Today is the day.
After that initial teaser trailer, subsequent retrospective videos, endless waves of rumours, and not to mention months (and even years) of speculation about when we would see the next generation of videogame consoles… February 20th has arrived.
Today is Sony Computer Entertainment’s time to shine. It’s time to use its self-installed limelight to unveil the future of its PlayStation brand, and barring any modern-day miracles or Earth-shattering tragedies, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the eyes of the world will be on Sony as the company pulls back the curtain on its vision for the future of gaming. And it will be, for better or worse, the future of gaming for Sony and for the purposes of this article we’re going to go ahead and assume that the PlayStation 4 is real, in whatever form and function it’s delivered.
Aside from the launch of a new console, there’s no bigger, more exciting and potentially more detrimental event in the videogame world than the announcement of a next generation machine and gamers, pundits, websites and news networks across the globe will be on silent pause in anticipation of the reveal.
We of course expect the PlayStation 4 to be a better and more fully-featured console than any before it, but what extras can we look forward to seeing during Sony’s reveal? What functionality and games will we glimpse as the collective blood pressure of the company’s executives hits danger levels?
El33tonline collects, dissects and disseminates the rumours, speculation and reality of Sony Computer Entertainment’s February 20th PlayStation announcement.
The Rumours. The Speculation. The Excitement!
There has been a never-ending tide of rumours crashing against the shores of the known gaming world for the last few weeks (and before that), which has naturally resulted in relentless speculation and unbounded excitement. What are the rumours responsible for the unbearable anticipation for Sony’s PlayStation reveal?
Let’s start with an easy one: What will Sony’s next home console be called?
PlayStation 4 follows the sequence and would continue the company’s strong brand recognition, while alluding to something even better and more powerful than what gamers have come to experience with the PlayStation 3.
PlayStation Orbis, however, has been used as a codename for the hardware for some time now and follows a naming pattern in keeping with the PlayStation Vita – no number and no preconceived notions, but with a bit of a reboot for the naming convention.
PS Orbis might also better suit Sony’s move towards creating an ecosystem of PlayStation products, rather than focussing on the products themselves, and the ‘Orbis’ name perhaps alludes to an intention to let this ecosystem ‘orbit’ this next home console.
This name could lead to the console simply being called ‘Orbis’ in months to come, which loses the PlayStation brand recognition in the media (something Sony would do well to avoid). Smart money is on the final name being ‘PlayStation 4’ to continue the strong brand and give Microsoft a tough time in naming its next console to try and match public perception that anything less than the ‘fourth’ console in a series is weak in comparison.
The Online and Streaming Functionality (With Gaikai)
This is a big question and a very important battle for Sony to conquer. Cloud-based storage (thousands of hard-drives in bunkers scattered around the world) and cloud-based computing (thousands of processors in bunkers scattered around the world) have both become more and more important in the way we use the internet and stay connected, live our lives and enjoy digital entertainment, either passive or interactive.
The potential for cloud-based gaming is very exciting, but that potential hasn’t yet been fully realised with initiatives from OnLive or Gaikai as gamers are promised the chance to play games of incredible visual fidelity by streaming gameplay and controller input through a device no more powerful than a decent media PC, with the results piped directly to them over the ‘net.
Sony showed its interest in this market segment with its $380 million purchase of Dave Perry’s Gaikai cloud gaming service in 2012, and there’s very little chance that the company will let such an investment wither on the vine.
Strong rumours are pointing to the ability to stream and play (at the very least) PlayStation 3 games online over the internet using technologies dreamed up by Gaikai. While programming cleverness is no doubt at the heart of Gaikai, a massive investment in hardware to run the cloud-based gaming service will be necessary to make the dream a reality, which means any such streaming service will most likely be a premium (i.e. paid for) feature of the PlayStation 4.
Streaming games could let gamers preview the latest titles by streaming only small portions of a game at a time to play, while playing full games on a whim (and without a 20GB+ download upfront) will also be possible for those with a strong internet connection. Don’t discount the ability to play streamed games on a PS Vita, either, as Sony looks to make further use of its latest handheld and make it more a part of the PlayStation ecosystem.
Extending Sony’s use of the ‘PlayStation Suite’ initiative, which aims to allow PlayStation approved games to be played on smartphones and tablets, could also be a direction that the company looks at, allowing gamers to play against one another across different devices and even play the same games on different platforms (like the PS3/PS Vita Cross-play feature).
All of this technology and background hardware comes at a price, however, and it’s heavily rumoured that most of the PlayStation 4’s online features will be gated behind multi-tiered premium subscriptions, with PlayStation Plus representing the lower of two tiers, and a so-called ‘PlayStation World’ giving console owners access to all of the machine’s social and online functionality.
The Share ‘Button’
It wasn’t long ago that red-hot rumours emerged regarding something called ‘Share,’ a feature of the PlayStation 4 that would allow you to instantly capture, edit and share screenshots and videos of your in-game escapades, with your unique content being sent to networks like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to provide your friends (and strangers) the chance to view that content and comment directly.
