Editorial – What This Week Can Mean to PlayStation and Its Fans

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Anyone that listens to the podcast already knows that both Josh and myself have been pretty vocal about if it’s the right time for the “Next-Gen” to be brought upon us or not (we both could wait a while still.) But now that the, what everyone believes will be the PlayStation 4 reveal, is only 1 day away (at the time of this writing,) I can’t help but get the “new hardware fever.” Images of what’s at least a version of the new controller have already leaked with much debate already flooding forum threads and Twitter, and other supposed details are slowly oozing out as well. It’s tough not to take a breath and still wonder, do we even need this yet? Games are getting better and better as time goes on, and honestly, I don’t think we’ve seen all that the PlayStation 3 can really do, but it’s getting close. With a new ‘God of War’ right around the corner, The ‘Last of Us’ coming in June, and ‘Beyond: Two Souls’ waiting in the wings, jaws will still drop. They even made it a point to have the PS3 visible when they demoed ‘Beyond: Two Souls” at E3 last year, because visually, it’s like nothing that anyone has ever seen before.

Where some of the more noticeable limitations appear though, is in the underlying OS itself. Times have been a’changing since the current-gen consoles hit the market, and with the explosion of social media and mobile device interoperability on the cusp of being something truly groundbreaking, the current systems just don’t have the framework to handle these new features. Hell, even using the Vita as a controller for LittleBigPlanet 2 is a convoluted, ridiculous mess. PS3 still doesn’t have any type of OS-level party system available even after all of these years, and some other key features available on the other system(s) are absent as well. But, for those that have never been exposed to features like this, it didn’t seem like much of an issue. What PS3 player did get were exclusives that blew everything else out of the water from a visual and audio standpoint (and let’s be honest, gameplay and story as well.) Every year we say “well, that HAS to be all that the PS3 can do,” but when the next E3 rolls-around, we all eat our words.

This generation is going to be one of the most interesting though, since both systems are actually reported to have pretty similar innards, leaving the outcome of the war to features, services, and usability. I really don’t want to talk much about rumors and “reports from people in the know” because most of the time, it all ends-up being total crap. I will say personally though, that if Microsoft wants to continue down the road of charging me twice for everything that I want, I probably won’t even bother with their new offering. This brings me to Sony, who has set a trend of making Apps and Online Play free for everyone. Sure, you may be paying for an external service like Netflix or Hulu, but you don’t have to pay again to use those on the console. Sony needs to not only continue this trend, but expand upon it as well, in ways that not even the most “informed” games writer has figured out yet.

The implications that the purchased tech from Gaikai can bring to the new PlayStation are staggering if you let your imagination run wild. As we discuss on the podcast tonight (Episode 307) the possibilities of Gaikai being used for backward compatibility via a streaming service (even if it’s a monthly fee like Netflix) can, in theory, be a huge boon for the new system. Just imagine someone taking their new PlayStation out of the box, hooking it up to the TV, and entering an included code for 30 days free on this service. As Josh said on the podcast, “talk about an instant game collection!” Even if it’s only 1st-party PlayStation 3 titles, that’s a lot of games at a gamer’s fingertips right out of the box.

You could even expand that idea though, by also including titles from the PS1, PS2, and downloaded PSN titles. Maybe they won’t charge an extra fee, and instead make it another benefit of PlayStation Plus. Of course, when you want to go past 1st-party titles, you obviously get into licensing issues, but using a virtualized delivery system can also help with those problems as well, since everything involved with the client is handled centrally on the backend, giving the business total control of what’s available and if the licensing is fully compliant. The freedom that this streaming technology brings to the table is really staggering when you think about it, and me being a Citrix Administrator (a virtualization system used in the corporate world) it’s even more interesting knowing what I do about the technology.

Microsoft does have some virtualization products of their own, including App-V, which is an App Streaming technology, which is definitely viable in this area. I’m not sure if Gaikai’s tech includes true app streaming, but it’s definitely something that everyone could benefit from, and would especially help Sony if they decided to add the functionality to the Vita. App Streaming such as this could basically allow the content to be delivered in a package, all of which runs in its own virtual session on the local hardware. It doesn’t actually install anything, but instead simply sets up a session on the hardware. Again, the possibilities are pretty broad and incredibly exciting (local app sessions can even eliminate any lag input issues that have been experienced by pretty-much everyone that ever played a game with OnLive for example.)

