The PlayStation 3 humbled Sony. Coming off of two of the most successful consoles of all time in the first and second PlayStation’s, Sony’s hubris caused them to launch an expensive, hard to develop for console that started its life with a controller that had no force feedback.
The PlayStation 3 was by no means a failure, launching franchises like Infamous, Uncharted and The Last of Us, but Sony spent the entirety of the last generation playing catch up to Microsoft’s Xbox 360. When it came to launching the PlayStation 4, things had to be different.
The start of this console generation in many ways felt like an inverse of how the last one started. Microsoft, hot off of the success of the Xbox 360 announced their Xbox One at an unattractive price – due in part to the mandatory inclusion of the Kinect motion sensor that is now all but forgotten – and unpopular online features that meant that made it difficult to resell software or even borrow it from a friend. Sony was quick to capitalize on these missteps from Microsoft with the PlayStation 4, already a much easier to develop for console, coming in at $100 less and with attack ads reminiscent of the SNES/Sega Genesis days that showed how easy it was to share games through a video where ex-Sony employee Adam Boyes simply hands a game to Shuhei Yoshida.
Microsoft got an advantage over Sony in the last generation not only be launching a year early, but by also having generation defining, first party software like Gears of War, Halo 3 and the original Mass Effect. They combined this with timed exclusives for the most popular third party franchises – like Activision’s Call of Duty – that made people choose Xbox over PlayStation because that’s where their friends and the player base migrated. This generation was slow to start with major first-party hits from both Microsoft and Sony not really hitting in any meaningful way until 2015 and third-part developed titles still coming to the Xbox 360 an the PlayStation 3, making players cautious to buy into the new generation of consoles. While their big first-party hits were still in development, Sony would make sure the PlayStation brand would become synonymous with the most popular third-party hits, locking down exclusive content for new franchises like Destiny, as well as already established IP like Call of Duty such that the PlayStation 4 would be to players this generation what the Xbox 360 was to the last.
When the games that were developed from the ground-up for this generation of consoles hit, it was the PlayStation 4 that grab all the headlines with exclusive titles like Bloodborne, a game developed by From Software who were responsible for the tough-as-nails but still highly popular Dark Souls series of games. This would be followed by the likes of The Last Guardian, a long in development title from the team that made Ico and Shadow of the Colossus that was once set to launch for the PlayStation 3, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, a remake of the original Ratchet and Clank from Insomniac Games and Horizon: Zero Dawn, a surprising open-world action game from Guerilla Games who were traditionally associated with the more linear, Sony exclusive Killzone first-person shooter series. This year alone has seen two Game of the Year nominated titles alone: God of War (2018), a bold reimaging of the series that started on the PlayStation 2 from the director of the series’ second installment, Cory Barlog, and Marvel’s Spider-Man, the first ever first-party Marvel Comics game developed by Insomniac.
Sony has been no stranger to making revisions of their hardware. All of their PlayStation devices had at least one revision during their life-cycle and this would continue with the PlayStation 4, but not as it once was. A slimmer, cheaper version of the PlayStation 4 was released – following in the trend of other PlayStation consoles – but along with it was a more powerful upgrade dubbed the PlayStation 4 Pro. While every piece of PlayStation 4 software can be played on all types of PS4’s, those who invested into the Pro model can gain access to enhancements in performance other visual upgrades, marking the first console generation where there was such a divide in performance among console SKU’s.
Additionally Sony launched the most consumer friendly virtual reality headset this generation in 2016 with the release of the PS VR. Though it’s far from the most powerful VR headset on the market in terms of its specs, the PS VR has sold a respectable amount by coming in a lower price point compared to its competitors and only requiring the PlayStation 4 console to power it as opposed to a top-of-the-line PC. The library of software available for the PS VR is not as robust as what it is for PS4 proper, however titles like 2017’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and the recently released Tetris Effect have shown just how immersive virtual reality can be, even on the lower end.
What helped players kill the time between software droughts in the early days of the PlayStation 2 and 3 was the ability to go back and play games from previous consoles which is something that has sorely been missing from the PlayStation 4 as it has no backwards compatibility with any other PlayStation console to speak of. The PlayStation 4 has been home to some high-quality remakes like this year’s Shadow of the Colossus and remasters of games like The Last of Us, however the ability to simply put in a disc from an older console has been disappointing. You also have to take into consideration not just disc based games, but digital purchases as well. The PlayStation 3 had a respectable catalog of original PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games to buy, none of which carry over to the PS4 despite the fact that you can buy some PS2 games in its digital store. Sony’s alternative to this, the subscription based streaming service PS Now allows you to play legacy software and even just added the ability to download games instead of stream them, but is nowhere near as attractive as what Microsoft has been doing with the Xbox One which is constantly having software from both the Xbox original and 360 added to a growing list of backwards compatible games.
The PlayStation 4 with its huge install base has been the go to console for those looking for a large community of players to play online against this generation, however Sony has been getting heat from both the press and players recently over the inability to play online games against those on other consoles. One of biggest hits on any platform in recent years is the free-to-play, battle royale title Fortnite, a title that allows players across the PC, mobile, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch to play against one another, but not PlayStation 4, until recently this is. This was added mostly because of a problem with Fortnite when the Nintendo Switch port was released this year and players who had played on the PS4 couldn’t access their account on the Switch which angered many, including the likes of Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller. Sony has been slow to change this closed ecosystem policy compared to other platform holders, however they’re becoming more open to it after growing frustration from third-party developers who have to make special considerations when making their games run on the PlayStation 4.
2018 has been a great year for the PlayStation 4 with the console selling millions due in large part to critically acclaimed, first-party published software and this trend is looking to continue into 2019 with large profile releases set to come like Days Gone, The Last of Us Part II and the Hideo Kojima directed Death Stranding. Looking beyond to the next itieration of the PlayStation, things look much more unclear. The PlayStation 5 is known to be in the works, but Sony is oddly quite about it compared to Microsoft who is boasting about their next console which will integrate cloud computing to allow players to play Xbox games on multiple devices, not just a dedicated console. Recently Sony announced that they won’t be showcasing at E3 in 2019, a first for the company in twenty-five years, leading many to wonder just what secrets the company is holding, both good and ill.
Whatever the future holds for Sony and the PlayStation brand, the PlayStation 4 has been a return to form after the stumbles of the last generation’s PlayStation 3. The inability to play legacy software has been a sticking point, however it’s tough to find the time to go back and play classic games with the amount of stellar software coming to the console at any given time, bolstered by arguably some of the best first-party games ever produced for a console.