Last night we found out what we sort of already knew - there is a Playstation 4. The event went on for a couple of hours (hopefully the auditorium had comfy seats) and spanned everything from social, to mobile, to streaming.
Notably absent was the box. In some ways it was symbolic - Playstation 4 is clearly as much of a philosophy as it is a console - but it marked out just how unsure the battle lines between Sony and Microsoft still are this close to ‘Holiday 2013’.
This philosophy comes from an inevitable conclusion. It is a shy admission of changing times by Sony that perhaps the Vita isn’t forever (though they still wheeled it out with it’s fancy screen in full glory), and that they might not have the luxury of device market share soon. It looks towards a future where consoles perhaps aren’t the dominant gaming devices, but delivery platforms (iTunes, Xbox Store, PS Store) are the cornerstone that allows gaming on any device. Just as long as, well, those platforms want your store.
The prominence of Sony’s recent acquisition of Gaikai in the presentation was significant. Some of the leading features include the ability to spectate games via streaming, but more impressively, allow others to watch a stream of your gaming, live. It’s this ground-up integration into the platform that sets the stage for Microsoft. They will need to have something to match it, or something to counter it and prove Sony wrong.
As designers who often work with existing devices to create enhanced TV features, we can see a lot of potential in having dedicated hardware for pushing and pulling streams of content. The possibilities of using this functionality with TV content are rather exciting. I’m keen to see if this is opened up to media applications.
Design wise, there was a suspicious creep of Microsoft’s Metro (or Modern UI as we are to call it now) into the user interface. I’m reluctant to say that this is a bad thing; the Sony interface has been stretched to its limits over the past few years. The Playstation Store has already deviated significantly from the original interface and the Playstation 4 UI feels like a natural and essential evolution.
The heavy focus on social was overwhelming and some could question the wisdom of making excited fans wait so long for ‘the games’, but Microsoft’s (sometimes flawed) understanding of social created successful communities on Xbox and arguably this is a defining feature of ‘the 360 era’.
All in all, the PS4 is shaping up to be an ambiguous but intelligent approach to what are clearly rough seas ahead. There is enough investment in features such as social that says that they "really mean it this time", but enough reticence with defining features such as streaming and the hardware. Some might say this is a sign of weakness, but something tells me that they are cautiously expecting the winds to change.
One final footnote: the irony was not lost on me that a video presentation about high-tech streaming technology had rather a lot of streaming problems online.