It’s amazing the difference that a generation makes. Sony sauntered into the PlayStation 3 era with an industry leading brand, lofty ambitions, and its eye off the ball. An embarrassing price tag, awkward architecture, and out-of-touch board of directors consigned the platform to third-place in the console race for much of its lifespan – a trait that could only be reversed by the management magic of soon-to-be CEO and lifelong Ridge Racer aficionado Kaz Hirai. Those were undoubtedly dark days for the Japanese giant’s gaming division, but it feels like the company’s learned from its mistakes.
Contrast the above to the current situation surrounding the PlayStation 4 and it couldn’t be further away from the struggles of 2006. The system has smashed sales records around the world, moving an unprecedented one million units within 24 hours in North America and a gigantic 250,000 units in the UK. Its current global install base sits in the region of 2.1 million units, with Asia still yet to secure the system and demand completely unsatisfied around the world. But while the figures are reassuring in an era where analysts are pessimistic about the prospects of dedicated gaming devices, the system itself also paints a positive picture of the future.
Despite arriving a year late, the PS3 deployed in a bit of state compared to the Xbox 360. The console lacked the powerful connectivity features of its counterpart, and shipped without a unified achievements system, software-based storefront, and even the means to access the XMB inside a game. Countless firmware updates rectified many of these problems over time, but it took the device several years to attain anything close to parity with Microsoft’s machine, and even then a complete lack of forethought meant that requested features such as cross-game chat never got implemented.
Compare all of that to the PS4, though, and Sony’s system looks much better placed. The next generation console’s user interface may be basic, but it’s efficient and allows easy access to key features out-of-the-box. Granted, there are irritations inherent to the lack of organisation options and the clunky download management module, but that these are even primary complaints evidences the progress that the platform holder has made in the operating system space. In fact, it’s the Xbox One that appears to have the more pressing problems when it comes to system software.
That constant game of catch-up really hurt the Japanese giant’s previous platform, but with such a strong foundation to build from on this occasion, the future looks bright for the format’s firmware team. Rather than implement missing features already available in the competition’s machine, it will now be able to spend more time expanding upon the excellent social features that are already built into the hardware. And with a much slicker patching protocol, it’ll be able to roll out these updates without the social network jeers that accompanied virtually every PS3 fix.
Of course, the firm may have gotten away with the delays and system software mishaps that plagued its previous platform if it was able to demonstrate a sizeable step forward from the competition – but the unnecessarily complex nature of the CELL architecture culminated in little more than software delays and poor ports. Key titles such as BioShock didn’t arrive on the device until a year after their original release, while other banner multiformat games like Grand Theft Auto IV shipped with crippling performance issues.
A more accessible architecture and powerful under-the-hood performance has enabled Sony to eschew this problem with the PS4, however, resulting in a number of next generation titles running better on the Japanese giant’s system than on the Xbox One. Regardless of whether you’re able to spot these differences or not, the fact that the console is already commanding an advantage over its closest competitor bodes well for the performance of third-party titles moving forwards – and it means that lead architect Mark Cerny’s super machine is likely to assume the coveted role of lead platform in most development environments.
The software situation is also much stronger this time around. Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida may have caught some slack for the delays to DriveClub and inFAMOUS: Second Son, but now the manufacturer is emerging from a record breaking launch window with two big exclusives in the pipeline. It took years for the PS3 to build up a compelling library of titles, but the spread of software appears to be much better managed on the firm’s next generation console. The recently announced MLB 14: The Show will add to the roster, while The Order: 1886 and Uncharted PS4 are presumably not too far away either.
Moreover, unlike the PS3, the manufacturer has its blossoming indie relationships to lean on. There’s no doubt that Microsoft will catch up in this area over time, but during the slow months leading into next Christmas, timed exclusives such as Octodad: Dadliest Catch and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number are going to keep the console feeling fresh while big blockbusters like Destiny and Watch Dogs amble onto store shelves.
Of course, none of this means that Sony should take its foot off the gas. We’re still very much in the early stages of the next generation, and the more meaningful skirmishes will take place over the coming years. With a couple of record breaking releases in its rear view mirror, though, it’s hard to ignore the positive position that the PS4 currently occupies. Granted, there may be plenty of work ahead, but the Japanese giant’s next generation console is off to a staggeringly strong start.
Do you agree that Sony has laid some promising foundations to build upon, or do you think that we’ve been drinking the new console Kool-Aid? What areas do you think that the platform holder needs to focus on in order to maintain its headstart, or are you happy with how the next twelve months are shaping up? Wax lyrical in the comments section below.
Do you agree that the PS4’s immediate future is looking bright? (48 votes)
Yes, I’m excited to see how the system matures over the coming months
Hmm, I want to wait and see what’s in store first
No, I’m not especially impressed with the hardware or upcoming software
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