More Of the PlayStation Experience Is Happening Outside the PlayStation

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So I own a PS4 now. I finally accepted that it had enough exclusives both already on store shelves and upcoming that you can’t get on PC, for me to justify buying one. As soon as I got into the startup process of downloading updates and bringing in my PlayStation Network profile I started to notice something interesting: I immediately began using less and less of PlayStation’s social and connectivity functionality on the console itself. I don’t know if that’s good or bad for the console and PSN.

I don’t know if it’s just a problem with my PS4’s internet connection (I heard others complain about this), but the initial 300MB firmware update was going to take an hour, which I knew was slow for even my pedestrian internet connection. Luckily Sony keeps its latest firmware updates on PlayStation.com, and through my browser on my PC I was able to download the same update in a couple minutes and install it through USB.

Later that night when I wanted to check out some demos and other free things from the PlayStation Store, after realizing a patch for the first game I inserted would take five hours, and after I’d heard the PS4 actually throttles downloads unless it’s in rest mode, I put the PS4 to sleep and simply started some downloads through my browser. Later I did the same thing from the PlayStation app on my phone. The next time I turned the PS4 on it was just to immediately play the things that had finished downloading.

To me this is kind of profound because the big deal with the PS3 and Xbox 360 is that they turned game consoles from being boxes that play games into being entire experiences that included social networks and storefronts. You didn’t just slam the game in and turn the console on anymore: you chatted with friends or bought something. That should be more true than ever with the successors to those consoles, but what I’m seeing with the PS4 at least is that everything that doesn’t immediately have to do with playing a game is being moved to devices that are more readily available and accessible, the same devices that sort of have consoles under threat — PCs and mobile devices.

Of course you can still do all those things on the console, but to me at least that actually feels less convenient. Download speeds aren’t the only reason either. I think the major reason is because the currently accepted control interface for consoles is only conducive to playing console games. PCs and mobile devices have interfaces for doing general computing and media consumption first and playing games second. That’s why engaging with social networks or marketplaces is easier on them. A directional pad and four face buttons still feels pretty limiting compared to a mouse, keyboard, or touchscreen for those tasks.

To this day, people struggle to design good general-use input devices for sitting in front of a TV screen. Apple took a while to come up with the Apple TV remote, and even it relies a lot on voice commands. It’s why Microsoft spent so much energy on Kinect — having the users’ voice, face, and hands be the inputs. Maybe the Wii Remote was on the right track, but everyone got caught up with motion controls and ignored the IR pointer which I think had a lot of untapped potential.

Maybe this situation is just fine however for people who always wanted game consoles to go back to just being boxes that played games. Let all the actual general-purpose devices handle the non-gaming tasks related to the console. The console manufacturers want their products to become platforms, and it’s just natural for the box to become merely another component in those platforms.

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