The Next PlayStation: 5 Lessons I Hope Sony’s Learned

With the next PlayStation reportedly on the way, let's look at some of the things I suspect we'd all agree Sony needs to do better this time around.

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From wishful thinking to shockingly sudden all-but-certainty, Sony‘s next game system may be here at last (I’ll try to avoid calling it things Sony hasn’t, like “PlayStation 4” or “Orbis”), apparently head-faking Microsoft to debut earlier than expected at what’ll no doubt be a media circus in New York (and online) come Feb. 20.

The event invite cleared my inbox last night accompanied by, well, see for yourself in Sony’s slick dubstep tease above. Sony labeled the event “PlayStation Meeting,” which is sort of like calling E3 “L.A. Occurrence,” but, well, marketing.

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At this point, your guess would have been as good as mine: probably the next PlayThing, because what else is Sony going to hype for three weeks and drag folks to from all corners of the earth? Still, I could have flown around the room on a broomstick: a PlayStation VitaPad, a PlayStation Phone (pPhone!), or heck, even Sony’s answer to Google‘s Project Glass (Sony GlassStation!).

But no, the Wall Street Journal went and spoiled the fun by claiming that, yes indeed, Sony’s going to give us a peek at its next games console and ship the thing later this year, probably around the holidays. I consider that slightly more plausible than hearsay since it’s the Journal, but bear in mind it’s still a claim based on unidentified sources (the Journal pulls the phrase “people familiar with the matter” off the shelf at least four times).

No surprise, the story’s taken off like a guy air-riding a horse, prompting a bunch of people to throw odd notions at the wall based on even sketchier sourcing. Instead of regaling you with tales of mystical multi-core processors pulling contextually meaningless speeds, why don’t we look back at some of the things I suspect we’d all agree Sony needs to do better the next time around.

Don’t launch at $500-$600. I still can’t imagine what Sony was thinking in 2006 (well, beyond “we can barely afford to build this franken-thing!”). Yes, everyone loved the PlayStation 2, and no, not enough to spend that kind of money on the PlayStation 3. No, I don’t know what the company ought to sell a new game console for, but I’ll refer you down the aisle to the Wii U: currently struggling at $300-$350. If Sony launches higher (and doesn’t include something like a free iPad), especially in a weak economy, it may find it’s looking for dance partners all over again.

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The new PlayStation Network (or whatever Sony rebrands it) needs to be seamless. None of this irritating “synchronizing trophies” business, waiting ages for features like background downloads or “cross-voice game chat is really coming!” except it’s really not. Also, while my lizard brain still sort of responds to the nerdy elegance of the PlayStation 3’s XrossMediaBar, after all these years there’s just something warmer and friendlier about Xbox LIVE. I have a roughly equal number of friends in both ecosystems, so it’s not that; I’ve just come to prefer navigating TV environments that feel a little less clinical. (The Journal says Sony’s new system is more social media-driven, so unless Sony’s launching a standalone answer to Facebook, I expect we’ll see the interface sporting newfangled riffs on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Google+/etc. integration.)

Resist the urge to go all three-ring-circus on us. Sitting through Sony/Microsoft pressers sometimes feels like watching Tim Meadows and Will Ferrell squeeze bottles of Cookie Dough Sport over their heads. Spare us the strobe lights and sizzle reels and maybe just level with us like we’re adults and not a bunch of Red Bull-amped teenage boys at a Lady Gaga concert.

Don’t make it all about the graphics. I mean sure, we all like pretty games, but 5x, 10x, 100x the PS3’s oomph…it’s now all kind of abstract and pointless given how sophisticated games already look today. I want to know what those extra cycles are going to do for me gameplay-wise, and I don’t mean visually, e.g. better “god-rays” or “subsurface scattering” or a gazillion bendable blades of grass. Can this thing sustain an artificially intelligent being that’d pass a Turing Test? And can you work that into a game that’s actually fun to play?

Don’t be the last kid to the party. Hello, stuff like Grand Theft Auto IV and Skyrim DLC. Microsoft scored coup after coup this round in terms of timed exclusive or outright exclusive content. And yes, I’m sure it cost the company a pretty penny, but gamers are going to go where the games they want to play live. If their sense is that’s not Sony, well, it’s not rocket science. And some of the dropped balls this round were doozies: Skyrim‘s one of the bestselling games of all time and it’s been out since November 2011. Bethesda just announced today that PS3 users can finally get their hands on the downloadable content in a few weeks, whereas Xbox 360 users have had at it for months.

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