The PlayStation 4 is easily Sony’s most profitable home console to date, so where does the Japanese giant go after winning the 8th generation of gaming? The obvious path to continued success would be to just stick to their strengths, which in Sony’s case is the production of high quality, story-driven single player exclusives that court a more mature audience. But is that all that PlayStation can exceed at, or is there still room for innovation and the potential to reach an even broader audience with their next console? Here are the top 5 things we want to see from the PlayStation 5:
1. PROMOTE MORE ALL AGES CONTENT
Sony has undoubtedly taken notice of the massive success that the Nintendo Switch is currently enjoying, and there are at least two lessons that can be learned from this. The first lesson is that all ages content is a viable path to profitability. While it is unlikely that any platform holder will achieve what Nintendo has in the family-friendly video game market, Sony should not cede this territory completely to Mario and his posse of cute and cuddly mascots.
Nothing quite matches the pure endearment and nostalgia that gamers feel towards Nintendo’s stable of characters, but many forget just how deep Sony’s bench of kid-friendly properties really is. Ape Escape, PaRappa the Rapper, MediEvil, Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper, Little Big Planet, LocoRoco, and Patapon are just a few of the more whimsical franchises that could make a big comeback on the PlayStation 5. While some of these titles, such as Jak or Ratchet, are not not quite as innocent as Pikachu or Kirby, all of them fall under the general umbrella of being family-friendly. Sony could easily leverage the cross generational potential of these titles by appealing to both kids and their nostalgic parents.
The biggest hurdle here isn’t making the games, but the company’s commitment to marketing them properly. Sony has in fact released several family-friendly first party titles on the PS4, such as Concrete Genie, the MediEvil Remake, Everybody’s Golf, Dreams, and Astro Bot Rescue Mission. It has been shown time and again that while Sony is willing to produce these games, they never seem to allocate much of their marketing dollars to any of these titles, which in turn forces almost all of them to fly under the radar. It may be true that these games will never reach the sales heights of God of War or The Last of Us, but Sony must have noticed that the recent Crash Bandicoot N’Sane Trilogy, which was a timed exclusive on PlayStation 4 and which features a character that is strongly associated with the PlayStation brand, has gone on to sell over 10 million copies worldwide. Clearly, the market is there.
2. PORTABLE DEVICES AND REMOTE PLAY
The second lesson that Sony can learn from the success of the Nintendo Switch is that people like to take their home console games on the go and are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a device that allows them to do so. To be clear, Sony is no stranger to the portable gaming space, as they have released two handheld consoles, the PlayStation Portable and the PlayStation Vita. The Vita in particular shares many similarities with the Switch, suchas the ability to play console-quality video games outdoors as well as the ability to play on a home TV, via PlayStation TV. While these features are not quite as refined as those on the Switch, the Vita was far more ahead of its time than many realize. Unfortunately, the device was a financial flop for Sony, mostly as a result of its overpriced and proprietary memory cards and the company’s inability to effectively market the product.
It is unlikely that Sony would attempt another handheld console with its own dedicated library of games, but a companion device built around remote play on the PlayStation 5 would be a fantastic option for those gamers who enjoy the versatility of the Switch, but who also prefer sort of games that are available on PlayStation. Remote play is already a feature that is available on the PlayStation 4, but the experience is unreliable to say the least. It is unclear which devices are best suited for this feature, and even those that work require gamers to take a DualShock 4 with them on the go. Couple this with unreliable wifi connections in public spaces, and the ability to jump into a game like Horizon Zero Dawn for fifteen minutes while on your break at work is fantasy for all but a very select few. Even for those who can connect, devices like smartphones or tablets, which are not build specifically with gaming in mind, are poor substitutes for something like the Nintendo Switch.
Rather than leaving the hardware side of remote play to the whims of third party manufacturers, I think the best option for Sony is to release their own dedicated handheld companion device for the PlayStation 5. Like the Switch, and specifically the Switch Lite, the screen and controls should be built into the device itself as a single unit to eliminate the need for any additional hardware. If at all possible, the device should have the ability to log into one account on the console remotely while allowing family members logged into a different account at home to use the console uninterrupted.
