The PS4 launch was a huge success. Forget what you’ve heard. You’ve probably read on tech blogs that it was too long. They showed too many demos. Worst of all, they never showed the actual PlayStation hardware. How could they have a PlayStation launch without showing the hardware? If a PlayStation launches in the woods and there is no hardware, does anyone hear it?
Of course. First, let me tackle that last and most ridiculous point. It’s not a PlayStation launch if they didn’t show the hardware, right? No, that’s completely wrong. What is the hardware? It’s a box with a gaming computer inside and a bunch of ports on the outside. It should look reasonably attractive sitting underneath my television, but if it doesn’t I’ll just hide it behind something else, like my Xbox. It should be slim enough to fit in my cabinet, but my receiver is pretty big, so I don’t mind a little heft. Since the Xbox 360, design has become more important, as gamers realized they could have a console that wouldn’t offend the sensibilities of non-gaming spouses; but if this is a priority for you, you’ve gotten your priorities screwed up.
You know what I really want from my PlayStation box? I want it to play really freaking awesome games for the next 6 years. Every time I turn it on, I will spend exactly 5 seconds looking at the box and 30 minutes to 8 hours looking at the content it blasts onto my TV screen. If the box protrudes hairy tentacles and screams obscenities at me every time I turn it on, I can live with that if the games are good. If the ports are covered with Man-O-War tentacles that sting me every time I plug in a controller, I’ll buy some ointment and keep playing. If reaching into the box is worse than pushing my arm into the foul and stinking moist womb of Beelzebub’s mother, who the heck cares if it plays games that make me forget the horrors of my life and the cruelty of my own impending mortality for more than 15 minutes!?
If you care so much about the box, you are the problem with the games industry: style over substance.
For disclosure sake, my day job is with Samsung Mobile, so I know a thing or two about launches. As a former tech journalist, I covered Apple events and Nokia events, so I’ve seen the best and worst a launch event can be. But launching a phone is very different. The problem is that the tech press has grown accustomed to fast-paced phone launches. Every 4 weeks the coolest phone you’ve ever seen hits the market. The tech press is spoiled. They want cool hardware design, which is much more important with a phone. They want a full explanation of the device in 30 minutes or less. They want to leave the press room and walk into a store to buy it (or at least walk into their Brooklyn apartment to review a sample unit).
That doesn’t just mean that our press is jaded. That means you don’t have to say as much with each phone launch. You don’t have to detail every feature. You can build on what the audience already knows. You can highlight the new and confirm the old.
A phone is a very personal device. You will touch and caress it for the next two years. You will tell it your secrets, share your relationship photos, and stick it in your pants. When you buy it, you expect to know much of what it can already do.
Sony is not selling you the hardware. You need the hardware to play the games, but for the first year or so, Sony will lose money on the hardware. A lot of money; maybe a couple hundred dollars per console. Where do they make their money? Games. The money comes from the games they make internally and the licenses they sell to EA, Ubisoft, Blizzard and others.
"The box is a necessary evil to get you to buy the game"
So, when Sony hosts a launch event, they aren’t selling you on the box hardware. The box is a necessary evil to get you to buy and play the game. If you only bought the box and watched Netflix and never played any games, Sony’s PlayStation division would be out of business in this generation.
Games are a hard sell, especially when they cost $60 a piece, brand new. They cost as much to make as a Hollywood blockbuster, and like a hot movie they make most of their money in the first week they are available. What’s worse, the movie producers make a ton of money months later when the movie goes to DVD, but game producers don’t see that kind of profit. Why should Sony ever support used games with the economics of the gaming market already tilted so heavily against them?
At a PlayStation launch event, Sony needs to prove that a 20-60 hour game on unproven hardware is worth 4 to 6 times the price of a movie ticket. How can you possibly fault them for showing 2 hours of game previews? Sure, the jaded press in the audience will get bored, but diehard fans will pore over those previews for 7 months until the console is in stores.
Go ahead, Sony, be proud of your launch event and ignore the critics. Every one of them is a fan. They all lusted over at least one of those games, and lamented the beloved titles you didn’t show, but probably will at another 2-hour event at E3. The same press will complain again there, because it’s their job to by cynical; but they’ll be first in line to buy one. In the end, it’s not about the event, or the box. It’s all about the games.
But seriously, Sony, enough with the updates. Just let me play the game and forget that the rest of it – the box, the controller, the world – exists, even if it’s only for 30 minutes.