Potential Energy: The PlayStation 4 Launch and Aftermath

PS4 01

Figure 01 — I just really like video games, okay?

When I went to work and to classes on Monday (yesterday), everyone asked me if I had gotten my PS4. I said I had, that Amazon had gotten it to me day one as promised. Then they asked, “Well, are you having any problems with it? Is yours broken?”

No. I wasn’t. I hadn’t. My PS4 was great–ran great, did everything as it said it would. I was happy with my purchase. But as the day went on, I began to get frustrated that people only seemed to care if mine was broken or not–questions perhaps asked with a bit of schadenfreude in mind as they themselves either chose not to buy one at launch (to whom I often had to defend my launch day plans to), or were otherwise unable to get one. Perhaps they were jealous or perhaps they were just generally interested. Either way, I found that I was only talking to people about what went wrong with the PlayStation 4, and most conversations came to an abrupt halt after I said that I hadn’t had any problems and was thoroughly enjoying my purchase. A console, hyped for months, touted as the latest and greatest, the king console of gaming–was reduced to its launch failures. As one of the million–and as an active member of the gaming community–I am reasonably concerned.

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Everyone in my life knew I was getting a PlayStation 4 on Friday.

I didn’t buy one immediately after they went on sale after Sony’s press conference at E3 but I did purchase one within a month following, though was unable to snag a launch edition. Amazon later received more consoles to ship, I was bumped to a launch edition, and lo and behold, day one, Friday afternoon, my PS4 arrived.

People at work knew I was getting a PS4 at launch because, after E3, it was all we (I) talked about. We joked about waiting in line to pick them up at midnight. My friends knew I was getting a PS4 at launch because I tweeted about it. I posted photos of it on Instagram (Fig. 01). I even unboxed it (poorly). I had been hyped to the max about games that eventually didn’t come out on time (Watch Dogs, Driveclub), anxious for franchises I already loved (Assassin’s Creed), and ready to reacquaint myself with games I played long ago (Flower).

A part of me was still wary, of course; I had been reading about people getting consoles early that didn’t work via Taco Bell’s PS4 sweepstakes. Kotaku, even, reported that the first PS4 they had been given to review sported issues with the HDMI port. Others were getting their hard drives bricked, creating the latest fear: the Blue Light/Line of Death (BLOD). A $400 paperweight. The console launched and it seemed like the reports about people actually enjoying the console were almost completely eclipsed by the amount of players whose consoles were either being shipped back to Sony for repair or replacement, or who were getting their money back from whatever retailer they had originally purchased their hardware from. Out of the million consoles sold, all I heard about were the broken ones. I read countless PS4 troubleshooting threads on various sites as it became apparent that, once players could get their consoles running, the PlayStation Network was down, taking out the store, What’s New, most downloads, and so on. Sony apparently even suspended some features initially touted until their servers stabilized enough to risk running them again.

So, alright. There were some problems. And we’re still not really sure how many people actually had those problems. Maybe 1,000. Maybe 100,000.

Xbox 360 01

I eventually did buy an Xbox 360 slim and, out of spite and anger (some sadness), spent more for the Star Wars limited edition.

I had an original Xbox 360, one of the clunky white ones, the ones whose fans sounded like printers, most of which suffered the notorious RRoD–Red Ring of Death. I received it at a time when I wasn’t really a hardcore gamer, when I received game or two at Christmas and for my birthday and played them over winter or summer breaks. While everyone else’s Xboxes red ringed, while everyone lamented on the internet, while Microsoft released the Slim editions that supposedly didn’t have the same problem, mine soldiered on through seasons of use and neglect, through Red Dead Redemption and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion until I finally got the RRoD in 2012. I paid $100 to receive a replacement console, as my warranty had long since expired, and was given another clunky white one in return. It wasn’t compatible with my network adapter and ended up being little more than a $100 (plus s&h) paperweight. Sound familiar?

On the one hand, I get it.

Consoles aren’t cheap. Consoles are long-term investments, in many ways, that users expect to last them for years and years at a time. Dropping $400 isn’t the easiest thing to do for anyone but the filthy rich and I can understand why, for something so expensive, people would be outraged that it doesn’t work just so. Sony, I would argue, is likewise seeing a death by hype. They were hugely bolstered after E3 because they made all the promises that Microsoft did not. $400 price point. No loss of used games market. Online play doesn’t require a subscription (it does). Microsoft began Sony’s tradition of offering free game downloads to their subscribers, but was handing out Crackdown when Sony was handing out LittleBigPlanet 2. Some months are more competitive, some are not (Crackdown, seriously??). I remember watching E3 and seeing people on their feet, everyone cheering for every word that fell from Jack Tretton’s lips. PlayStation 4 finally seemed like the people’s console, like Sony really, truly understood their fanbase and wanted to make a console that was for the gamers. For the developers. Greatness awaits. Right?

Sort of. I do agree with the last point, but think of it in the sense that PlayStation is taking a different, but necessary, approach to remain competitive to Microsoft. After seeing both of their showcases I don’t feel, as many apparently do, that Microsoft is the enemy and should be smitten from the face of the earth. Indeed, a very smart point was made by a NeoGAF user that the competition was healthy and was what allowed both consoles to be great. He drew a comparison to Steam, which is quite good, but lacks a defined competitor that can, in turn, force Valve to be more innovative with the platform. This isn’t to say that they aren’t innovative, of course, but rather that there is a great deal of potential energy resting still in the PC games market, waiting to be tapped into. No, I know that the Xbone is a formidable piece of hardware, perhaps not quite as finely tuned as the PS4, but still quite good just the same. I didn’t purchase an Xbone because they did not make it for me. They made it for the casual gamers, the Madden 25ers, the Call of Dutyers, the ones who want an always on media center to use for play, for Netflix, for whatever. I, on the other hand, live for indie titles, I live for games themselves. I don’t need a media system. I want a game console. I worship Naughty Dog and Sony’s first party studios. I don’t really care about Halo. The choice was easy.

