Last week Sony officially kicked off the next generation of consoles by announcing its plans for the PlayStation 4. And as I sat inside the Hammerstein and listened as Andrew House opened up the press event and serenaded his audience with buzz words about the next generation of PlayStation, I couldn’t help but to think that it was more of the same press conference banter that we’ve all become accustomed with. But when lead system architect Mark Cerny took to the stage and gave us all something more substantial, in terms of specs, I was all ears. Once the words “supercharged PC” left his lips, I was sold.
I think that a lot of people, both in the media and regular folks, overlooked why the talk of specs, followed by a full specifications press release, was so significant to the consoles announcement. Sure, the early adopters want to know why they’re picking up the console at launch. And also it doesn’t hurt that smack talking about a system’s specs has any fanboy’s blood pumping. But honestly, it’s bigger than all of that.
You see, Sony, and for the most part all other console makers rarely, if ever, announce specifications this early before a console is to be released. Just for comparison’s sake, the innards that power Nintendo’s Wii U (which was released almost 4 months ago) weren’t completely figured out until a couple of weeks ago, and that was following a physical tear down and dissection of the machine. Exact specifications wasn’t information that Nintendo willingly coughed up. Previously, Sony followed a similar path — being for the most part mysterious when announcing their cell processor from the PS3 in 2006 and emotion engine from the PS2 in 2000. Both times they announced how “amazing” these chips were, yet there was no tangible data (at least, at first) as to why. We simply had to take Sony’s word for it and wait for developers to show us the goods.
By coming out of the gate this early, and clearly identifying exactly what will power the next generation of PlayStation, it’s as if Sony is saying “Can’t get a development kit from us yet? well, here’s what you’ll need to make your own.” That move, while it may seem subtle, will be paramount to the growth of PSN and the independent titles available on the platform. Although the exact components may not be readily available at your local PC supply store, Sony is clearly setting the baseline of what’s to be expected. And as Sony continues to put its weight behind independent developers who seem get nowhere on XBOX Live, it only makes the PlayStation 4 (and developing for it) that much more appealing.
If you needed evidence to back up the claim that Sony is going all in, you need to look no further than their invitation of Jonathan Blow as a presenter. Some would argue that due the success of his previous title, Blow isn’t considered indie anymore, yet he is still a prominent face in the indie community. And the fact that they invited him to their first party press conference — where they announced a new console — is very much a big deal. Some may argue that Sony was simply covering their bases (shooter, racer, platformer, etc), but if that was their intent, why didn’t they bother showing a sports title? They went indie for a reason. And solidified it by releasing the specs right after.
I really don’t think it can be made any clearer. The message that Sony is sending by releasing its PlayStation 4 specifications so early is a simple one: here’s what’s in the box. It’s similar to what you’re working with now. It’s nothing you can’t build on your own. Now go make some games.
February 20th was as important for developers (especially the independent ones) as it was for the rest of us. And this is one of the reasons why releasing the system’s specifications so early easily places Sony in the (developer) driver seat for the next generation.