PlayStation 4 - Thoughts on the next generation

I am a few days later to this conversation than a lot of places. Why? Because I usually do not speculate on things like teasers about specific dates that have no information behind them. It is way too easy to get your hopes up only to be disappointed if the topic is in fact completely different than what you expected it to be.

I have also in the past stated that I think it is too early for the next generation in gaming. Maybe not by a lot, but I am strongly opposed to the notion of five years for console life (a stance Ubisoft and other developers have taken of late).

Thing is - whether I think this is the right time for the next generation of consoles, the fact is simply this:

They are nearly here.

You could argue that the Wii U is already here and part of that crowd. Plenty of others have said the Wii U is a half measure between the last console generation and the next. I do not agree with that assessment personally. I consider it a kin of the PS4/Xbox 720. I have no specific issues with the Wii U and suspect eventually I will have one - but like the Wii it will probably be later in the cycle because while I love the first party games, little else about the console REALLY excites me at this stage.

This leaves me to ponder what my first console from this generation will be - and my guess is either the Xbox or PlayStation. Which one? Based on this last console cycle, probably the PlayStation. I have detailed in the past how the PlayStation 3 is easily our most used system. Still, we have almost no information on the upcoming systems. Plenty of rumors, mind you. Will the DualShock Controller go away for the PS4? Will either system come up with a system that prevents playing used games? When will they release? All fair questions, but not the ones I am most interested in (well, maybe the used game one).

So what am I hoping to learn about the next consoles? A lot of things, but my interest is far less about the hardware and more about the strategies around them.

- Exclusives: What exclusives will we be seeing? This generation pitted Nintendo's big hitters (Mario, Zelda, Kirby) against Sony's bigger titles (God of War, Uncharted, LittleBig Planet, Infamous) and the Microsoft exclusives (Gears of War and Halo are most commonly touted here). All of these games will get things like Batman, Call of Duty or Mass Effect - so what are the unique titles each brings to the table?

- Online strategy: This to me comes in a few different flavors, and it sounds like Sony plans to make online integration a focal part of their approach. What does that mean though? Showing trophies on Facebook or posting a Madden score on Twitter is nifty - it's never been compelling. Things that people will want to know about:

* Is it free to play online? Microsoft makes a boatload of money off of Xbox Live Gold, but that is a deal breaker to a lot of people - and it is a huge point of concern with me. I don't want to spend $100 a year so my whole family can play games online

* I cannot mention Xbox Live without at least touching on PlayStation Plus, which by all accounts seems fairly successful. Will the program continue?

* Trophies/Achievements: Nintendo appears to have turned their nose up at these for the Wii U, but these are undoubtedly important to a lot of gamers. I recall seeing comments on IGN about Corpse Party 2: Book of Shadows - and quite a few posters were of the opinion that because it was PSP and did not have trophy support, they were going to pass on it for an actual Vita game. Trophies/Achievements also bring up another question - will our current scores carry over to this new generation of systems?

* What does the chat system look like? That was a big sticking point for social gamers when comparing cross-game chat functionality on the 360 to what PlayStation users had.

- Related, but worth its own topic: What does the digital strategy look like? There was a big push near the end of this gaming cycle toward Digitally Downloaded games (and yes, that was a quick plug for another site I write at). Will we see more of that and if so, what are the implications? I have two 120GB PlayStation 3's that are perpetually maxed out on digital space. I have a 32GB Vita memory card that after two weeks is more than 75% full. I have a 3DS with an 8GB card that is full.

* Will the hard drives be large enough to handle what will likely be even larger games than this generation saw?

* Will people run into issues with their ISPs because of bandwidth usage (a frequent problem for myself and quite a few friends and coworkers)

* Will digital games be priced competitively? What I mean by that is Fire Emblem is releasing this week on the Nintendo 3DS. It is the same price digitally as it is if I run down to Walmart and take an extra 10 minutes out of my day. Why? The publishers save money - there are no shipping and packaging costs. I get less value as a consumer because it uses up my already flagging storage space and I can't sell, trade or loan it when I am done with it.

- Integration: I do not mean social integration - I already touched on that. The PlayStation 3 provided excellent integration with the Vita, both of them leveraging the PlayStation Network and trophy system. With the Vita being new and shiny with an expected life of several years, will it be taken into consideration with the PlayStation 4? What about the Wii U and 3DS going forward? We have heard some talk about Smash Brothers tying the two systems together - will that be something we see more of as Sony and Nintendo try to leverage their brands by meshing the console and handheld experiences together? If this does become a successful and important strategy, where does that leave Microsoft? Probably continuing to grow into more integration with PC's and the Xbox, if I were to make a guess.

- Price: This is no small factor. Most people feel the Wii U was pretty reasonably priced, and Nintendo has just reaffirmed their stance that they will not be marking down the Wii U's price any further in the near future. This last generation Sony really hurt themselves by having hardware that was so expensive to manufacture that the PlayStation 3 was out of most peoples' price ranges its first few years on the market. Also, what will games be priced? No one has indicated if gaming will be nudging up another $10 or not, but I would not be surprised if that was the case. Games have never been cheap, but they do seem to steadily get more expensive.

- Backwards compatibility/classic titles: Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft all had shops with older titles available for download and play this generation. I could play classics like Final Fantasy VII on my PlayStation 3, Double Dragon on my Xbox 360 and Final Fantasy on my Wii. I could not however, put a PlayStation 2 disc into my PlayStation 3 and play it. I could put most, but not all of my Xbox titles into my 360. My Wii was a flawless GameCube player. This does provide value for people - but already the rumors speculate that neither the PlayStation or Xbox will support backwards compatibility. The Wii U does play its predecessor's games, but Nintendo's shop strategy has not sat well with a lot of gamers so far. It will be interesting to see where Sony and Microsoft take things.

I am a gamer - and I am excited about these next consoles even if I am not sure I was ready for them (at least fiscally). These are the questions I will be considering as I listen to announcements over the next several months. Sony has teased February 20th as a big announcement date - and most people are speculation that we will get our first tangible information about the PlayStation 4. That would be amazing - but I wonder how many of my above questions will get answered? My guess is - not many at this point.

Are you excited for the announcement? Is there a particular system you are attached to and looking forward to? What questions do you have - are any of the above ones you share with me? Are any of your questions deal breakers or console sellers? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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