According to the rumours, this feature is made possible by the fact that the PlayStation 4 would always keep the last fifteen minutes of gameplay in memory, ready and waiting for you to share at the press of a button, with Gaikai’s streaming and storage in place to facilitate the spread of this content.
An intriguing prospect, and a feature that has been a core pillar of cloud gaming since its inception years ago, so will it finally become a reality with the PlayStation 4?
The Controller and Peripherals
We’ve already seen photos of the PlayStation 4’s controller in prototypical form, and the features that have been combed out of the images point to a touch pad in the middle of the controller along with a mic/speaker, motion support recognition with PlayStation Move-like precision thanks to a bright light panel, indented thumb sticks and a microphone jack on the bottom.
While the potential for touch pad support can be demonstrated by the best uses of the PS Vita’s touch controls and iOS games and applications, the panel could also serve as a keen way to browse the internet and interact with menus instead of relying on less precise thumb sticks for navigation.
Continued support for the PlayStation 3’s Move motion controller is said to be on the cards for PlayStation 4, but a new and improved dual-camera PlayStation Eye has been rumoured into existence, providing greater precision and more dimension for game developers to make use of in their games, bringing the technology more in line with the Xbox 360 Kinect device.
This all means that the PlayStation 4 will be better prepared, from launch, for supposedly ‘next generation’ experiences, despite a lack of titles in the current generation that ably demonstrated the merits of motion gaming and touch-based controls to hardcore gamers. Casual and family-friendly games will benefit greatly from the technology, though, as we’ve seen with Kinect and the PS Move.
No console launch would be complete without a devastating array of dazzling launch titles, and the PlayStation 2013 event is sure to include demonstrations of a good crop of games from both first- and third-party developers.
Strong rumours suggest that we’ll see the next inFamous game from Sucker Punch, Gran Turismo 6 from Polyphony, LittleBigPlanet 3 from Sumo Digital, the next Killzone from Guerilla Games and a new racing title from MotorStorm developers Evolution Studios. There is a chance (however small) that we’ll see an all-new game from Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls), and a re-reveal for The Last Guardian from Team Ico, now in development for the PlayStation 4.
What about third-party support? Very recently, it was revealed that EA’s Battlefield 4 is ready to be shown to industry decision makers (including GameStop’s CEO), and this may just be the right time to see what Kojima Productions has cooking up vis-à-vis The Phantom Pain (aka Metal Gear Solid 5) and its Ogre Engine.
Rumours abound that Square Enix’s Final Fantasy Versus 13 has also been repurposed for next generation gaming, which makes a debut on the PlayStation 4 plausible.
It would also make a great deal of sense for LucasArts to re-reveal Star Wars 1313, and for Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs to be shown – two titles that will seemingly straddle the divide between current and next generation consoles. And what about the showing of ultra popular games in next generation clothing, like FIFA and Assassin’s Creed? Both EA and Ubisoft have grown closer to Sony in recent years, and these familiar franchises will do the most good in convincing audiences of a graphical leap for the PlayStation 4.
The Price, Release Date and Models
What would you pay for all of these features and technology? And when can you expect the PlayStation 4 to appear on store shelves? A new rumour points to the existence of two models of the PlayStation 4, the main difference between them most probably being hard-drive size and built-in WiFi support.
Again, according to the rumours, you’ll be paying $429 for the cut-down version of the PlayStation 4, and $529 for the fully featured version, with whispers of a November 2013 launch window for the US.
While a next generation console at over $400 may be in line with previous hardware launches, Sony might do well to cut as many non-essential features as possible to get the lesser version of the console to a maximum of $399, allowing the higher version to reach a price closer to $550 to give early adopters a wider range of choices while still providing the same console, in essence. Will both versions of the hardware include a hard-drive out of the box? Count on it.
What You Should and Should Not Expect
Now that we’ve seen what kinds of rumours are doing the rounds, we can more easily suss out what we can expect to see at the February 20th PlayStation 2013 reveal event and set some realistic expectations
Sony will definitely reveal the name of its console and PlayStation 4 is our best bet for the hardware. PlayStation Orbis makes sense in different cases, but the brand and sequence is too strong to ignore.
Prices, Dates and Models
Don’t expect Sony to reveal the price of the PlayStation 4 at this time, and don’t expect an exact release date, either – the most we can expect is a launch window with ‘Holiday 2013’ being our best bet. There will very likely be at least two versions of the PlayStation 4 to provide consumers with greater choice at launch, with one version quite a bit more expensive than the other. $450 as a baseline is expected.
Anti-piracy and Anti-used Game Technology
Sony won’t touch the subject of proposed anti-piracy and anti-used game technology, even on a dare. Based on the net-negative reaction to initiatives to limit the use of second hand games on both the PlayStation 4 and next Xbox from Microsoft, expect this technology to either be repurposed and repackaged to appeal to consumers and publishers, or vanish completely.
