At the heart of every gaming experience is the controller. Whether you’re sat at a PC’s keyboard and mouse, picking up motion controllers for VR or grabbing a humble gamepad for a dose of console gaming, you need the controller to interact. Except, the PlayStation 5’s controller isn’t so humble. Revealed out of the blue earlier this week, it has a loud new visual design to it, and it’s packed with new technologies like adaptive triggers and an array of microphones, taking the already great DualShock 4 and pushing it to new heights.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes, though, is going to be found through the replacement to the DualShock 4’s Share button. Now marked with an ‘upward honk’ – a fan on three short lines that are about as abstract as icons on game controllers can get – this is now the “Create” button. So what does that mean? And why the change?
First, we have to look back at the Share button and what it provides. With online gaming so common by the time the PlayStation 4 was being designed and the increasing role of social media in people’s lives, Sony realised that there was a real power to being able to take your gaming moments and share those with others. All those cool moments people had experienced in games and excitedly talked about with their friends and family in the past? What if you could simply show them to people instead?
Up until that point, it would have required external capture devices for video or custom in-game systems like Uncharted 2’s Cinema Mode or Gran Turismo 5’s Photo Mode, but the early 2010s saw AMD integrate video encoding into its GPUs at the perfect time for both Microsoft and Sony to include in their respective games consoles. Both intended to bring that to the players, but where Microsoft envisioned people talking to their consoles via Kinect, Sony captured imaginations far better with a dedicated Share button on the controller.
A simple tap and you could take a screenshot, preserve the last 15 minutes of game time or start livestreaming your gaming to the world at large.
So what’s the next step? What makes this button on the DualSense about creation and not simply sharing? For now we can only really speculate the specifics of what Sony have planned, but we can see how the seed that the Share button has sown has germinated over the past seven years.
Well, you could argue that the Share button has already become as much about creation as it is sharing. Released in April 2014, half a year after the PS4 came out, SHAREfactory would let you take video clips and photos captured on the console, cut them together, add filters, transitions, music and more, and then upload your creation online. It’s an additional piece of software that lives separately to the Share button on PS4, but fold that into what the new Create button offers as standard, and suddenly the meaning of the button has been amplified.
Similarly, developers have also adapted to take advantage of what the Share button offered, integrating photo modes into their games that let you freeze the game, position the camera, play with lighting effects, focus, aperture and even character positioning and facial expressions. To say that photo modes have been insanely popular is an understatement, but they’re rarely integrated into games on day one. Whether it was inFamous: Second Son, Horizon Zero Dawn or God of War, even Sony’s first party studios have patched in photo modes as a secondary consideration months after release. We’re still waiting on a Death Stranding mode that Hideo Kojima teased on Twitter as a PC release feature until his hordes of PlayStation 4 owning devotees gave him enough adulation to make it worth his while.
Even when a photo mode exists in game, it’s awkward. Many big budget games will use all the buttons available to them, leaving photo modes the scraps of first being turned on in the pause menu and then being triggered using a neglected D-pad direction or clicking in both analogue sticks – an act that feels absolutely horrible on an ageing gamepad. And there’s a reason for that, because the PS4 Share button can only invoke the PS4 system’s share functionality. You create in the game, then share with the button. Why not have the button trigger the creation as well?
That’s exactly what I suspect the Create button will do. Sony can create a dedicated photo mode framework for developers to enable in their games, establishing a single set of comprehensive camera tools with a common UI across all games, removing much of the dev time required to add a bespoke photo mode to each game. Not only that, but similar to Nvidia Ansel, this can extend beyond what’s on screen, offering super-resolution modes to capture at vastly higher resolutions than what is displayed on your TV or a 360º capture to create a panorama or virtual reality environment to peer into with a VR headset.
But really, when you think of gaming and creativity, there’s few things more synonymous with creative gaming right now than streaming. This cottage industry has made a small few into millionaires, allowed gamers to share their personalities online via Twitch, YouTube and Mixer, and seen “influencer” become the dream job of many a school kid.
While the PlayStation 4 lets you stream directly to Twitch and YouTube, it’s pretty basic. You have the game, or a game in an overlay, and you can embed your camera. That’s really about it. Head over to Twitch and you see the biggest streams with fancy overlays, with notifications popping up, with Twitch Prime subs being tracked in the corner. All of that requires investing in a powerful PC – many streamers will play on PC anyway, but can optionally have a second PC to handle the stream – and software like Streamlabs.
With the PlayStation 5, it’s not inconceivable that there’s enough system resources in the CPU core dedicated to it and the improved video encoder of the RDNA2 chipset to be able to handle something much more dynamic than is possible on PS4. All it would require is for Sony to develop the broadcast tools, tie into the APIs of streaming platforms, and we’re away.
While all of this could fundamentally be done without a button rebrand and a wishy-washy icon to go alongside it, there’s obviously a reason for Sony to want to shift from the notion of sharing to that of creation. It implies that there’s more possibilities, more options, more tools that they’re building into the PlayStation 5 itself. For those who already love to share basic screenshots, perhaps now Sony can encourage them to be a bit more actively creative.