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PlayStation 4 side-steps PSP Go-shaped landmine as Sony decides against download-only games

According to the Wall Street Journal, Sony considered making PS4 a download-only machine, but subsequently decided against the idea, arguing not only that high street and online retailers would suffer if there were no boxed copies to sell, but also that the network infrastructure is still not reliable or widespread enough to make it feasible.

It sounds perfectly logical to us – PSP Go was clearly 'testing the water' and proved, monumentally, that the market is not ready just yet to go download only. You could argue that the online PSP store's incomplete software library had something to do with it, or perhaps that customers were forced to buy all their existing games again, but that's besides the point. 

Above: Remember this little fella? My wallet sure does

If true (and we'll come to that shortly), the news means PS4 is firstly a physical machine and not just an online service - something PlayStation expert Dan Dawkins discussed at length in our GRUK Podcast this week. It also means that said machine will take physical media. Sounds good to us – we're not quite ready to give up on having an actual games console under our tellys just yet.

But why are we saying 'if true'? Surely the Wall Street Journal checks their sources, right? Well, we can't help but be skeptical when the entire article is full of disclaimers about how much the journalists (plural!) writing the article actually know about the subject:

"people familiar with the matter said"
"people familiar with the matter said"
"one of the people familiar with Sony's thinking said"
"the person said"
"according to a person familiar with the matter"

With Sony itself refusing to comment (of course), we're left to assume that the Wall Street Journal has an inside source somewhere, and not just 'the bloke behind the counter in the game shop'. We'll find out either next week, or next week plus one year.

Source: People unfamiliar with the matter

Topics

PS4

11 comments

  • tyler_14_420 - May 31, 2012 10:12 a.m.

    Steam proved downloadable content can happen now. However, Steam is the only platform that's done it well with a widely-secured library full of fantastic content ranging from Call of Duty to Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale. It won't be easy to move to virtual downloads, but I can definitely see it happening in the future.
  • TheVoid - May 31, 2012 11:56 a.m.

