How do you measure a year?
The PlayStation 4 changed the industry when it launched November 15 in North America, followed two weeks later by its European release. In the 12 months since that day, weve seen so many big moments happen for Sony's console. Some of the best PS4 games really made a mark, as did the announcements of some upcoming PS4 titles, leaving the console race very in a very different place.
What trends are discernible after a year as tumultuous as this one? What has Sony been doing right with the system? What mistakes has the console had to overcome? And what does this first anniversary tell us about the system's future? The retrospective begins now.
PS4 has consistently outsold its competition
PS4s most massive change to the gaming landscape is all too easy to prove. In the 12 months since PS4 launched, the system has outsold the Xbox One in virtually every month in North America, Europe, and Japan. Compared to the PS3's disastrous early years, PS4 has been strong, selling millions and millions of systems as it heads into its second holiday season.
It'd be easy to credit PS4's sizable lead to the many mistakes its competition made, but Sony used those failings to its advantage, becoming the top system of the early adopters. As Nintendo focused on a touchscreen and Xbox One was buried in confusing messaging, the PS4 sold itself as the simple choice for the hardcore that flock to systems in the first year. Can PS4 keep this momentum going for the remainder of the generation? Its Sonys race to lose at this point.
The future looked bright at E3 and Gamescom
Sony had one of the most entertaining press conference in E3 history in 2013, and 2014 followed that up pretty well. A new Uncharted topped off the latter presentation, preceded by The Order: 1886, Bloodborne, a ton of indie games, and a remake of Grim Fandango of all things. The PS4 is also the console home to one of E3s most buzzworthy games, No Mans Sky. The nearly infinite space exploration game had the E3 show floor buzzing despite its lack of massive billboards or marketing push.
The PS4 stayed on top with easily the strongest presentation at Gamescom, Europes biggest gaming convention. Sonys internal teams impressed with Until Dawn and Tearaway Unfolded, which were backed up by external titles like Wild, Rime, and The Tomorrow Children. But Sonys strongest moment at any convention in 2014 was the stealthy reveal of the brief horror game P.T., a free download that terrified many players before they realized it was a secret teaser for a new Silent Hill game. This is the kind of creative stuff every console maker should be doing to make staid events more interactive.
The PS4 is impressively welcoming to indie games
Compared to the 360, the PS3 wasnt the most forward looking when it came to digital games, often getting noteworthy titles like Braid, Limbo, and Fez months or years after Microsoft's machine. PSN struggled to keep up with a wealth of titles found on Xbox Live, which makes PS4s current focus on indie gaming quite the reversal. This new strategy not only caught up with Microsoft, but PS4s focus on indies is currently leaving Xbox One in the dust.
Dont Starve, Transistor, Octodad, and many more make up the diverse collection of indie games on PS4, many of which have been slow to move to Xbox, in part due to Sonys more open policies regarding self-published games. As with many other trends with the PS4, the Xbox One is only starting to catch up with an indie initiative of its own, but MS has a way to go to match Sonys current collection of games. And with promising independent titles like The Witness, Rime, and Hotline Miami 2 coming soon to PS4 (before Xbox One), this trend doesnt look to be slowing down.
Many major franchises are still missing
Sonys previously mentioned focus on indie games may be refreshing, but it might also come from simple necessity. The dozens of indie titles on the PS4 have room to flourish in part because so many of PlayStations biggest franchises and developers have yet to release something for the system. The consoles selection of exclusive AAA titles is looking perilously thin at the moment, and isnt going to fatten up any time soon - that's why you see Sony focusing so much on exclusive DLC and deals with titles like Destiny and Grand Theft Auto.
PS4 launched with Killzone, got its own Infamous sequel, and will receive a new LittleBigPlanet soon, but most of Sonys usual first party superstars were noticeably absent in this first year. Outside of a very brief teaser for Uncharted, theres been no sign of God of War, Ratchet, Gran Turismo, Sly, Twisted Metal, or many other of the big names in the PlayStation pantheon. Thats a lot to be missing in the first year; was Sony simply unprepared for how long it would take its best and brightest to make new-gen games?
PlayStation Plus marches on
The misfires on PS3 earned Sony a reputation for underestimating the importance of the internet, but the success of PlayStation Plus shows how much things have changed over the years. Instead of charging for a simple subscription to use online features, PS+ offers bonuses every month to make the investment worthwhile. The numerous free games given out have given early adopters a ton of new games for their system, including some of those compelling indies I mentioned before. As with most early consoles, the PS4s library of games is a bit thin, leaving room for a number of high profile indie games to be exposed to many that may never have given the likes of Transistor or The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth a second look. Why not try something if theyre giving it away?
Sony has done a great job of curating the service so far, putting real work into giving new series a chance to be seen while also offering surprise sales on many major games week after week. If you need any more proof that the service is working, look to none other than Games With Gold, the similar service recently added to Xbox One after appearing on 360 over a year earlier. Copying Sonys approach to PS+ is certainly a sincere form of flattery, and the new-gen competition will hopefully challenge Sony to keep PS+ growing and expanding in the next year now that Microsoft has caught on to the clever program.
Driveclub is a problem, and Sony is having trouble solving it
Driveclub looked like a gorgeous racing sim when it was first shown during the PS4s reveal in February 2013, but it hasn't had an easy time in the months since. Sony delayed Driveclub to give it nearly a year more prep time, and even now its still plagued by online and technical issues. And a free, PlayStation Plus version was meant as a clever way to give out a large chunk of the game to loyal subscribers, but the servers were so troubled that it has been delayed indefinitely.
Even as Sony is starting to lead the industry with cutting edge uses for online, maybe it dreamed too big by expecting its system had the capacity to support so many players at once on Driveclub. Sony was at least quick to offer an apology, which makes you want to believe the company learned something here. Until Sony can get situations like this sorted out pre-release, it might be some time before the PS4 is home to more free versions of massive titles like Driveclub.
Vita has become a PS4 accessory
If you bought the PS Vita hoping that Sony and other game makers would support the snazzy handheld with mega-budgeted games, then 2014 has likely been a tough year for you. Outside of a few obscure titles and a lackluster port of Borderlands 2, the Vita has seen so few retail games in 2014 that it nearly feels like Sony has abandoned the portable if you were just judging its prescence on store shelves. But if you own a PS4 in addition to a Vita, youve no doubt seen that the first year of the PlayStation 4 has given Vita purpose as a new-gen accessory.
Numerous digital games on PSN offer not only Cross Buy, meaning one game purchase gets you a version of the game for multiple Sony formats, but a lot of those titles also offer Cross Save, allowing you to transfer your saves between consoles. Add in the ability to stream games from the PS4 to the Vita, and the advent of the PlayStation TV, and youll see that Sony has done a great job of repurposing its beleaguered handheld. The Vita may never get another original spin-off for Uncharted or Assassins Creed, but the possibilities opened up by the PS4 create much fresher options than simply selling smaller versions of console hits.