While Sony has not made any public statements regarding plans to produce such a device, there are signs that they may already be considering something along these lines. Months ago, a patent filed by Sony for a Switch-like device leaked online and was met with widespread excitement from fans, hopefully signaling to Sony that commercial interest for a dedicated handheld device is there. Combine this with Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai, a company created with the specific purpose of developing streaming and remote play technology for video games, and Sony may very well be gearing up for some kind of third foray into the portable gaming market.
3. INNOVATIVE FEATURES THAT MATTER
Few consoles emerge from a generation without at least some gimmicky features or peripherals to their name, and the PlayStation brand is no exception. These experiments occasionally yield true consumer-pleasing features, such as the dual thumb-sticks on the original analog PlayStation controller (later refined to become the DualShock controller) or the PSone’s portable LCD screen, but more often than not end up as little more than cute but forgettable novelties, as is the case for the PocketStation, EyeToy, and many others. This is due in large part to the fact that the way in which players interact with their games has been iterated upon for decades and has arrived at a place in which more refinement just doesn’t seem necessary. The graphics have gotten better, the AI has gotten smarter, and quality of life features have improved, but the core of what it means to play a game is roughly the same now as it was at the launch of the NES, which renders many “new and unique” features tedious or annoying, both to players and to developers.
For the past few months, Sony Interactive Entertainment and PlayStation 5 lead architect Mark Cerny have been touting the new DualSense controller and its advanced haptic feedback technology as a major leap forward in player immersion, claiming that gamers will feel resistance in the trigger buttons when pulling back a bow, or that gamers will feel a noticeable difference when driving on a smooth surface rather than a muddy one. While this technology sounds promising, the most important factor here is whether or not developers will take advantage of these features. In recent memory, Sony has invested in PlayStation Move controllers, a finger track pad on the back of the PlayStation Vita, and both a touch pad and light bar on the DualShock 4. With the exception of the Move controllers, which have found new relevance with PlayStation VR, all of these features have gone underutilized by most developers (the touch pad is little more than a large rectangle-shaped button in the middle of the controller), which begs the question: what is the point of investing in these kinds of features?
None of this is to say that these features are inherently bad, or that Sony should be discouraged from pursuing them. To the contrary, the DualSense controller sounds quite interesting and has the potential to increase player immersion exactly as Mark Cerny has described. We as players are more than open to new and innovative features that can help create previously unknown gaming experiences, but the features have to actually accomplish that, not merely show potential in the abstract. The reality is that most developers design games for multiple platforms, and they generally cannot commit the time or dollars necessary to fully utilize the unique features of a single platform. This means that it will be up to Sony’s first party studios to realize the potential of the DualSense controller and any other unique features that the PS5 may have. It’s easy to see how the feel of the changing texture of the road can be used in the next Gran Turismo game, or how the tension of pulling back a bow can be used in something like The Last of Us. But matters are further complicated when we consider the inevitability of more Sony-produced games going to PC or other platforms, as we are now seeing with Horizon Zero Dawn, Death Stranding, and future installments of MLB The Show. How long will Sony’s first party studios really spend capitalizing on unique features once the PlayStation ecosystem expands to PC and beyond? Only time will tell.
4. SEPARATE PLATINUM TROPHIES FROM MULTIPLAYER MODES
Long time gamers will know that there is a difference between beating a game and seeing everything that it has to offer. Most games offer much more content outside of the main campaign, including side quests, collectibles, and difficult enemies that can only be defeated after a player spends hours upon hours honing their skills. Trophy hunting is not for everyone, nor should it be, but there is something innately satisfying about extracting every bit of value from a particular gaming experience. Within the PlayStation ecosystem, a “platinum trophy” is the trophy that players earn only after every other trophy for that game has been unlocked. Earlier in this article, we went over how most of Sony’s first party games tend to be very story-driven single player titles. But many of these titles also feature additional multiplayer modes, which means that the game will include trophies tied to the multiplayer. As previously stated, a platinum trophy cannot be earned unless all of the trophies for that game are unlocked, which presents a whole host of problems for players.
