the disc in the drive, like on ps3 where it just had an install. Longer load times so be it.

    Comment posted on 10/01/2017 at 16:22.

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