The announcement of the PlayStation 4 was a success for one reason: It focused on the gamer. This is in stark contrast to the announcements of games over the last few years with manufacturers training their sights on the casual market and seeing the chance to lap up the potential in it. Nintendo’s Wii succeeded here from the off, making it the top seller for a long time. But using similar strategies will not be the work with the upcoming generation.
This generation was characterized by a new breed of gamer, as people ranging from infants to the elderly began to enjoy gaming. This revolution was brought about by the Nintendo Wii. The simple controller and user interface coupled with the offering of simple, entertaining games such as Mario and the never-ending Brain Training series prompted people around the world to buy the console. The interest was not in the specifications that Microsoft and Sony were throwing at them, but in the pure fun and simplicity of games. Thus, the Wii thrived for many years. Sony released the PlayStation Move while Microsoft released the Kinect in an attempt to court the masses to both simple games and the more serious versions. The PlayStation Move featured improved but still incredibly similar controllers coupled with games for all ages. The Kinect featured an innovating camera that followed your body’s movement on the screen which allowed for a new, fun experience similar to the effect the Wii had upon release. The manufacturers strained to find different experiences for the motion tech, releasing games such as Eye Pet and Kinect Star Wars. The motion phenomenon dominated this generation, creating some disappointment at events such as E3 where we expected hints at next generation and all we got were bloated motion control demos (looking at you again WonderBook).
Sony had launched the PlayStation with a built-in Blu-Ray player, a drive that plays high-definition films. This caused a large amount of interest once Blu-Ray became a major player in the physical media space, as consumers could own a box that played video games and HD films and (most of the time) for a cheaper price than dedicated Blu-Ray players. Realizing the potential in the non-gamer market, Microsoft and Sony both diversified in to try to dominate consumer’s living rooms. Deals with BBC for the iPlayer along with other services like Netflix, ESPN and others created a media hub that diminished the use of set-top boxes. Following this came the movie and television stores on both of the manufacturer’s consoles. All of the distractions from the core gamer compounded.
There has already been a shift however, with Sony using the whole of the PlayStation Meeting to show new, high-quality games or the tools that can provide those games. They provided great specifications and tech demos to wow the people who really care, the core gamers. Even the Media Molecule demonstration opened up the possibilities for creation of deep games using motion controls. There was no mention of deals with television and film companies to distract from the games. This is, I think, because Sony have realized there is no big push for next generation from the non-gamers or casual market.
Think about it for a second. First of all, non-gamers already have their Blu-ray player that they can continue to use, as there is no new physical disk technology to upgrade to. Added to this, there is nothing preventing them from continually using the console as a cheap Blu-Ray device for years to come, until streaming and downloading becomes the main way of enjoying films. Secondly, both the Kinect and the PlayStation Move already work with the current generation consoles and, no matter what next generation brings with it, there is no significant reason for someone who does not care about how many fingers a motion camera can track or how well a virtual personal trainer is rendered to be excited for. Why would someone shell out hundreds of dollars for the features they already have?
This means that the only market for the next generation to cater to, at least initially, is the core or “hardcore” gamers. The people who enjoyed listening to the specs available for the new console from Sony while eagerly awaiting the next Xbox. The people excited for new IPs and creative ideas and not the gamers who believe buying Call of Duty and Gears of War makes you “hardcore”. Look at the Nintendo Wii U, people already have a Wii or a HD console with motion controller with no obvious reason to upgrade. The more core games such as Assassin’s Creed and ZombiU flooded the Wii U in comparison to the casual titles showed an attempt by Nintendo to appeal to the gamers that are constantly excited by new consoles.
Whether they liked the conference for PS4 or not, all core console gamers were excited for the concept of a next generation console. The console manufacturers will continue to support the things such as television and film but, with motion especially, they will try to tailor it to a more serious experience (the first step to this was integrating Move into the Dualshock 4).
Sony seem to have realized that gamers should be the focus. Let us hope Microsoft can do the same.