Sony occasionally gets criticised for being a bit out of touch with the wants and needs of gamers, but we don’t think you could lobby that criticism at the company when it comes to the PlayStation 5’s user experience. Announced today after months of enthusiastic speculation, it’s alarming that we’re still learning new things about the Japanese giant’s next-gen hardware less than a month from launch; in an industry where little is left to the imagination, it could be argued that it’s rather refreshing to be surprised this late in the system’s hype cycle.
Our takeaway from the presentation: this is a user experience built with modern games in mind. Readers of this website may not like it, but the way we play is changing; games are no longer one-and-done single player experiences, but evolving adventures built around seasons like television shows. There are exemptions, of course, there always will be – God of War and The Last of Us: Part II are exemplary examples of that – but the biggest releases these days are persistent, with new content and features added regularly to keep them fresh.
While the manufacturer didn’t really focus too much on that during its presentation, we reckon a lot of its thought processes with regards to the PS5 user experience stem from this idea. Take a game like GTA Online, for example: every week it has Double GTA$ events and discounts on cars and clothes, but unless you’re signed up to the Rockstar newsletter, you’d never know about that without booting the game. On the PS5, you’ll not only be able to see those time-sensitive events on your dashboard, but you’ll be able to load directly into the modes that are offering multiplied rewards.
That’s just the first example that springs to mind, but so many of the industry’s biggest games are built this way these days. What about FIFA 21, for example? The console will be able to notify you that you have new Ultimate Team packs to open, and selecting them will take you directly to the pack opening screen; previously you’d have to boot the game then the mode just to see if you actually have any new packs available. The quality of life improvements should be obvious to everyone, but this actually feeds into the way we play games now.
And for the record, this can have advantages beyond Ultimate Team and player retention events. Consider a game like Gran Turismo 7, which will almost certainly have an emphasis on time trials. Let’s say you’ve got a really good time on the Nürburgring but your friend beats it; rather than loading up the game to find out, that information could be spotlighted front and centre on the dashboard – and you’d simply have to click it to jump immediately back to the Nürburgring and compete against your pal to get an even better time.
Here’s where its gets better for time-strapped gamers: the console seemingly has a way to determine how long activities will take. So let’s say you’re Level 29 in Horizon Forbidden West and 1,000XP away from a cool new ability once you hit Level 30 – but you’ve only got 30 minutes available to play today. Well, the console could recommend a quest that’ll give you the XP you need to level up, and inform you that it’ll take you around 30 minutes to complete. But let’s say you’ve only actually got 20 minutes: well, maybe you’d prefer to take control of the New York Knicks in NBA 2K21 and play their real-world match-up today.
There’s so much potential here in terms of time saving and laying out things for you to do. The fact that you can layer in game guides means that you’re no longer going to have to fiddle around, toggling between low-quality YouTube videos in the PS4’s awful web browser – the information will be there, on-screen, while you play, presented in the way that you want it. We’ve all been there with a smartphone in our hand, trying to find that last collectible; it’s the way we all play, but the PS5 is promising to make that better with some innovative and forward-thinking ideas.
There’s been a lot of commentary online about how a lot of these features will be forgotten in the future; we just can’t see that being the case when it comes to the activity cards that Sony’s promoting. Publishers are always looking for new ways to improve player retention and emphasise the content that’s been added to their games; here they have an opportunity to give players a direct path to the things that matter, and they’ll definitely be taking advantage of that. Support for the game guides may be somewhat spottier, but we’d be surprised if fans didn’t warm up to that feature fast.
Of course, these new ideas are the figurative icing on the top of an already well-baked cake, and the PS5 appears to have the basics down as well. This is a fast console – Destruction AllStars took less than eight seconds to boot cold out of Sackboy: A Big Adventure, which is staggering speed – and so even if you don’t care for all of the bells and whistles, then getting to your games is going to be quicker than ever before. This is a user experience that doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, it just makes it more convenient for you to do the things you want to do. And that’s hugely exciting.
Are you excited by the potential for PS5's new user experience? Do you have any worries or concerns about what Sony's cooked up? Create some game activities in the comments section below.