The most frustrating byproduct of tying trophies to multiplayer modes is that the ability to earn the platinum trophy for a game becomes entirely dependent on the existence of an online community which will inevitably dwindle over time. This puts a virtual timer on a given game, and makes unlocking platinum trophies near impossible for people who revisit these games, or visit them for the first time, years after their release. This is bad enough for online-only games like Warhawk, but at least in that case people went into the experience knowing that the game is entirely dependent on multiplayer. The same cannot not be said for The Last of Us, which is a game known primarily for its world, story, and characters, and yet requires the player to participate in approximately one hundred and sixty online matches to earn the platinum trophy. In practice this forces primarily single player gamers to sign up for PlayStation Plus just to have access to the necessary multiplayer matches. Not only is this frustrating for people who don’t like multiplayer, but they must now pay extra money just to have the ability to potentially unlock the platinum trophy for a game that is known almost entirely for its single player campaign.
The simplest solution would be for Sony to mandate that all games with both a single player and multiplayer mode, whether they are from PlayStation Studios or third party, must separate the multiplayer trophies from single player ones. It’s actually not uncommon for a single game to have different sets of trophies, as downloadable content usually comes with its own trophies rather than adding to the trophy list of the base game. Multiplayer games could simply ship with this separation in place from the start, and maybe even include a second platinum for the multiplayer mode alone. This kind of feature may actually be coming, as Sony has already spoken about how consumers will have the option to download only single player or only multiplayer content of a particular title onto their console if they so choose. This is likely a memory-saving feature to allow for more space on the console’s solid state drive, but it does indicate that Sony is aware of the difference in priority between single player gamers and multiplayer gamers. Hopefully that awareness will extend to the trophy system as well.
With digital game purchases on the rise, the further refinement of streaming technology, and even platform holders like Sony and Microsoft putting their first party titles on PC, the next generation of video game consoles may in fact be the last. While Sony is still likely to release a product called the PlayStation 6 sometime within the next ten years, the PlayStation 5 may be the company’s last traditional console, and as such, it should place a special emphasis on the legacy of the brand. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, such as through the revival of long dormant franchises or through legacy backwards compatibility. There are many gamers who grew up on the PlayStation 1 and 2, and who perhaps fell out of gaming during the PlayStation 3 and 4 era, that are now adults with young children of their own with whom they want to share their childhood games. The launch of the PlayStation 5 would be the perfect time to capitalize on this market, as older millennial gamers with misty-eyed memories of the good old days are primed and ready for a shot of nostalgia to the heart.
Focusing on the past should not be done at the expense of creating new franchises, but there is no denying that the recent string of remakes of popular PlayStation 1 and 2 games is a strong indicator of what the audience wants. People seem to really love the Final Fantasy VII Remake, so why not bring back the Legend of Dragoon or Wild Arms? Everyone is hyped for the Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 + 2 Remakes, so why not bring back Cool Boarders or Jet Moto? Call of Duty Warzone seems to be a hit, so why not bring back SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals? Tetris 99 came out of nowhere and people loved it, so how about a new Lumines or Fantavision game packed in free with every PS5? Or what about rebooting long dead, but cult classic franchises like The Getaway or Primal?
Even if Sony isn’t willing to spend money on reviving some significant number of their old franchises, giving players the option of backwards compatibility would go a long way. It’s already been revealed that PS4 games will work on the PS5, but the mostly credible insider known as HipHopGamer has gone on record saying that the PS5 will feature full, enhanced backwards compatibility with all legacy consoles as well. In addition to this, we did see a few patents leak online a year or so ago that would indicate that Sony was seriously pursuing legacy content on the PS5. Will this be done through remasters? By putting legacy content on PlayStation Now? By allowing for some or all PlayStation 1, 2, and 3 discs to run on the PS5 console directly? We’ll just have to wait and see. The possibilities really are endless for Sony to capitalize on their legacy catalog, and there has never been a better time to get the gang back together again.
What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts!
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