Console manufacturer Sony is convinced that home hardware can still innovate in the games business, rather than follow the lead of the disruptive technology and business models pioneered by mobile and free-to-play games companies.
“After you see sequels to the same three games people feel like they’ve seen everything before. That’s natural, but that’s nothing like the end of the consoles”
The console market has suffered decline particularly during the past three years, with a thinning out of big-box publishers like THQ and Midway, and the closure of successful development studios responsible for some of the best-loved franchises in the business.
Many commentators see this, along with plummeting retail sales, as the beginning of the end of the console business, as more developers move to mobile, PCs and tablets, shunning high game prices for free-to-play services, value for money bundles and app stores that offer distribution opportunities to millions of consumers.
But Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony’s Worldwide development studios, has told GamesIndustry International that home consoles can still innovate in development and business, stating: “if we didn’t believe in that we wouldn’t be in this business.”
“It’s not the decline of consoles, it’s the decline of a generation,” he said. “This generation has been the longest on the PS3 and the Xbox, it’s the seventh year. In older times we would have launched a new system already. Really, developers hit the limits after a couple of games on the same system, typically.
“There are a few developers like Naughty Dog or Quantic Dream who are doing more, but that’s kind of the exception. After you see the sequels to the same three games people feel like they’ve seen everything before. That’s natural, but that’s nothing like the end of the consoles.”
While this generation has been much longer than previous, Sony is planning a 10-year lifecycle for the PlayStation 4, but it’s not concerned such a long time on the market will lead to console fatigue.
“If players are excited that means we are doing something right,” said Yoshida, referring to the companies triumphant showing at E3 earlier this month.
“It’s very simple. When you look at the PlayStation 3, it is way, way better than the PS3 that came out in 2007. Because we’re constantly improving and adding content and updates, through firmware or PSN updates. It’s the same with PS Vita with new applications added. It’s a constant evolution of the system even though the hardware remains exactly the same.
“It will be the same with the PlayStation 4,” offered Yoshida. “We are launching this holiday but we already have plans on the roadmap for additional features and improvements on the services side which will constantly evolve with time.
“The key to this on PS4 is we have a huge 8GB of memory. That’s way more than game developers need initially. At the mid-point of the PlayStation 3 lifecycle we really hit the limit of what we can add in terms of system features. The reason we couldn’t add cross-game voice chat that players wanted was we were out of memory. Because we have 8GB of RAM we can secure enough room for whatever great features developers can come up with.”
“If you’re a PS3 or a PS Vita user you can still enjoy cloud services. We’re developing along that schedule, not necessarily trying to tie in with the PlayStation 4 schedule”
If new services and updates are key to keeping the PlayStation 4 relevant for the coming decade, then the cloud gaming services that Sony is putting in place will be central to the console’s evolution.
However, cloud gaming services won’t be available at launch of the PlayStation 4 this Christmas, with Yoshida explaining that the technology developed by the Gaikai team is being integrated across the whole PlayStation ecosystem, not just the PS4.
“Cloud gaming services are launching next year in the US so PlayStation 4 and Vita users will be able to play PlayStation 3 catalogue games even though there’s no native compatibility on the system itself. That’s just one example of how we can improve the system.
“The PlayStation 4 is just one of the target devices. It’s all about the cloud server. Our team in Gaikai and Sony Japan are working hard to provide the online game services but it doesn’t require the PS4 to enjoy those services. If you’re a PS3 or a PS Vita user you can still enjoy the cloud services. So we’re developing along that schedule, not necessarily trying to tie in with the PlayStation 4 schedule.”