The Controller and Peripherals
The PlayStation 4 controller potentially makes up such a large piece of the puzzle that it’s expected to be fully revealed with its features (including touch panel and motion control) discussed and demonstrated. Sony will want to assuage PlayStation 3 owners that their PS Move controllers won’t go to waste, too, while simultaneously nodding to investors that the PlayStation 4 has a long, forward-looking life ahead of it thanks to the console’s dual-camera PlayStation Eye, making it future proof for all methods of gaming and interaction.
The images we’ve seen of the controller so far are very prototypical, so while we can’t expect to see the final version of the peripheral at today’s PlayStation 2013 event, it will be at least a little more sleek than what we’ve seen.
Online Strategies, Cloud Gaming, Sharing and Streaming
We can expect Sony to talk extensively about the online functionality of the PlayStation 4 and the future of cloud gaming and storage. The exact inner workings of this technology and demonstrations of the next iteration of the PlayStation Network, will be kept to a bare minimum for now as the company focuses on demonstrating the benefits of game streaming and connectivity with the PS Vita and other mobile platforms. If it’s real, Share will be revealed and demonstrated with real-world examples of its use.
If Gaikai is still the name being used for Sony’s cloud-based gaming and storage solution, expect that name to crop up many times otherwise we’ll be introduced to a new term for the technology, such as PlayStation World.
Sony will likely use the ability to stream PlayStation 3 games as a means to sidestep the question of backwards compatibility for PlayStation 4, although this will mean we’ll be asked to re-purchase PS3 games.
PlayStation Plus and its use in the future is expected to be highlighted during the conference, with hints at what subscribers will be able to enjoy in the months to come. With this in mind, Sony will want to showcase what makes PlayStation 4 an enticing proposition as far as services are concerned, with video (movies and TV shows), music and content streaming on the cards.
It’s certain that Sony’s first-party developers are working on new games for the PlayStation 4, and developers from its array of studios will make an appearance on stage or via videos to introduce new versions of their franchises, but tech demos and showings of next generation graphics technology using games familiar to us (including God of War, Gran Turismo, FIFA and Uncharted) are expected to feature heavily during this portion of the event.
Look forward to blazing demonstrations of racing and action titles from franchises we know and love, but not necessarily an indication of a game currently in development. The formal public unveiling of Unreal Engine 4 technology from Epic Games would be a safe bet, while a list of publishers and developers pledging their support to PlayStation 4 is very likely, with key franchises named, too.
PlayStation 3 and PS Vita
With the entire world watching Sony’s PlayStation 2013 event, it would be foolish not to take advantage of the exposure that the conference will garner by placing a level of importance on the future of the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita.
Upcoming PS3 games including God of War: Ascension, The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls will be showcased, while the PS Vita’s release slate will be revealed, with the handheld console’s place alongside the PlayStation 4 assured due to interconnectivity features and cross-play.
What We Hope To See
If we let our excitement and imagination run away with us, there are a few things we would like to see at Sony’s PlayStation event today, including all-new games for our favourite franchises like Uncharted, and a few debut reveals wouldn’t hurt either with showings of Fallout 4 from Bethesda Softworks, DOOM 4 from id Software and Epic Games’ next title possibly acting as graphical powerhouses.
In terms of raw features, true backwards compatibility for the PlayStation 4 would be a welcome announcement to allow us to play games for the original PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 using already bought discs (although this is very unlikely). Will we finally get Cross-game chat that PS3 gamers have been waiting an entire generation to enjoy? Very possibly, but probably behind a subscription gate.
Streaming gameplay from your PlayStation 4 to PS Vita would cement the handheld’s place in the overarching PlayStation ecosystem, either locally or over the internet, and the continuation of free PlayStation Network usage for online gaming is expected, but anything but a promise. We would also like to see what Sony and its partners have in store for us as far as PlayStation Plus is concerned, given the service’s enormous value for money.
At its base level, the Share feature is intriguing and even important to infiltrate social media circles if implemented properly and steer discussion towards PlayStation games, but what if the feature went deeper? What if you could post an in-game screenshot of a PlayStation 4 game, and upon viewing the image, a friend would gain your savegame or be able to instantly load up into that area of the game?
What about sharing a video and asking for help on a forum where an expert player could take over for you, or walk you through a difficult portion of a game while playing? There are lots of exciting opportunities for the Share ‘button’ and its inclusion (if it’s real…) at a base hardware level could prove key to its success.
It’s nice to want things.
Not every question with regards to the PlayStation 4 and Sony’s vision for the future of gaming will be answered this evening. We may even end up with many, many more questions than we started out with. These questions will no doubt be addressed at E3 in June 2013 and gamescom in August as we get hands-on time and closer looks at the console’s features, but also expect a smattering of press events and smaller conferences hosted by Sony in the coming year leading up to launch.
Today, however, is the most important day in the history of Sony Computer Entertainment as the initial reaction to its announcement will shape gamers’ perceptions of the hardware for the year to come, which will affect our collective opinion of the company’s place in the gaming world for the next generation – a make or break situation, if ever there was one.
Today is the day