It's tough out there for game consoles.
At the end of January, Nintendo lowered sales forecasts for the Wii U from 5.5 million to 4 million through March. The problems are many: Today's consoles are expensive, with launch prices sandwiched somewhere between $300 and $500. Secondly, it's easier than ever to access games from the gadgets we already use everyday. Computer games? Not going anywhere. Neither are 99 cent downloads for Angry Birds or Temple Run. If we can play great games on the devices we already have, why do we need gaming consoles? It's not an easy question to answer.
That's why a lot of folks are keeping a close eye on Sony's big unveiling for what's probably going to be the PlayStation 4 (or the "Orbis"), which is slated for a Wednesday night debut in New York City. Will it inspire intrepid consumers to camp outside Best Buy like the PlayStation 3 did in 2006? (A year before the first iPhone came out, I might add.) We'll find out soon enough.
In the meantime, here are four features we'd like to see:
Various reports suggest the PS4 will still have a physical drive, just like its PS3 and PS2 ancestors. Sony, however, acquired cloud-based gaming company Gaikai for a reported $380 million last year, suggesting that streaming games à la Netflix is pretty much guaranteed. While processor-hogging blockbusters like Call of Duty: Black Ops Twenty Million will likely come via a disc or a huge overnight download, streaming titles could help give indie game developers a real chance to shine in front of curious gamers. The critical success of titles like Journey seems to indicate that the PlayStation Network has a real opportunity to court cool, third-party indie developers. And it might even help court a certain kind of gamer important to my next point...
2. A crystal-clear identity
One of the main complaints critics sling at the Wii U is that the console doesn't know who it's for, mainly due to its big, do-everything Touchpad. Is the Touchpad a gimmick? Is it for non-gamers who loved the Wii? Bored teenagers content to play Smash Brothers for 10 hours a day? "Everyone in the family?" If the PlayStation 4 is going to succeed, it'll need to clearly identify its target audience(s). First-person shooter fans, obviously. But then who else? Sony has had seven years to think about this.
3. Voice and motion controls
Microsoft bet big on the Xbox 360's Kinect, and it paid off big. But what truly makes the Kinect leaps and bounds better than the PS Move or Eye isn't that it opens up a new world of dancing games (although that's part of it). By shucking the traditional controller when it isn't needed, Microsoft transformed a humble gaming system into a futuristic media center commanded by voice and gestures. No missing remotes. No getting up from the couch. No navigating menus with a D-pad. It's brilliant, and takes advantage of Newton's first law of motion: We're supremely lazy beings and hate moving. At the very, very least, the next-gen PlayStation will need to do the same.
4. A consistent controller
The wireless DualShock 3 is one of the best controllers ever. In fact, I'd argue that it's second only to Super Nintendo's in terms of comfort and tactility. Leaked reports, however, suggest the new controller will have touchscreen capabilities, and will have a bit more heft under your thumb flesh, kind of like the Xbox's. With the Wii U, Nintendo made the mistake of designing a controller that tried to do too much. Let's hope Sony stays true to the spirit of the DualShock and doesn't stray too far.