Next is social media and how the new PlayStation needs to be fully integrated. Word has already gotten out about a new function called “Share”. This new feature, if the reports are true, will have the PlayStation always recording 15 minutes of footage, and at any time the player merely activates this function, allowing he or she to edit and post video, pictures, or maybe even other things to social media. What hasn’t been discussed though, is where these items would be posted. Will it be a central online hub that Sony provides? Will it be in PlayStation Home? Will it actually be established social media outlets such as Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, or any of the others? I have a hard time understanding how, specifically the videos, would be handled. I could easily see Sony setting their own media hub up, but then that would allow you to share to other services. Another idea is obviously YouTube integration, especially since we’ve seen some interoperability with the Vita and now with the PS3. Also, we’ll obviously see the next steps into integrating with mobile platforms like phones and tablets, with an emphasis on Android, since that’s the preferred OS for Sony’s own products up to this point. I just hope that Sony realizes that there are other products out there beside their own, and that they support them accordingly.

Obviously, there are the low-hanging fruit that Sony needs to address, things like a true OS-level party system, an OS-level voice chat system, and a new version of the XMB that expands greatly in form and function (yes, I still want the XMB in some iteration.) Also, being able to log into the system with more than a single account for multiplayer needs is a must at this point, and having all of the player stats and preferences available in a central location just needs to happen, especially if that info would be usable on the Vita as well. One thing that came to mind last night is that, if the standard controller for the new PlayStation has Move integrated, that has to mean that every system will be bundled with a camera, right? Now, obviously I don’t want the camera to be used for stupid, non-responsive waggle in games or anywhere else (I have no problems pushing a button on a controller to control a Blu-ray.) But the possibilities of utilizing the camera to recognize users, or to actually work in a new Grand Turismo for head tracking that works, or well, a lot of other functions is pretty exciting. By packing the camera in, many more developers can actually spend some time on those ideas, since the install base won’t be exponentially less as in the past generations.

Personally, I don’t have any problems with the new controller design as it looks today. The Move integration definitely makes for some exciting possibilities, and the touchpad, though I’m a bit skeptical about its usability so far, does allow for some interesting uses. I’ve always been a fan of the PlayStation controllers, so to see that once again, that it’s evolving rather than radically changing makes me very happy, and very optimistic. Obviously, I’m still really curious as to the headphone jack on the bottom. Is Sony taking a step back from wireless chat headsets, or is this something different? Is this a way for multiple players to have their own headphones? The Dolby 7.1 Headset codec definitely works on headphones plugged-in with a “standard” 3.5mm jack, so maybe this will the way to finally use more than one set of headphones.

Lastly, games, and integration with the Vita. I just have to believe that the Vita is going to be used in a major way with the functions of the new PlayStation. Sony has already shown, clumsily, that it can be a viable controller with LittleBigPlanet 2, and if they can streamline the setup process, the applications are endless really. Use it as your controller in Madden 28 and use the screen to select plays, or if someone finally releases a good game based on the liens franchise, use the screen as that cool radar. Not even that, but even using the Vita with some applications such as Netflix and YouTube could really show some usability benefits.

Lastly, games. The thing that Sony does best is not only huge, exclusive blockbusters like God of War, Killzone, Uncharted, inFamous, LittleBigPlanet, well, the list goes on and on. But they also foster creativity and experimentation in many ways, and have definitely become champions of smaller, indie developers. I’m not only talking about the Pub Fund program, or the extensive group of producers dedicated to helping those that may not have any resources to lean on, I’m also talking about how Sony actively gets involved in the process form beginning to end, even helping a couple of people, fresh out of college, turn a small project into a shop that produced a game later on that would be named ‘Game of the Year’ by an incredible amount of outlets.

Let’s hope that Sony can keep the good things up, and that they’ve learned from their mistakes during the PlayStation 3’s life so far. This new generation is theirs to lose, but what I’ve seen and heard so far has given me a lot of confidence moving forward. Of course, Microsoft is still to come, and they’ve been known to be crafty on occasion.

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  • ChazzH69

    You can tell the new PlayStation Store was designed for something with a bit more power and as it’s now an independent app it could be fully loaded to run in the background and/or on other devices like a mobile phone. Buying something when your out and have it automatically download, ready for when you get home!

    Sony seem to be betting a lot on tonight, if they pull it off, they could ‘win’ E3 before it’s even started.

    • Ramen_4_Life

      A feature like that could work very well w/ social media; if you’ve purchased a game via PSN and new DLC becomes available, you could receive a text or tweet, then send a reply if you want to buy & download. Everything would be ready to go once you returned home.

      (Of course, this is all just speculation on my part. It would be cool if it was true, though.)