On the other hand, I don’t get it. I mean, I still kind of get it, but I’m amazed.

I don’t think any piece of anything–hardware, software, games–have ever really launched without their share of problems. Xbox 360 had, of course, the RRoD. Skyrim had an early patch update on the PS3 that crashed the game anytime the player entered a body of water. DLC has had its share of issues. Peripherals and handhelds don’t always pick up in popularity like they might have otherwise been projected to. The day anything launches without a problem that overshadows the hype will truly be the day of next gen. I don’t think it’s possible, but I’m still waiting for someone to surprise me.

I can understand the disappointment at receiving a console that didn’t work. I can understand the frustration with paying and waiting for nothing. Apparently even the DualShock 4 controllers have had a bad batch. But really, seriously, why are we all so upset? 

Perhaps I should rephrase. Shouldn’t we wait to be upset until we actually know what happened here?

You are welcome to accuse me for being slanted, which I surely am, because I received a launch day PS4 that was as healthy as could be. I played and enjoyed it all weekend without much issue, save for a few hiccups with the PlayStation Store, which I had already read about and expected. My DualShock 4 is just dandy. I am the 1%. This does not mean, however, that I am ignorant to the struggle of others and have decided to keep my head above the drama surrounding the BLOD and RLOD and whatever else is wrong with some consoles. I am reading the stories. I want to know. I’m genuinely interested.

PS4 Promo Banner

The future is rocky at best.

I wholeheartedly believe that those who feel anger, sadness, frustration, perhaps heartbreak, sorrow–are all right. They are allowed to feel that way. I can’t imagine how I would have felt plugging in my PS4 Saturday morning, after clearing my whole weekend months in advance, only to find out it was broken and that I had a 4 hour phone date with Sony coming my way. I shed a few tears when my Xbox red ringed. For a gamer, your console is like your best friend. You count on it. You care for it. And sometimes it betrays you and you don’t know why.

What I don’t understand, I suppose, is why some have completely shunned Sony, have turned their backs on the beloved company because of a problem like this. Sony, at least publicly, has been scratching their heads about the whole thing, has apparently been fairly straightforward and supportive of users returning their consoles and receiving new ones. It is unacceptable, of course, but it can’t possibly come as a surprise to anyone out there. But those who believed the hype that this console was literally the second coming–had another thing coming.

There have been rumors of sabotage in the PS4 plant in China, which may or may not be true. It may be an issue of quality control. It may be because UPS threw boxes of PS4s around carelessly during shipment. It may be for a lot of reasons. It’s still too early to know what the damage is truly, even despite Sony’s likely too-low estimates, and too early, in my opinion, to point fingers and rage all over the internet. I was angry and upset when my Xbox 360 got the RRoD but it didn’t mean that I turned my back on Microsoft. I tried to get it replaced and ended up buying a new Xbox 360 outright. When Skyrim was glitched beyond disrepair on the PS3, I bought a copy for the Xbox 360. Perhaps my brand loyalty is far too strong or my expectations are far too low, but I feel, at least, that I can manage a level head when it comes to forgiveness. If my PS4 was broken–or if it breaks anytime soon–I will gladly wait for another one. I will be sad and I will be angry, and I will probably write about it on the internet, but I know that I will be getting a console that meets my needs. And I will understand that not everything always goes according to plan.

Perhaps what we should really be talking about is the future. Xbone launches this Friday, already to the tune of “X feature delayed until 2014” and I remain uneasy that it will be able to perform to its own hype. I am curious to know if its launch will be more successful than Sony’s or if users will receive just as many broken down consoles, if the RRoD will rear its ugly head sometime down the line. I am curious if Sony’s future sales will suffer. I am curious if it will be just a blip on the history of console gaming. Perhaps, in talking about the future, we should be talking about hype and what it means in a highly competitive industry. Perhaps we should be talking about the power of the crowd, about customer service, about brand transparency. Perhaps we should be talking about financial investments, about promises, about business. But perhaps, more importantly, we should be talking about failure. About history and about progress. Perhaps then we might all, gamers, designers, publishers included, find there is something to learn from triumph and defeat of those who sit on the pedestals we so freely worship.

What I Actually Was Going to Write This Blog About

I had originally wanted to write this blog post about my impressions of the PlayStation 4 console, and got lost somewhere on the way. Though I do intend to write about it within the week, I find that perhaps the matter discussed above is more pressing than bragging about how cool the features are. Now, it seems, is more of the time for solidarity and understanding of those still waiting to play and those already playing everything. To the people whose PS4s came broken, I am with you. To those shipping off their consoles in black box coffins, to those getting their refunds, I am with you. To those hunting across the country, searching every store for a new PS4, I am with you. To those waiting for their Xbox Ones, I am with you. And to those who already have their consoles, and who will soon have their Xboxes, who are excited and energized about the new generation, I am with you. I am one of you.

We’ll get through this and be better for it.

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