The PS4’s Biggest Obstacle Is The PS3: The Next Gen Dilemma
Whenever you’re making any kind of presentation, you want to leave on a high note. You want to go out with a bang. You want to leave a lasting impression, save the best for last, and so on. Perhaps, this is the reason why Nintendo’s big Wii U focused E3 2012 presentation was such a bust. We were waiting in rapt attention for Nintendo to show that one killer piece of software that would convince us that we needed the Wii U. When Nintendo ended their conference with a virtual fireworks display in Nintendo Land, you could almost feel the deflation in the room. When Sony finished their PS4 unveiling conference I was left with that same anticlimactic feeling.
Sony’s Playstation meeting featured a wide variety of presenters who talked about tear gas and superpowers, showed off an insanely detailed old man face, trotted out demos we’d seen before, showed of Sony’s Wii Music, and tried their hardest to make jokes. There were highs (Killzone 4, Gaikai) and there were lows (Square Enix), but I was held at attention waiting for the inevitable final bombshell that would drop. Sony chose Activision to be their final presenter. The world’s largest game publisher proudly announced that one of their biggest PC franchises, Diablo 3, and the newest jewel in their crown, Destiny, would both be headed to PS4………….. and PS3. And therein lies the Playstation 4’s problem.
Launching In A Post Exclusive World
The Wii U has been limping along since a relatively good launch. People don’t seem very interested in Nintendo’s new console, and analysts are trying to give answers as to why. Are people simply not interested in a tablet controller? Are the graphics of the Wii U not enough to excite gamers? Have gamers moved on to iPhones and Farmville? I have a simpler answer to the Wii U dilemma; there aren’t any games.
Let’s take a look at the Wii U’s launch lineup. We have New Super Mario Bros U, an HD version of a tried and true formula that has sold quite a few copies, Nintendo Land, a minigame collection that didn’t quite have the appeal of Wii Sports, and Zombi U, a decent idea that was rushed. Aside from those highlights there was little else in the way of exclusive content. Nintendo’s karaoke game was a bit of a bust, and the rest of the Wii U’s launch exclusives fell into the realm of shovelware. Nintendo was pinning their launch hopes on ports of games like Assassin’s Creed 3 and Black Ops 2 to sell their new console. The obvious flaw in this plan was that people already had machines that were perfectly capable of playing these games, and even if you didn’t have a PS3 or an X-Box 360, you could buy one for less than the price of a Wii U.
So, the Wii U has had a less than stellar launch, and things should continue at this languid pace until the Wii U has some exclusive content. Imagine however, if things were different. What if Just Dance 4 was not available on the Wii, but was a Wii U exclusive? What if Skylanders Giants was only available on the Wii U? What if Assassin’s Creed III was a Wii U only game? What if the unthinkable happened and Black Ops II only hit the Wii U? How would this have changed Nintendo’s situation? Back to the point, how does the Wii U’s struggle relate to the PS4?
The PS3 Anchor
Now back to the PS4 conference. Sony’s last announcement, their knockout punch, was that Bungie, a company who was instrumental in building the X-Box brand, would be bringing their work to the PS4. This was certainly a reason for Sony fans, at least Sony fans that like FPS games, to rejoice. Having Destiny on the PS4 would be a huge reason for X-Box fans to switch their allegiances. The problem is that Destiny will also be headed to the X-Box 360. Destiny will also come to the PS3 and will presumably come to Microsoft’s next console as well. You don’t need a PS4 to play destiny.
Out of the concrete projects that emerged from yesterday’s conference, only a few were exclusive to the PS4. Knack, Infamous: Second Son, Drive Club, and Killzone: Shadow Fall, all of which are produced by Sony, will be available on the PS4 and the PS4 only. The rest of the night’s games were not. Jonathon Blow’s new title, The Witness, is a timed console exclusive, but it will be available from the get go for PC and IOS fans, and will come to other consoles in due time. No platforms were announced for Deep Down. Diablo III has been available on PC for quite a while, and will be playable on the PS3. In an oddly timed announcement, the Wii U version of Watch Dogs was formally announced the same day as its PS4 counterpart, and Ubisoft’s anticipated title will be available on the X-Box 360 and PS3 as well.
It’s easy to understand why third parties will be reluctant to make PS4 exclusives, or even next-gen exclusives. Creating a new game can often be a 100 million dollar affair and without the large install base that the PS3 and X-Box 360 presents, such projects don’t make sense. If you’re expecting a wide variety of exclusive content that pushes Sony’s new hardware to its limits, you’ve got another thing coming.
The Would People Buy A PS4?
Unless something unexpected happens, the biggest games for the early months on the PS4 (and Microsoft’s unannounced system) will be the usual suspects. We’ll get out yearly dose of Call of Duty, and we’ll have Battlefield 4 trying to win over fans. According to recent rumors, Assassin’s Creed 4 will be headed to current and next gen consoles. It would be far from shocking if GTA V finds its way to next gen platforms. New IPS like Destiny and Watch Dogs will be available not only to early PS4 adopters, but last gen gamers as well.
So, why would I buy a PS4 to play games my PS3 can play? The graphical jump from PS3 games to PS4 does not seem like enough reason to upgrade, at least not at this early stage, and will be especially lacking when dealing with PS3 ports. Will Gaikai’s social feature inspire people to buy a PS4? I think not. Gaikai integration has great potential, but its value won’t easily be seen by the masses. Sony’s touch screened Dual Shock 4 won’t generate many sales.
This is why many people were disappointed by the PS4 debut. The most exciting games announced were games that would be available on other consoles. Aside from that, Sony’s first party offerings were hard to be truly psyched for. Aside from Knack, Sony’s games were bigger and shinier versions of familiar experiences. I’d absolutely love to play Infamous: Second Son, but I probably won’t buy a new console for the pleasure.
Does this mean that the PS4 is doomed? Of course not. What it does mean is that we’re in for a slower start to the next generation that we expect. It will be an awkward period while third parties slowly ween themselves off of the X-Box 360 and PS3. Sony is going to need to pull out some truly interesting software to inspire people to upgrade to the PS4 and Knack, Drive Club, Killzone, and Infamous don’t really fit the bill. Hopefully, Sony has a true system seller waiting for an E3 debut.
Those Awkward Early Years
I’m pretty optimistic for the next generation of gaming. I think Nintendo and Sony both have a chance to do very well (I haven’t seen anything from Microsoft yet). That being said, it’s going to be a rough couple of years until developers and gamers are willing to let the last generation go. We saw this with the DS, and we’re seeing it with the Wii U and Vita right now. Be optimistic, but be patient as well.