    As a MASSIVE fan of Steam myself, I see one big flaw in this line of thinking: the platform itself. The biggest reason Steam has thrived as much as it has is because it's a PC thing... Now holster them pistols console fans. I'm a proud console owner as well, it's just that there are HUGE difference between consoles and PCs that makes the whole "well it worked for Steam so it can work for consoles too" arguement somewhat null and void. For starters, WAY more than consoles, PCs take the whole backwards-compatibility thing pretty seriously. And while a new OS usually shakes a few older games out of the nest, by and large a game that came out for PC ten years ago (if not more) is still playable today. And for those that don't automatically carry over, if there's a strong enough community behind it, user-generated patches will make it so. Meanwhile console backward compatibility - even at it's best - is generally far shakier than on a PC, especially when you yank assisting parties outside of the game's publisher/developer from the equation. Basically PCs over a massive stretch of time are more of less constant, and developers develop accordingly. Sure my rig has changed quite a bit from what it was 10+ years ago (primarily from a hardware perspective, yet almost not at all OS-wise), but those changes haven't really impacted games that have been around that long. In fact, in some cases it's fun to go back and play those oldies that may have been system hogs of their time but now glide fully maxed out. Again, PC game developers - unlike console developers - typically need to consider a lot more scaling in that a successful game should run well on older rigs as much as newer, and should have legs for years to come. Meanwhile console developers work only within the framework of the current gen and need not be bothered with next gen (let alone last gen) specs. This is why I'm still able to play the vast majority of new PC games despite the fact that I'm still clinging feverishly to Windows XP, which in turn still plays loads from even as far back as Windows 95, which is now FIVE Windows generations old. And while Windows 7 looks solid enough that I will likely make the jump in time, I'm by no means obligated to do so, and when I do my existing catalog likely won't suffer. It also doesn't hurt that Steam is as mod-friendly as it is, which is also a PC-exclusive thing (unless you decide to blatantly disregard a console's rigid EULA, which would certainly put you at risk in terms of aupport and future updates). Sure, PC games tow the same amount of official (buyable) DLC as consoles (if not more), but for the most part they generally support (and actively recruit from) the modding community, who have time and time again turned a game on it's last legs into something fresh, new and exciting. For free. Yeah, let's see a console come close to allowing that. Meanwhile, Steam "gets" that mods are important part of PC gaming and supports them (so long as the developer agrees, which unfortunately isn't the case these days as much as it used to be). Ultimately I don't see Steam working on consoles because consoles - unlike PCs - have followed an established "out with the old, in with the new" philosophy since the very beginning. Only recently have consoles started digging up their back catalogs - last gen as backwards-compatible selling points to make the transition less painful, this gen as an opportunity to siphon even more $$$ out of old gems (while marketing it as a "convenience feature" - no need to keep that dusty old PS2 connected - we got all your favs right here, either as they were or re-released as HD versions - you just need to fork over the cash for them again, albeit at a reduced price). Now I'm not railing this completely as I myself bought the Ico/SOC and MGS HD collections day one, but only because none of those games ever hit PC. Beyond Good and Evil, on the other hand, also received the console "HD remake" treatment recently, but having already owned it on PC all I needed to do to match (if not surpass) that effort was bump up the resolution several notches. No repurchase necessary. This of course isn't to say that a console couldn't do what a PC does to make a downloadable-only catalog like Steam thrive. But to do so would require some serious balls, solid hardware, full backwards compatibiltiy and hassle-free catalog transfer with each next gen release, a massive amount of storage right out of the box, more forward (and backward) thinking in terms of development, and an unprecedented openness to community content. Oh yeah, and KILLER sales. So it's not a matter of whether a console could do it - one certainly could - but rather which console manufacturer would be willing to try, especially considering all of the inherit risks involved. Meanwhile, I'll just continue enjoying my Steam catalog without a lick of concern over future changes in OSs or hardware.
  • Tjwoods18 - May 31, 2012 6:44 a.m.

    If the ps4 is going to be priced at over 350 dollars, I will stay with my ps3.
  • Joco84 - May 31, 2012 4:41 a.m.

    retail and download only should co-exist in order to cater to everyone's tastes. Some prefer download only to remove the clutter of physical discs. Others prefer to have a disc in their hand, while others still don't have the internet connection to be able to choose an alternative.
  • Turtman - May 31, 2012 4:18 a.m.

    As long as they follow the pricing strategies Steam uses, I have no problem.
  • Viron - May 31, 2012 4:40 a.m.

    you mean the pricing strategy that everything has a price? Or are you talking about Steam Sales
  • Tjwoods18 - May 31, 2012 6:43 a.m.

    YOu know that will never be, sony's online prices are ridiculous.
  • MasterBhater - May 31, 2012 4:14 a.m.

    Download-only SOUNDS like a good idea on paper, due to games getting bigger, but Blu-Ray disks seem more than capable of holding lots of content. I think Sony should do what they're doing for the PS Vita: Let people have the choice of buying the game off the PS Store, or buying a physical copy at launch.
  • MidianGTX - May 31, 2012 7:23 a.m.

    It SOUNDS like the opposite if you ask me. Games are getting bigger, so no way in hell am I downloading all of that. Put it on a disc and send it to me, fools.
  • BaraChat - May 31, 2012 4:03 a.m.

    I don't think I would enjoy a "digital" gaming console as much as what we have now, which is a mix of both disk-based games and download-only games. I think that's how it should be for the next generation as well. Although I have to say that I like how digital distribution has shaped the gaming landscape, allowing smaller and indie developers to get a share of the market, with often amazing results (See : Journey, Outland, Limbo, etc.).
  • Cyberninja - May 31, 2012 3:57 a.m.

    If PS4 went download only I wouldn't buy it because if people want games to keep getting bigger and bigger that would mean that, it would take a long time just to download the first game you want to play, and it would also mean using psn store more often, which is a big no after last's mistake

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