In February 2018, we finally hit the five-year anniversary of when Sony unveiled the PlayStation 4. It’s been a wild ride for sure, with the entire games space taking on a whole mess of changes since then. In that time we’ve seen the turbulent life of the Xbox One, the disappointing fizzle of the Wii U, the smash success of the Switch and all kinds of crazy stuff happening in the PC space. But the PS4 feels like more than just one of the consoles. It feels like the tip of the spear, the benchmark of what was happening, especially in console gaming. But it isn’t without its problems either, and we will also be able to look back on the PS4 to extract data on what wasn’t so great.
You may not remember, but up until the PS4 actually launched, people were ready to give up on console gaming altogether. Or, at least they seemed like they were. Mobile gaming was ultra hot, with several games practically printing money and several more attempting to chase that same Holy Grail. The last generation was also gasping for air underneath the pressure of a recession economy, therefore making it last for a bizarrely long time in contrast to history. AAA games really started to annualize here, and while downloadable indie games also boomed, less and less larger studios took any risks. Big games got safer, studios started closing left and right, and the “b-tier” game all but disappeared.
But the PS4 came out, and it did so at the perfect time. Things were better in 2013/2014, and gaming was only growing, and still is. People had the cash to plunk down on a console, generally speaking. Mobile space became more unstable, and streaming had really gotten big. So of course PS4 shipped with streaming integration in the box, and of course it launched with a cool, new PlayStation Plus game, Resogun, to show off what the console could do.
It was pretty amazing just to play around with. The state of the PlayStation Network towards the end of the PS3’s life was abysmal, but everything ran so fast and smooth on the new box. When the PS4 took off, and the Xbox One stumbled at the starting line a bit, the arms race was on. Games, just across the board, began selling better than they had in ages. More risks could be taken, indies became more prolific, and more variety even started showing up on retail shelves. Even Japanese publishers like Bandai Namco started pumping out more content than ever before, localizing games that never would have seen the light of day five years ago.
But it’s not all great. The PlayStation Network continues to show its age, and the Vita’s relative failure put a monkey wrench in the PlayStation ecosystem. Streaming games didn’t turn out as good as it sounded, and microtransactions really took hold no matter what you were playing on. The PS4 is also struggling to keep up with recent advancements, as older models roar while playing recent fair such as Monster Hunter: World, and the PS4 Pro struggles to match what the new Xbox One X can do. PlayStation VR seems cool, but the software isn’t wowing.
It’s been a wild ride. We went from a struggling console space growing more and more conservative, to what now seems like a stack of new games dropping every week from all kinds of sources. Outlets like Limited Run Games are thriving, and every game has a bigger and bigger collector’s edition. E3 is open to the public, and I saw a Monster Hunter: World commercial on TV the other day. Gaming is bigger than ever, and the PS4 was a huge part of that booming success. It’s fun to look back and think about how much things have changed in the past five years. Hopefully things will go even further in the next five, despite bitcoin miners buying all the damn parts.