When Kotaku dropped its PlayStation 4/Orbis rumor bombshell, it immediately got the gaming sphere talking. With few technical specifics but plenty of conjecture on the features, enhancements and limitations of Sony’s next console, what PlayStation 4 could be quickly drew out plenty of opinions on the future the Orbis rumor illustrates.
In short, if the PlayStation 4 is shaping up exactly how the rumor paints it — and it remains to be seen if it actually is — what are the implications? What could Sony’s approach indicate about the company’s desire to grow, get back in the black and stave off competition? Sony won’t talk to IGN about Orbis other than to give us its much-used “we don’t comment on rumors and speculation” line, leaving us to wonder, deliberate and draw some conclusions of our own.
As you begin to peel away at the layers of the rumor, the first piece of information you encounter is the codename of the device itself. It’s virtually impossible to believe that Sony wouldn’t call its next console PlayStation 4 — in fact, you can bank on that being the name — but does its codename tell us something about Sony’s ubiquitous approach that began with tying PlayStation 3 together with PlayStation Vita?
In Latin, “orbis” means “circle” or “orb” (amongst other interpretations, ranging from “orbit” to “coil”). Vita is also a Latin word with a more straight-forward meaning: “life”. Kotaku points out the “circle of life” meaning that putting the words Orbis and Vita together gives rise to, and there may be something to that. PS3 and Vita are being drawn together as partnered devices, so it’s tantalizing to imagine the potential power of PS4 and Vita.
Assuming the next console will indeed be called PlayStation 4, is its internal codename designed to inspire a feeling of ubiquity, of one being absolutely integral to the other? In business terms, making PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita speak to each other intimately could be a big boon or a big bust. Make the duo irresistible to gamers, and they’ll pick both up in droves and give Sony a much-needed infusion of capital. Fail to convince consumers that both are needed — or worse yet, give them exorbitant prices — and Sony could be in trouble.
Another interesting piece of the rumor is that Sony is seeking to end, once and for all, backwards compatibility. It’s truly strange how a precedent Sony itself popularized with the PlayStation 2 has slowly come back to bite the company where it hurts most: the wallet. While PlayStation 2 could play PlayStation games, and PlayStation 3 could initially play PlayStation 2 games (and now only PlayStation titles), PlayStation 4 is rumored not to accept anything but what’s specifically made for it.
There are two basic arguments to be made here. One revolves around players that simply want to be able to play previous generations’ games they already own in new systems. But this argument holds no water at all. If you want to play those games, put them in the systems they were designed for. That’s an easy solution.
The second, much more interesting argument provides a true conundrum, however. Gamers can get bang for their buck by trading in PlayStation 3 for PlayStation 4. But this simply won’t be possible for those who want access to their old games if PS4 indeed doesn’t play PS3 offerings. In essence, this could have a detrimental effect on early adoption of PlayStation 4, a true point of irony for Sony as it tries to balance the two sides.
Of course, why Sony would accept this risk and make a move like this is blatantly obvious. Think about it this way. On PlayStation Network, you have your PSN games, a smattering of retail titles and PSone Classics. By eliminating the PlayStation 3’s ability to play PS2 games, Sony gave rise to the still-fledgling PS2 Classics market by narrowing your ability to easily play those games on its current generation offering. Sony clearly intends on going all the way with this movement, if this particular part of the rumor is true, by bringing a gigantic catalog of past consoles’ offerings for PlayStation 4 that can only be experienced on that console via PSN. (And of course, this likely only affects physical games. It’s reasonable to expect that PSN games tethered to your account will be carried over to PS4.)
Regardless of the anti-consumer angle such a decision could give rise to, Sony would be foolish to ignore this money-making opportunity, especially because a vast majority of PS4 adopters wouldn’t be perturbed. Sony can simply state the obvious: are you buying a PlayStation 4 to play PS4 games or are you buying a PlayStation 4 to play PS3 games? If you’re doing the latter, why buy it at all?
Finally, the biggest crux of the rumor rapidly approaches. Much like rumors surrounding Xbox 360’s successor, Codename Orbis may employ its own version of a used game lock that forces players to purchase and play only new games. Doing something like this has its own obvious business-side implications, but it’s also a huge gambit that could easily backfire on Sony should it choose to explore this route.
The fact is, the oldest platform in the industry — the PC — already has its own form of the used game lock, and it has for a very, very long time. When you buy a physical copy of a PC game, you’re really buying the one-time use code it comes with. Likewise, when you purchase games digitally — whether on Steam, PSN, XBLA or on your smartphone or tablet — they’re tethered to a username. You can’t wantonly circulate those games at will. That reality will soon overtake the entire industry.
With that said, there’s a way to soften the blow as the inevitable slowly rises on the horizon. Eliminating used games with physical media still circulating probably won’t work, even if it makes perfect business sense at a glance. The fact that Sony may be especially enamored by making big bucks in publishing is the natural result of owning so many studios and publishing so many games, but the real question is if Sony would be wise in making this plunge.
If this particular part of the rumor is true, Sony would be wise to reconsider. Letting the masses have their used games would destroy a talking point that could be leveled against Sony’s next offering, especially because the argument will be completely and totally for naught when physical games go the way of the dodo in the near future. There’s no reason to fight this battle when, one way or the other, the battle’s already won. It just requires a level of patience, and it remains to be seen if Sony’s willing to play the long game.
At the end of the day, through the lens of there being some truth to the rumors, Sony’s next console illustrates a future where the company wants to create a financially solvent situation for itself. The interpretations of decisions being made points in the same direction, whether it’s selling a console tied to a handheld and vice-versa, squashing backwards compatibility with a finger pointed towards the PlayStation Network, or killing the retailer middle-man in taking the fight to the used games market. It’s just a matter of whether battling on all of these fronts would be a wise decision, especially since time will eventually solve one, if not two of these problems for them.
With all of these implications creating a maelstrom around Orbis — and perhaps the next generation of consoles as a whole — it’s no wonder Kotaku’s rumor got so many people talking. And we want the conversation to continue, so feel free to sound-off in the comments below with your own thoughts, concerns and feelings about the future painted by the could-be PlayStation 4.