It’s the question I don’t think enough platform developers ask themselves.  It’s the question that sometimes is ridiculed for leaning too far into the business end of the tech, that makes the Silicon Valley faithful thumb their nose at nay-sayers.  They’ll say it doesn’t matter who a product is for, a revolutionary product is something that will find an audience regardless of want or need.  When the iPhone came out, I wondered who it was for and the answer was all of us.  When the iPad came out, I rolled my eyes and wondered who need a larger version of the iPhone – well, a lot of people did.

It is difficult to predict consumer markets and even more difficult to say with certainty that people will flock to a revolutionary product, turning it from niche tech fascination into a modern household staple.  If you need further convincing of the volatility of the market, take a look at the rivaling console launches of 2013.  Microsoft must have thought their all-in-one entertainment machine was a slam-dunk idea.  The natural evolution of video games, taking the console from the “gamerz only!” market and turning it into the center of every living room.  Meanwhile, Sony played to a more traditional market, offering a more conservative system with a less revolutionary view of the industry.

And Sony’s vision won.

As much as any console did/could win by the measurable metrics I have at my disposal.  It’s hard to say where the figures are for sure as both companies have stopped with their monthly updates, but the PS4 seems to be around 50 million sold, while the Xbox One is likely ten-or-so million behind.  But you can also sense Sony’s win in the market. My friends who own one console own PS4s – the natural language of video games (and their perception) has returned to a Sony-centric world.  That second metric is just a gut-instinct, and it could be wrong, but considering I spend most of my life immersed in video games, I think my gut counts for something.

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Sony doubled down on the heart of the video game market with the PS4.  They focused on games and attracting developers of all shapes and sizes to their platform. They signed a lot of deals that got games onto their system first, if not exclusively.  So it’s weird to me that after gambling on the “average gamer” (I hate that word) – and getting the message that this was what people wanted, that Sony would make a move to a tiered system of PlayStation.

Sony’s PS4 didn’t come as a surprise to anyone last night – nor should it have.  The writing was on the wall when Morpheus got into the VR game.  To run VR, Sony would need a more powerful machine – enter the PlayStation 4 Pro.  That brings us full circle – to the question at the top of this article: who the fuck is this for?

Sony seems to think that the budding VR market will carry the PlayStation 4 Pro.  But the VR movement in games has come totally cart before the horse.  Developers have cooked up nice tech demos and cool immersive technology to work with VR, but aside from the first-person horror genre (which is starting to wear out its welcome) VR seems to be having a difficult time showing us what games we would use it for.  Even the first-person shooter, which seems like an easy win for VR, is better on TV where your familiarity with controls and orientation help you be a more effective player.  Imagine trying to play Overwatch in VR, or other competitive shooters, the disorientation would get frustrating long before you’d say “oooh, it’s so immersive”.  

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Consider the people who are waiting for pizza to be delivered, or a friend to come over, or who want to share the experience of a game with someone – VR makes this difficult.  It gets in the way of more experiences than it creates them.  For the people who play sports games, or who love RPGs, VR is totally impractical.  The proponents of VR have images of us all sitting in empty rooms, wearing these googles, but people don’t have empty rooms – they have living rooms they share with family or roommates.  They imagine all of us want to see through the eyes of the player, but many us like some distance between us and the characters so we can see their emotions and appreciate their actions.  VR plays to a myopic vision of video games, failing to ask if the market as a whole has any interest.

So when you cut the VR argument out of the PlayStation 4 Pro, you’re left with a system that has little to offer aside from the games looking a little better.  Ignoring that PC will always (and I mean always) outpace whatever console is thrown out there, the PlayStation 4 Pro is counting on a group of players who just shelled out $400 a couple years ago to do so again for what is essentially a graphics upgrade.  I’m not sure who they are counting on to do this?  I don’t know what fans in the Sony community where in a huff over how their games looked.

The arms race to photorealism is also a bit of a premature argument.  My favorite game this year thus far is Stardew Valley, a game that looks like it was built for the original PlayStation.  Fewer and fewer games are shelling out the big bucks for blockbuster tech – and even if they do, those games often become so in love with their photorealism they forget to be interesting in any other way.  With the indie community providing more and more of the video game business, it’s again worth wondering who all is going to take advantage of the PS4 Pro.

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I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade.  I’m sure there are the Sony faithful who are so fucking ready to see more wrinkles in Nathan Drake’s crows feet, but I think the majority of people don’t care.  I think the millions who already bought PlayStation 4s are going to wonder what the PS4 Pro even is.  If there is an audience for the PS4 Pro, it will be a couple years before they start to materialize.  As PS4s start to malfunction or Xbox One owners start to consider doubling up, it’s possible the PS4 Pro becomes a more viable option (especially if the price hits the $300 range).  

But even then, I wonder if people won’t just shrug their shoulders at the shiny new graphics, say “cute”, and save themselves the $100.

About The Author

The Glorious Predecessor

As I write this, I am listening to Striking Matches and eating a blueberry muffin. The music is good, the muffin is even better. I dance when I drink and have been known to occasionally free-style rap, none of which benefits society.

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  • “Googles.”

    The regular consoles are already far too costly. Even the Nintendo ones. I don’t think this crop of consoles will ever be affordable in their lifetime. Unless they become the last consoles.

    It smacks of a luxury item; which is bad for a console line I think! But we’ve all seemed to agree to take a hard turn into inequity for the time being; at least until it gets so bad that there is a class revolution.

    For me personally, the noble cause is to look around and say, hey! It’s time for a public 3-D standard. Like when the WWW appeared, as a public technology. What that would look like, is for every desktop class PC in the store to be able to run your average 3-D product. It’s possible to do that right now. I don’t think something is art, if it cannot be sensed by everyone. That’s something else, or at least it’s art divorced from a racial culture.

    I’ve worked all of this year on overhauling the original COLLADA-DOM software library that grew out of COLLADA, which came out of Sony’s U.S. arm, and was eventually passed to a public standards group (Khronos.) COLLADA proved a failure. But nothing has manifested as an alternative. So it’s the natural thing to pick up and dust off, and try to do it again. Which makes sense because it was never properly implemented, and it’s one of those things that require a software ecosystem (The COLLA part stands for Collaboration.)

    In the meantime, some public 3-D standards have emerged. There’s been WebGl, and to support it something called glTF, which is relatively new, that looks like it could succeed COLLADA, but actually its documents tend to suggest they are an adjunct to one another…

    The problem with these however is that 1) they are OpenGL centric. This limits their application. 2) they are browser based tech. Or WebGL is an extension of JavaScript, and glTF while it’s just a stream format, it’s designed to service WebGL. And this is why I’m talking about this. Because JavaScript by its very nature, is again, one of those things that devalues ubiquitous 3-D. This is because anything done in Javascript involving 3D is underpowered compared to the same software implemented like a regular application. That means to experience you, you require an even more powerful, and therefore more costly, computer than you otherwise would.

    I don’t know what it is about our consumer society that seems to not question the way we use ever more expensive product as a solution for everything. It’s a solution that only works for people who can afford it. Those are people who are a tiny minority, and so we should be sickened by this response.